Industry Voices—Amid a return to normalcy, COVID remains a threat

Currently, our government appears to be adopting Senator George Aiken’s Vietnam strategy to snuff out the COVID-19 pandemic, often paraphrased as “Let’s declare victory and go home.”

But unlike Vietnam, we have nowhere to go, SARS-CoV-2 is still with us and infecting millions, infections which have a lasting negative impact on our workforce, shackling our healthcare system with chronically sick Long COVID patients with far too few healthcare staff to service them.

Most of our tracking systems have been shut down, including the COVID Tracking Project and the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center along with curtailing publicly available data from the Department of Health and Human Services. Our current strategy is to close our eyes and let the virus run its course, hoping reinfections will maintain our immunity.

Non-healthcare sectors also appear to have adopted this strategy, and the most concerning is the Federal Reserve Board.

On Nov. 30, 2022, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell recognized that COVID-19 and long COVID were factors in the low unemployment rates. He stated that “excess retirements might now account for more than 2 million of the 3.5 million shortfalls in the labor force.” He said that “health issues have surely played a role (in excess retirements), as COVID has posed a particularly large threat to the lives and health of the elderly.”

On Dec. 15, 2022, Powell also noted “that we lost … close to half a million people who would have been working, who died of COVID.”

Recently, the discussion regarding the impact of COVID and long COVID on the economy has been quiet.

The January 2023 unemployment rate of 3.4% is the lowest in over 50 years but may not be so much related to the number of jobs; instead, we may be faced with a smaller workforce due to COVID deaths and long COVID. Despite major interventions, the February rate was stuck at 3.6%. There are almost 10 million job openings in the private sector.

In March, Nobel Laureate and economist Paul Krugman recently raised the question regarding the conflicting metrics of low unemployment in the face of a falling housing market. Apparently not realizing there may be more than one force driving these metrics.

A financial radio expert stressed the importance of inflation and used the skyrocketing price of eggs as an example of why the Federal Reserve Board will have to raise interest rates. However, the price of eggs is being driven by the worst recorded pandemic of the bird flu, with almost 60 million birds having died or been culled in the U.S.

Another perplexing figure is the large number of job gains which have been recorded each month. One has to wonder whether these numbers are being impacted by the high job turnovers created by long and medium COVID in front-line workers.

Thus, several of the economic metrics may actually be more reflective of the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some specifics on how COVID-19 is impacting our workforce.

A McKinsey Report concluded an equivalent of 1.3 to 4.3 million workers dropped out of the workforce in 2022. Reinfections will compound this number, risking progressive damage to one’s heart, brain, pancreas, kidneys and lungs. A study of worker’s compensation applicants in New York state, found that 71% of long COVID patients were unable to work at 6 months.

Long COVID might also explain the decrease in productivity of the U.S. workforce. Similar to what happened after the Spanish Flu pandemic, we may be facing a mass disabling event.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s House Pulse Survey found that 11% of adults who had COVID stated they are currently experiencing long COVID, and 26.6% of adults who currently have long COVID are experiencing significant limitations in their activities. According to David Cutler, economics professor from Harvard, this is “a $3.5 trillion problem.” A report from the state of Colorado estimated the long COVID burden to be 4% to 11% of all Colorado residents.

Delayed presentations of cardiac conditions, cognitive decline, and immune disruption are all too common and can occur after a patient’s COVID test turns negative. We no longer have accurate data on the number of infections or long COVID, and some are advocating to only report hospitalizations for severe pulmonary manifestations of COVID, ignoring the plethora of other illnesses COVID is creating. The narrative that if you are not hospitalized you have mild disease is rubbish.

Banks are collapsing; our economy is obviously not overheating. Our current economic strategy is like telling someone to run with a broken leg and work through the pain.

Raising interest rates will not cure the bird flu, nor will it cure COVID.

Kevin Kavanagh, M.D., is the founder and president of the patient advocacy group Health Watch USA.