Tuesday, September 06, 2022

The Mysteries of Long COVID-19

When the original strain of COVID-19 arrived in spring 2020, a pandemic soon swept the country.

By far most survived COVID-19. But hundreds of thousands did not. American deaths now number well over 1 million.

Amid the tragedy, there initially was some hope that the pernicious effects of the disease would all disappear upon recovery among the nearly 99% who survived the initial infection.

Vaccinations by late 2020 were promised to end the pandemic for good. But they did not. New mutant strains, while more infectious, were said to be less lethal, thus supposedly resulting in spreading natural immunity while causing fewer deaths from infection.

But that too was not quite so.

Instead, sometimes the original symptoms, sometimes frightening new ones, not only lingered after the acute phase, but were of increased morbidity.

Now two-and-a-half years after the onset of the pandemic, there may be more than 20 million Americans who are still suffering from what is currently known as “long COVID-19″—a less acute version but one ultimately as debilitating.

Some pessimistic analyses suggest well over 4 million once-active Americans are now disabled from this often-ignored pandemic and out of the workforce.

Perhaps 10%-30% of those originally infected with COVID-19 have some lingering symptoms six months to a year after the initial infection. And they are quite physically sick, desperate to get well, and certainly not crazy.

So far, no government Marshall plan exists to cure long COVID.

While we know the nature of the virus well by now, no one fathoms what causes long COVID’s overwhelming fatigue, flu-like symptoms, neuralgic impairment, cardiac and pulmonary damage, and an array of eerie problems from extended loss of taste and smell to vertigo, neuropathy, and “brain fog.”

“Post-viral fatigue” has long been known to doctors. Many who get the flu or other viruses like mononucleosis sometimes take weeks or even months to recover after the initial acute symptoms retire.

But no one knows why long COVID often seems to last far longer and with more disability.

Is its persistence due to one theory that SARS-CoV-2 is a uniquely insidious, engineered virus? Or do vaccines and antivirals only help to curb infection, while possibly encouraging more unpredictable mutations?

Who gets long COVID, and why and how is, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Those who nearly die from acute COVID-19 can descend into long COVID. But then again, so can those with minimal or few initial acute symptoms.

The obese with comorbidities are prone to long COVID, but triathletes and marathon runners are, too.

The elderly, the mature, the middle-aged, adolescents, and children can all get long COVID. Those with down-regulated and impaired immune systems fight long COVID. But then again, so do those with up-regulated and prior robust immunity, as well as people with severe allergies.

Since early 2020, no one has deciphered the cause, although numerous Nobel Prizes await anyone who unlocks its mysteries.

Does a weakened but not vanquished SARS-CoV-2 virus hide out and linger, causing an unending immune response that sickens patients?

Or does COVID-19 so weaken some long-haulers to the degree that old viruses, long in remission, suddenly flare up again, sickening the host with an unending case of, say, mononucleosis?

Or is the problem autoimmunity?

Is there something unique to the nature of COVID-19 that damages the vital on and off buttons of the immune system, causing the body to become stuck in overdrive, as it needlessly sends out its own poisons against itself?

Without knowledge of what explains long COVID, it is hard for researchers to find a cure.

After all, is the answer to slow down the immune system to dampen the immune storm, or to enhance it to root out lingering viruses?

Do more vaccines help or worsen long COVID?

Is the solution some magical new drug, or discovering off-label uses of old, reliable medicines?

Can a good diet, moderate exercise, and patience finally wear out long COVID? Or is its course too unpredictable or near permanent and chronic?

Is long COVID a single phenomenon, or a cluster of maladies, each manifesting according to one’s own genetic makeup, particular history of past illness, and unique reaction to the initial infection?

If we have few answers, we do have an idea about the costs.

Long COVID may be one of many reasons why in a recession, labor paradoxically still remains scarce. Millions likely stay home in utter disbelief that they are still battling long COVID. Others isolate in deadly fear of getting either the acute or chronic form of the illness.

The social costs to America of this hidden pandemic in lost wages and productivity, family and work disruption, and expensive medical care are unknown.

But they are likely enormous, still growing—and mostly ignored.


There Is a Much Larger Problem Than the Great Resignation. No One Wants to Talk About It

The United States likes to talk about problems. Well, ones we have solutions for, anyway. Others we tend to willfully ignore.

This time, though, we’ve really outdone ourselves in terms of mental gymnastics. We’ve been managing to relentlessly cover the “Great Resignation,” wage growth, and employment disruptions from the pandemic while ignoring a larger problem in that field. Our workforce is old. Not “a few years older than it likely should be” old, but dangerously old.

This speaks to certain generational trends (most of them having to do with my delightful cohorts here in Gen Y), but also to a looming catastrophe if we don’t course-correct sometime soon. So how did we get here? Why is it so significant? Let’s look.

The math

I hate to have to bring math into an article (in any form), but it’s necessary here. The median age in the United States is currently 38.1 years old — a number that reflects a consistent rise in recent years, but not too terrible. That number has been moving up about .15 per year as our largest generation, the oft-discussed boomers, age.

When looking at our workforce figures, we need to keep that figure in mind. The population under 16 (not working) and population over 65 (more likely to be retired) are roughly equivalent right now, which means our workforce age should hew pretty close to our overall median age. In other words, for every child not dragging the workforce age down, there should be a retiree not dragging the workforce age up.

In our professions, then, we would expect to see a median age of around 38. Naturally, that’s not the case, specifically when you get into some of the trades or other professions that aren’t necessarily glamourous. Still, these jobs are essential to our everyday lives. We should not ignore them.

So how far off are they? Well, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we’ve got some wide discrepancies. Looking at just a few:

· Real estate agents: 49.1 years old

· Automotive mechanics: 47.4 years old

· Facilities managers: 50.1 years old

· Bus/Shuttle drivers: 55.6 years old

· Housekeeping/Janitorial: 50.1 years old

· Home health aides: 47.2 years old

· Electrical trades: 46.8 years old

Yikes. There were plenty of professions even older than that, but I picked these for a reason — there’s little barrier to entry. You don’t need a $200,000 piece of paper, and they’re located across the country. You don’t need to live in a growing metropolitan area to have any of these jobs. In other words, based on ease of access, they should be younger. But they’re not.

The least productive generation

That brings us to a natural question: Why? Yes, the whole population is aging, but those professions are still 10+ years older than the median age in the country. Something is up. And it’s generational.

I don’t like to blame millennials universally as many others do. Make no mistake, I loathe my generation, but I think a lot of what they turned out to be was outside of their control. The first years of Gen Y were hit with the dot-com burst as they entered the workforce, the Great Recession in their later 20s, and now a global pandemic when they were finally getting everything together. Not ideal economic events for the entire first half of life.

But that’s not the problem. No, instead, Gen Y was the first generation to be universally told that they would need college to succeed. Even I got that speech frequently, and I was an underperforming (and often absent) student in a mediocre school. I can only imagine how heavy it was indoctrinated in other districts.

Well, even if it wasn’t implicitly stated, adolescents could get the gist of what was being said: No college means no college-required jobs, which means failure. The obvious conclusion is that non-college careers are failures.

This is simultaneously false, condescending, and ridiculous, but it’s also how a lot of this generation was brought up. I remember towards the end of high school, I was kicking around the idea of taking some certificate courses in construction management and exploring those trades a bit. My teachers and classmates looked at me like I just publicly threatened suicide. It was ridiculous. For the record, I’ve gone on to finance and supervise the funding and progress of large construction projects across the U.S.

So, what did we get? A generation that went to college in larger numbers than ever before, regardless of whether it appealed to them, made financial sense, or even made practical sense for the individual. If you were of the means or opportunity to go, you went. Period. A few like myself didn’t, but we were rare.

Now once you’ve blown $100,000 or more on your education, it’s only natural to feel that you shouldn’t have to work a “manual” job. I mean, what was all this for then, right? Especially since grade inflation made everyone a 3.2+ GPA student. So they swarmed the white-collar fields, drove salaries down, and realized that those jobs sucked too. Attached to your phone long after work was over, responding to whatever imaginary crisis needs resolution. What a deal. Meanwhile, the vital jobs went unattended.

Why it matters

Mechanics, electricians, stonemasons, general laborers: these are all trades that allow the world to keep on humming. We can’t rely on the older half of Gen X and the younger half of the boomers to build everything for everyone in perpetuity. Yet we seem content to.

Producing something and making a living wage for yourself or your family used to be an item of pride for many. Now, if our primary careers flame out, we instead look for a permanent side-hustle or join the “creator” economy.

There’s some value there for society, sure, but not everyone can just live the dream forever. This whole trend of “influencing” is a bit ridiculous too, but more a byproduct of how our society is today than anything else. Point is, at the peak of their professional careers, fewer millennials are in the real workforce than any other generation before them.

It may work very well for some individuals, but 1,000 spokes going in opposite directions doesn’t make a wheel. It makes a tangled mess of alloy on the floor. This is sometimes referred to as “the current labor market”.

Funny thing is, I think my generation’s dismal failure at participating in society is going to course-correct this disaster. Or, at least, I hope it will. A lot of my friends went to work in trades. They’re universally doing better than the white-collar college graduates I know. Higher incomes (due to excessive demand) and no debt. The pendulum may be swinging back. It needs to, particularly before the next wave of retirements leaves us in an even greater shortage of skilled labor that will be more difficult to claw out of.

There’s been a good bit of coverage on Gen Z and their increasing disillusionment with college — not seeing it as a good value, as it were. They’ve also been shown to be more financially savvy and involved than any other generation at their age. Considering their financial acumen, I’d be surprised if a few didn’t notice the average salary for an electrician is now higher than the average for a staff accountant.

Our current workforce needs an immediate infusion of young, skilled talent before we face such labor shortages that projects become impossible. Gen Z may be the answer. The ship has sailed on its predecessors.


Also see my other blogs. Main ones below:

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://antigreen.blogspot.com (GREENIE WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://australian-politics.blogspot.com/ (AUSTRALIAN POLITICS)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)

https://immigwatch.blogspot.com/ (IMMIGRATION WATCH)

https://awesternheart.blogspot.com/ (THE PSYCHOLOGIST)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's possible that long covid is because of covid performing a gene swap with an existing perhaps even previously benign viral infection.