Results of a new survey suggest long COVID—symptoms of the COVID-19 virus that persistent well beyond initial infection—is among the obstacles many schools will confront as they seek to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
In a survey of educators conducted by the EdWeek Research Center last month, 20 percent of respondents said their school or district had “some” experience with long COVID among their employees. Two percent said they had “a lot.”
Sixteen percent said their school or district had “some” experience with long COVID among students. Two percent said they had a lot.
The EdWeek Research Center surveyed 1,099 teachers, principals, and district administrators from June 29 to July 18 as part of a regular series of polls tracking the pandemic’s affect on schools. It described long COVID as a case of the virus that has “symptoms that persist more than three months after initial infection.”
Scientists have many open questions about long COVID and post-COVID conditions where symptoms persist or emerge weeks, months, or even years after a person first contracts the virus.
Those symptoms, which vary greatly in severity, could include fatigue, cough, difficulty concentrating, joint pain, a change in the senses of smell or taste, and depression or anxiety, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The practical consequences of such prolonged symptoms—like increased sick leave or accommodations for those affected—come as schools prepare to enter a fourth school year of possible disruptions caused by the pandemic.
While many Americans have returned to pre-pandemic routines or abandoned precautions like masks, virus cases have trended upward in recent months. Public health officials say that’s in part because the latest COVID-19 variant, BA.5, is highly contagious and may cause repeated reinfections in individuals, even if they have been vaccinated.
That means schools face the prospect of repeated teacher and student absences as a new school year approaches.
Forty-two percent of U.S. counties are considered high risk under the CDC metric, which relies on factors like deaths, hospitalizations, and hospital capacity. The agency recommends residents in those areas wear masks indoors in all public places. The high-risk designations are dramatic reversal from the spring, when most counties were considered “low risk” areas.
Education Week’s survey did not ask educators about the severity of long COVID symptoms they had seen among adults or students in their schools, or how much disruption those symptoms have caused.
The U.S. Department of Education said in July 2021 guidance that schools must provide accommodations for students with long COVID under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Education Week covered those concerns in June.
One in five educators responding to a survey conducted in April by the EdWeek Research Center said they had contracted long COVID. In April, Education Week interviewed ten school employees about their experience with the condition. You can read their stories here.
Data analysis for this article was provided by the EdWeek Research Center. Learn more about the center’s work.