As COVID-19 cases rise in Georgia, more people dealing with long-term symptoms

ATLANTA — As more people become infected with COVID-19 during the latest surge in cases, the risk of long-term symptoms developing months later should not be ignored, doctors say.

“If you catch it, you got about a one in three or one in five chance of having this [long term] illness,” said Dr. Joel Rosenstock, who oversees the Long Covid Clinic at Absolute Care Medical Center in Atlanta.

Common long-term symptoms include “brain fog” or difficulty remembering basic things, fatigue, and breathing issues.

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Studies have estimated 25% of people who get infected with covid develop “long covid” at least eight weeks later. With more than 977,000 cases reported in Georgia so far, that would mean as many as 244,000 Georgians could be dealing with these symptoms.

“I can tell you that in the 50 people I’ve seen, about probably a third of them with brain fog cannot drive anymore,” said Dr. Rosenstock. “They step on the gas instead of the brake. They get lost when they’re driving, they make a left turn in front of traffic.”

Absolute Care is one of at least four long covid clinics in metro Atlanta that have emerged since the start of the pandemic. Dr. Rosenstock says the waiting list was full for months but they’re starting to catch up.

“My heart goes out to many of these folks who made it through COVID, they didn’t go into hospital or maybe they did go in the hospital, but they lived, and now they can’t do anything,” he said.

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For many Georgians still feeling symptoms, the psychological and physical toll is exhausting.

“Since covid, it’s been 10 times worse,” said Kimberly Gutierrez, a South Georgia retired nurse battling long term symptoms. “And there is pain, constant pain.”

It’s been seven months since Gutierrez battled covid in a Valdosta hospital – but she says she’s not close to full recovery and still using an oxygen machine.

“I have no balance whatsoever, “she said. “I was not like this before.”

For Evan Carr, an Alpharetta mother of two, she says it broke her heart to see her 9 -year-old daughter battle symptoms after the family’s first covid infection last March.

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“Five, six months after the first time we had covid she would just throw up out of nowhere,” she said. “And this would happen day after day.”

Gutierrez lives an hour south of Macon and says the closest specialist she was referred to is at the Emory University Hospital post-COVID clinic. She is raising money in case she needs to stay in the area for days for treatment.

“I just want to be able to get back part of what I’ve lost,” she said.

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