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Long-haulers qualify for disability protections

A woman on a couch works on her laptop.

Aug. 17, 2021—Ongoing breathing difficulties, trouble thinking or concentrating, headaches, and chest or stomach pain. Not everyone who gets COVID-19 will develop long-term symptoms like these. But for those who do, post-acute COVID-19 syndrome, often called long COVID-19, can interfere with daily life long after they first get sick.

Now, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the U.S. Department of Justice have said that long COVID-19 qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws. That means that some people living with long COVID-19 have protections from discrimination and the right to ask for changes to help them at work, school and in public life.

When is long COVID-19 a disability?

Many people who get COVID-19 recover quickly. But for some, symptoms can last much longer or come and go for months. Some people experience new symptoms after they recover from COVID-19.

These can include:

  • Breathing problems.
  • Chest or stomach pain.
  • Coughing.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dizziness when standing.
  • Fast or pounding heartbeat.
  • Fever.
  • Headaches.
  • Joint or muscle pain.
  • Loss of taste or smell.
  • Trouble thinking or concentrating.

COVID-19 has also been linked with autoimmune disorders and damage to organs, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys or brain.

Long COVID-19 is not always considered a disability. Every person's symptoms—and needs—are considered individually. But if you are living with long COVID-19 symptoms, they may be considered a disability if they make it hard for you to do major life activities like:

  • Breathing.
  • Caring for yourself.
  • Doing manual tasks.
  • Interacting with people.
  • Reading and writing.
  • Sleeping.
  • Thinking or concentrating.
  • Working.

What protections may be possible?

If your long COVID-19 symptoms are considered a disability, you have the right to ask for changes to help you work, study, shop and do other daily activities. Those changes depend on your needs. For example, at work, you might ask for a different schedule or special equipment. A student with trouble concentrating might need extra time on tests. Shoppers who can't stand in line can wait their turn while sitting down.

If your COVID-19 symptoms have made it hard for you to get back to your life, talk to your doctor. They can help you decide what changes might help you.

You can learn more about COVID-19 in our Coronavirus topic center.

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