Long COVID patients feel isolated, concerned as SF public health emergency comes to an end

Liz Kreutz Image
ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Thursday, February 23, 2023
Long COVID patients feel isolated as SF public health emergency ends
While public health officials are ready for the COVID-19 emergency declaration to end, others are raising concerns for the future of the virus.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- One week from today, San Francisco's COVID-19 public health emergency order is coming to an end. It's the same day California's COVID-19 state of emergency is expiring.

While public health officials say it is time for these declarations to end, some people experiencing long COVID are raising concerns about what it means for the future of the virus.

"I don't think the general public really understands how bad it can be," said Olivia Harris, a 27-year-old San Francisco resident who has long COVID. "When we hear that the public health emergency is ending, it sends a message to a lot of people to kind of relax with their precautions."

"What's going to happen is more people are going to end up like me, unfortunately," she said.

MORE: Coronavirus Timeline: Tracking major moments of COVID-19 pandemic in San Francisco Bay Area

Harris is young, healthy and said she had no underlying health conditions when she contracted the virus last June. She said she never expected she would experience long COVID. But now eight months later, she is still dealing with the impacts. Her symptoms include extreme fatigue and tiredness, bad muscle aches and gastrointestinal issues. She said she had to drop out of graduate school and move back home with her parents. She has not been able to work.

"I don't want to sugar coat anything. Having long COVID is like a nightmare," she said. "The symptoms can be really debilitating."

Harris is among a group of people, who have long COVID or other impacts from the pandemic, that are raising concerns about the end of San Francisco's public health emergency next week.

"Even if an emergency ends, there is still a crisis," said Kristin Urquiza, who co-founded the group, Marked by Covid. "We are about to lose a ton of protections that have been keeping San Franciscans afloat."

MORE: San Francisco to end COVID-19 public health emergency declaration Feb. 28

Urquiza, who lost her father to COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic in 2020, is concerned the most vulnerable San Franciscans could lose certain protections around housing, sick leave, medical care and food benefits.

"All of these different services are currently in flux," she said. "And so we need to work together with community leaders to ensure we're not leaving people behind."

Urquiza is asking the city to decouple protections from the public health emergency. Marked by COVID has created a website where San Francisco residents can submit comments for the Board of Supervisors and the mayor's office.

UCSF infectious disease specialist Dr. Monica Gandhi said the end of the public health emergency does not mean the end of COVID-19. She said the term "emergency" refers to hospitals being overwhelmed.

MORE: Is it time to move on from COVID-19?: Here's what health experts say

"How we measure the phrase emergency is around severe disease, and so it's really the hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths that define an emergency. That made us shut down society to ensure that our health care systems are protected," Gandhi said. "It doesn't actually mean that COVID is gone. In fact, unfortunately, COVID will never be eradicated."

Still, those dealing with long COVID say they feel like they're being left behind.

"It is year four of the pandemic, and we still have no treatments, support or public warning for the most common adverse outcomes from infection -- long COVID," Charlie McCone, another San Francisco resident with long COVID, said in a text to ABC7 News.

MORE: Study shows natural immunity to COVID can provide good protection at least 10 months after infection

He said ending the public health emergency without more public warnings about long COVID, or proper treatment for it, is irresponsible.

Harris also wants people to understand the risks and know that more people are likely to get long COVID.

"Again, I thought that I would be perfectly fine. A lot of people that are healthy and vaccinated are," she said. "But a lot of people will end up like me. Life on pause, with no end in sight."


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