Some Highlands residents still recovering

Julie Cohen entered NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital in Cortlandt Manor on March 29, 2020, with COVID-19 symptoms and spent eight days on a ventilator.

The Beacon resident is convinced the doctors and nurses there saved her life, but it was only the beginning of some three years of memory lapses, shortness of breath, a heightened sense of smell and a racing heart.

“My heart rate can go from 50 to 190 for no reason — just getting up and walking to the bathroom,” said Cohen. “And there’s nothing wrong with my heart.”

Her symptoms are some of the most common ones associated with “long” COVID-19, the little-understood but increasingly studied constellation of health issues that afflict people months or years after their initial infection.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists more than 20 commonly reported ailments associated with long COVID, ranging from fatigue and palpitations to chest pains, erectile dysfunction, insomnia and rashes.

“You can’t say there’s one symptom,” said JC Prinzo, a Philipstown resident who struggled for months last year after contracting the virus. “Everybody you talk to has something different.”

Among New York residents, about 7.6 percent of adults who have caught the virus say they are experiencing long COVID, and about 20 percent of those people have “significant activity limitations,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

After initially baffling doctors, long COVID is now a recognized condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Congress has approved more than $1 billion in research funding and hospitals have opened specialized clinics.

There is additional good news, according to recent data from the Census Bureau. Among people who have had COVID, the percentage reporting long-term effects declined nationwide (to 28.3 percent in January from 33.2 percent five months earlier) and in New York (23.7 percent from 30.6 percent).

While there are medications available to treat the various symptoms, a definitive cause is still elusive and there is no specific treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Prinzo’s doctor prescribed medication to treat his COVID symptoms when he tested positive on his birthday in July but could offer nothing for his long COVID. For five months, he battled fatigue so profound it prevented him from bicycling and walking, and made even minor tasks difficult.

“I’d have to sit down and take a rest after taking a shower,” said Prinzo. “That’s how bad it was.”

Cohen’s saga began when widespread infections first hit New York state. She came down with a fever that hit nearly 104 degrees. Fatigue set in. By April 1, 2020 she was sedated and on a ventilator.

Doctors removed the ventilator on April 8 and Cohen was discharged three days later. But over the past three years, she has experienced a range of ailments, including peeling skin; a “cytokine storm,” which can lead to acute respiratory distress; and the memory lapses known among long COVID sufferers as “brain fog.”

When she first drove a car after leaving the hospital, she had to pull over. “I forgot how to drive,” she said.

In October 2020, Cohen sought help at Mount Sinai’s Center for Post-COVID Care, which had opened five months earlier and, according to the hospital, was the first care center of its kind in the country. But Cohen said it was physically difficult to travel frequently to Manhattan.

She still endures episodes of brain fog, fatigue and palpitations. “While long COVID does affect my health, I have learned to manage it with medications and supplements, and amazing family and friends,” she said.

October 2020 was also the month that Westchester Medical Center launched its Post-COVID Recovery Program. In March 2022, behavioral health specialists from the hospital published findings from a study of patients.

Comparing long-COVID patients to asymptomatic study participants, researchers found that long-COVID patients scored lower on tests measuring attentiveness, memory and processing speed, and on evaluations of cognitive functions. Patients also reported higher levels of anxiety, depression and fatigue.

For some people, the cognitive and physical problems are so severe that they have to miss work. A study by the New York State Insurance Fund, the state’s largest workers’ compensation carrier, of claims filed from Jan. 1, 2020 to March 31, 2022, found that 71 percent of the 977 claims that met the criteria for long COVID were filed by people who stopped working and/or required treatment for at least six months.

Health care workers filed the most claims for long COVID, according to the insurance fund, followed by police officers and administrators for state and municipal agencies.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The Peekskill resident is a former reporter for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, where he covered Sullivan County and later Newburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Morgan State University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.