Edie Whitehead, 27, has been unable to stand for more than a few minutes for more than two years and felt like she was going to pass out. Since contracting COVID-19 in 2020, they have experienced severe headaches and shortness of breath, but these acute aspects of the illness have since subsided into a cluster of disabling symptoms, including fatigue and cognitive dysfunction. Whitehead, who is trans, is one of around 2 million people in the UK who have long-term COVID-19, or long-term health problems as a result of being infected with COVID-19.
Chronic COVID is difficult to diagnose because it involves a wide array of health problems; it can manifest as cognitive decline, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and about 200 other symptoms. These post-COVID conditions can affect multiple organ systems, persist for years, and present themselves as an alarmingly common phenomenon; The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest household pulse survey estimates that nearly 19% of people in America with COVID-18 may live with COVID for a long time. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that health problems following COVID have left nearly 1 million American adults unable to work.
Who gets the longest COVID?
In addition to showing higher rates of prolonged COVID in young adult populations and women, the Census Bureau survey also found that trans and bisexual adults are more likely to report having the disease. 12% of US adults report currently experiencing lingering COVID symptoms, compared to 5% of cisgender men and 9% of cisgender women. Meanwhile, 14% of US adults are bisexual, 7% are straight, and 5% are gay or lesbian, compared to 5% who are gay or lesbian. These figures reflect the wide-ranging health disparities experienced by trans and bisexual communities, and suggest that our health care systems may be failing them.
In a world where transgender people primarily live with chronic illness, this may not seem so surprising. “Of course [trans people] Long COVID has high rates,” said J.D. Davids, co-founder of the advocacy and policy group The Network for Long COVID Justice. “We have low rates of treatment. People who are denied access to health care, resources, or physical safety. The risk of health complications is high, including this massively disabling event known as prolonged COVID. Davids has lived with prolonged COVID since March 2021, as well as decades of myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). .
The long-term effects of COVID can be severe. Whitehead, who once loved playing soccer with his friends, is now physically disabled and uses a mobility scooter. “I spent two years trying to manage my life, working a part-time job so I could feel some semblance of the life my friends were living,” says Whitehead. Like many long-term COVID patients, Whitehead worries that re-infection could worsen their symptoms or outcomes. Repeated COVID infections may put people at greater risk of developing prolonged COVID, and LGBTQ+ people may be at greater risk of COVID infection in general, leaving the queer and trans community at higher risk for the disease. Adds Davids: “A society that continues to harm trans and bisexual people will continue to throw these bones.”
Being queer or trans is by no means the norm that predisposes people to chronic illness, including long-term COVID. Nevertheless, the interconnected network of structural health care disparities faced by queer and trans people—such as low access to doctors or stigmatization of their gender or sexuality—along with other LGBTQ+ health disparities the community faces may partially explain the high rates.
The Long-Term COVID Burden for Bi and Trans People
These health disparities may explain why bisexual and trans people experience longer durations of COVID than lesbian or gay men. Because of the increased stress and stigma associated with bisexuality, bisexuals generally have poorer health than gays or lesbians. The same is true of trans people, who often face overt discrimination and stigma from health care providers. These disparities can create a favorable environment for chronic illness and disability, two factors that can increase someone’s risk of developing prolonged COVID-19.
Another reason why queer, trans, and bisexual adults are overrepresented among people with COVID is that they understand how long COVID is in the first place. Because queer people are used to responding to health emergencies such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it creates a network of advocates and applies their expertise to that crisis after COVID-19, including by spreading knowledge about acute and chronic COVID infection. . “We are simultaneously working to address the AIDS crisis by mobilizing to address the inequities of COVID-19,” said Asia Russell, executive director of the Health Global Access Project and former organizer of ACT UP Philadelphia. at this time last summer. Such efforts have coalesced in projects like the New York City COVID-19 Task Force, which brought together several prominent local AIDS organizations and worked to provide a community-focused response to the coronavirus pandemic.