‘Long COVID’ Could Qualify Some Americans For Disability, Says Biden
NEW CASTLE, DE - JULY 21: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about economic recovery during a campaign event at Colonial Early Education Program at the Colwyck Center on July 21, 2020 in New Castle, Delaware. Biden took no questions from the press at the conclusion of the event.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Biden administration will allow for some Americans with “long COVID” to count the condition as a disability under federal law.

In an announcement celebrating the thirty-first anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the White House stated that it would support individuals with “long COVID” — which, according to the CDC, involves “a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.” The condition may involve fatigue, coughing, chest or stomach pain, and difficulty breathing.

The White House said that “long COVID can be a disability under various Federal civil rights laws” and released guidance “explaining that some individuals with long COVID may have a disability under various civil rights laws that entitles them to protection from discrimination.”

The guidance — which involved the civil rights offices of the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Health Services — explains:

Long COVID can be a disability under Titles II (state and local government) and III (public accommodations) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Section 1557). Each of these federal laws protects people with disabilities from discrimination. 

If long COVID “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” it can count as a disability under the ADA:

“Major life activities” include a wide range of activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, writing, communicating, interacting with others, and working. The term also includes the operation of a major bodily function, such as the functions of the immune system, cardiovascular system, neurological system, circulatory system, or the operation of an organ.

The term “substantially limits” is construed broadly under these laws and should not demand extensive analysis. The impairment does not need to prevent or significantly restrict an individual from performing a major life activity, and the limitations do not need to be severe, permanent, or long-term. 

Examples of “reasonable modifications” to which people with long COVID are entitled include:

  • Providing additional time on a test for a student who has difficulty concentrating.
  • Modifying procedures so a customer who finds it too tiring to stand in line can announce their presence and sit down without losing their place in line.
  • Providing refueling assistance at a gas station for a customer whose joint or muscle pain prevents them from pumping their own gas.
  • Modifying a policy to allow a person who experiences dizziness when standing to be accompanied by their service animal that is trained to stabilize them.

The Biden administration has made federal healthcare programs a core aspect of its domestic agenda.

Most notably, the American Families Plan is described by the White House as “a once-in-a-generation investment in the foundations of middle-class prosperity — education, health care, and child care.” The new expenditures from the legislation would total over $2.5 trillion by 2031 and over $3.8 trillion by 2036.

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