63-year-old trucker Paul Russell’s story begins on a drive back to the state from Florida last November. At some point on his trip, Russell explained in a recent Idaho Statesman profile from reporter Audrey Dutton, he became sick but didn’t immediately realize his suddenly declining health was a result of having contracted the virus.
When he got home, he stayed away from his wife and slept in their travel trailer instead. A subsequent COVID-19 test confirmed he was indeed positive, a revelation which inspired Russell to remain in the trailer for another two days before he told his wife he needed to be taken to a hospital.
Russell ultimately spent several days in the ICU before showing moderate improvements and being moved to a standard room. All told, Russell—who also enrolled in a clinical trial for a new potential pandemic drug—was in the hospital for 16 days. According to his doctor, he will now be on oxygen for the rest of his life.
“Before I came down with the virus, I was one of those jackasses who thought the virus would disappear the day after the election,” Russell, whose other symptoms have included memory fog and speech complications, told Dutton. “I was one of those conspiracy theorists. … All these people that are saying that it’s fake, blah blah blah, they’re lying to themselves.”
The “long-hauler” phenomenon, though not discussed nearly enough amid ongoing coverage of the society-altering pandemic, has been a cause for concern for some time now. In a reflective article shared earlier this month, physician and Harvard Health Letter editor Anthony Komaroff pointed out that tens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone have endured “lingering” illnesses following a positive COVID-19 test. These symptoms can even persist for months after the virus is no longer detected in the body. Meanwhile, typical cases of those who contract COVID-19 see a recovery timeline as short as a few weeks.
Given that much is still being learned about COVID-19 and its short-term and long-term impacts, further studies are needed to arrive at a deeper understanding of the long-hauler experience. The CDC confirmed last year that multi-year studies are already underway.
In a study by Dr. Natalie Lambert and Survivor Corps from July of last year, analysis of Facebook survey responses suggested that long-haulers’ symptoms are “far more numerous” than what was then being reported by the CDC.