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Feds Declare Long COVID a Disability Under ADA, RA and ACA

by Ed Lyon

The COVID-19 pandemic is now a well-known, world-wide fact of life. Less well known is a lingering set of aftereffects that afflict some people infected with the disease, which the medical establishment has labeled “Long COVID.”

Some of Long COVID’s common symptoms include tiredness or fatigue, cognitive difficulties or “brain fog,” headaches, dizziness—especially when standing up—and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, along with heart palpitations or pounding/fast heartbeat, chest pain, coughing, persistent or intermittent fever, joint or muscle pains or aches, depression or anxiety and a loss of taste or smell.

Because of the persistent and pernicious effects Long COVID has had on so many people, on July 26, 2021, the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice declared it to be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. Ch.126, Title II (relating to state and local governments) and Title III (relating to public accommodations); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA), 29 U.S.C. §701 et seq.; and section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), 119 through 124 U.S.C.

These laws protect disabled people from discrimination because of their disabilities, which now includes those suffering from Long COVID, so long as “it substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

These activities include, but are not limited to “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, 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 of the immune system, cardiovascular system, neurological system, circulatory system or the operation of an organ.”

Some of the damage caused by COVID-19 that leads to these limitations targets the lungs, heart or kidneys, while the disease can also result in neurological damage or damage to the circulatory system that results in poor blood flow, as well as “lingering emotional illness or other mental health conditions.”

Some identified examples of limited major life activities caused by Long COVID include lung damage resulting in “shortness of breath, fatigue, and related effects” that “substantially (limit) respiratory function,” as well as gastrointestinal problems such as months-old nausea, vomiting and intestinal pain. There can also be “memory lapses” and “brain fog” causing substantial limitations in brain functioning.

Public accommodation suggestions for Long COVID sufferers include, but are not limited to ‘”(p)roviding 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, and 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.”

More importantly, both the ADA and RA apply to prisoners and given the hundreds of thousands of prisoners who have contracted COVID since the pandemic began, it will likely be affecting large numbers of prisoners. 

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Justice, Guidance on “Long COVID” as a Disability Under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557, Bulletin of July 26, 2021

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