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The COVID public health emergency is ending — but long COVID persists for some

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's no understatement to say COVID-19 has shifted the way most of us see the world. For some, it has fundamentally shifted how they see themselves.

SEMHAR FISSEHA: I will always be a long-hauler.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

That is 41-year-old Brooklyn resident Semhar Fisseha. She got sick with COVID more than two years ago, and she stayed sick. Sometimes she was so weak she couldn't get around without a wheelchair. Many months later, she knew she was in a camp that had been in the news a lot - those with long COVID.

KELLY: Here is how she described her life to NPR in late 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

FISSEHA: I was really active and social, and to go from that to basically being homebound and having to calculate the energy that I have for just the basic activities that I took for granted before - how do you wrap your mind around that?

KELLY: And this week, Fisseha spoke to NPR again, as today marks the end of the federal public health emergency.

FISSEHA: Now there's kind of, like, a stop button happening to it. Like, OK, we're done with this public health emergency. But there are thousands of people that are still left dealing with the impact of it.

KELLY: Fisseha works in health care as a population health administrator at a medical school, so she is well aware of what the wind down of the emergency means. For many, free testing will end. States will no longer be required to report case numbers to the CDC.

PFEIFFER: And more broadly, Fisseha is worried about what it means for research on patients like her.

FISSEHA: A lot of long-haulers were mild - managed it at home, so they're not going to be captured. New long-haulers will not be captured.

PFEIFFER: There are some things that won't go away with the end of the public health emergency, like telehealth and free vaccine access for most Americans.

KELLY: And fortunately for Fisseha, some of her worst symptoms have improved. She still had to change the way she lives to manage it all, though. Simple triggers like being hungry or cold can still overwhelm her body.

FISSEHA: Whereas before, if I was hungry, my body would go into this mode of, like, all right, let's go into survival mode until you eat. Now it just - I kind of, like, lose mobility. My body kind of shuts down. I start slurring my words. I move really slowly, and then if I don't remedy it - if I don't, like, have a snack, I could - it's weird. It's kind of like I'm awake, but I'm in a coma. I'm aware that there's still so much research that needs to be done around long COVID, that we don't know enough about it. We don't know how it chooses who to stick onto.

PFEIFFER: So as the world moves on from a state of emergency, Fisseha hopes the medical community won't leave those with long COVID behind. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kai McNamee
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.