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Some N.H. COVID Long-Haulers Still Unable to Return to Work

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Jeff Lightizer
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Jeff Lightizer of Plaistow hasn't been able to return to work since his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Jeff Lightizer of Plaistow came down with COVID-19 over a year ago. While his symptoms have improved, he’s still dealing with shortness of breath and fatigue.

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The Biden administration announced last week that cases of long COVID, like Lightizer’s, could be considered a disability under civil rights law. And doctors in New Hampshire are noting the toll of long COVID.

Dr. Jeffrey Parsonnet leads Dartmouth Hitchcock’s treatment program for COVID long haulers, where patient’s symptoms persist for 12 weeks or longer

Since its launch in April, around 270 patients have been referred to Dartmouth’s program, far more than the clinic ever expected.

Dr. Parsonnet says it’s clear to him that many of his patients have become disabled by the disease. He says he has multiple patients who can only return to work very part-time, or haven’t been able to come back at all.

“When they work more than that...the next day they pay for it and they are totally exhausted,” he says.

Lightizer isn’t one of Dr. Parsonnet’s patients, but he’s noticed similar symptoms.

“I try to do as much as I can, but fatigue sets in pretty quickly, and slows me down,” Lightizer says. He also says if he pushes too hard, he’ll relapse, and symptoms will get worse.

He hasn’t been able to return to work. Prior to getting sick, he’d been working at a manufacturing company in Massachusetts.

Lightizer says he’s been able to claim Social Security benefits, although not because of his long COVID.

Car accidents in 2015 and 2017 left him with long-term health consequences that made him eligible. Lightizer says he still found the Biden administration's announcement on long COVID meaningful because he knows many people are suffering from symptoms even worse than his, and may not have gotten any accommodations.

Parsonnet says while long COVID symptoms are wide-ranging, including everything from muscle aches to anxiety, a lot of what he’s seen are patients with brain fog and insomnia. He’s also seeing patients who, like Lightizer, have been dealing with symptoms for over a year.

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