Doctor wearing protective suit to fight coronavirus pandemic covid-2019.
(Credit: miodrag ignjatovic / Getty Images)

As the long-term care industry continues to grapple with a historic workforce shortage, the Department of Labor is turning its attention to solve workplace challenges associated with long COVID.

The department, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Surgeon General, on Tuesday launched a new initiative seeking public input to better understand long COVID in workplaces. 

Long COVID is described as a syndrome for people previously infected with COVID-19 who experience long-term effects from the infection. Researchers have estimated that 10% of people infected with COVID-19 will experience long COVID — though the rate for seniors is estimated as at least triple that (32%).

Nursing homes have previously been among the workplaces with the highest incidence of COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic. There have been more than 2.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents and staff and more than 156,000 deaths between the groups. 

Researchers have also said the condition has contributed to the 20% loss in workforce for the healthcare industry. Investigators have found that many workers dealing with long COVID are forced to reduce the number of hours at work , or often need to go back on leave in order to fully recover.

“We are going to see more and more of this because no one knows how to treat or care for people with long COVID because it’s a condition that we haven’t dealt with in the past,” Linda Spaulding, RN, said of the findings. 

The DOL on Tuesday said the effort is aimed at better supporting workers coping with symptoms, their co-workers and employers. It specifically wants input on challenges workers face as they cope with symptoms; how employers support workers with long COVID; ways to inform workers and employers about conditions; organizations that can develop solutions for those affected by long COVID; and obstacles with obtaining disability benefits with the condition.

Department officials said those that participate should submit ideas, share comments and show their support for others’ ideas that they believe can help “federal agencies identify and respond to long COVID’s workplace challenges, and help reduce the employment and financial impacts of the condition.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to better reflect how nursing homes’ COVID-19 death rate has previously ranked among other workplaces.