People experiencing “long COVID” — a condition when COVID-19 symptoms last months after being infected, or when new or recurring symptoms occur at a later time — may be protected from discrimination under federal laws, according to a new guidance issued by the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
The guidance explains that long COVID can be a disability under Titles II (state and local government) and III (public accommodations) of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
According to the HHS and the Department of Justice, the civil rights protections and responsibilities of these federal laws apply even during emergencies, and they cannot be waived.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with long COVID have a range of new or ongoing symptoms that can last weeks or months after they are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and that can worsen with physical or mental activity.
Common symptoms of long COVID include tiredness or fatigue, difficulty thinking or concentrating, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness on standing, loss of taste or smell, etc. Some people also experience damage to multiple organs including the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin and brain.
The guidance also provides resources for additional information and best practices.
An individual assessment is necessary to determine whether a person’s long COVID condition or any of its symptoms substantially limits a major life activity. If they do, the person’s long COVID qualifies as a disability.
According to the guidance, this may mean that businesses or state or local governments will sometimes need to make changes to the way that they operate to accommodate a person’s long COVID-related limitations. This may include providing additional time on a test for a student who has difficulty concentrating or modifying procedures so a customer who finds it too tiring to stand in line can announce their presence and sit down without losing their place in line.
For more information on the guidance and for federal resources for people with symptoms of long COVID, visit HHS.gov.