Long-haul COVID: The ongoing impact of the pandemic in Indigenous communities

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has his temperature checked while helping to distribute food, water, and other supplies to Navajo families on May 27, 2020 in Huerfano. In this time, coronavirus was spreading, and federal aid money was still slow to come to tribes. (Photo by Sharon Chischilly / Getty Images)

Since the onset of the global pandemic that began flourishing in March 2020, COVID-19 alone has become the third leading cause of death among Americans — falling just behind heart disease and cancer. But perhaps more striking is how the increasing and ongoing health disparities lived by Indigenous communities even now, two years into this new reality, continue to be overlooked.

COVID long-haulers feel abandoned and invisible

Indigenous communities across New Mexico have been doing tremendous work to prevent the wide spread of COVID-19, and have protected those most vulnerable in our communities. In the early months of the pandemic, data was collected on how many people in each Pueblo contracted COVID-19, how many recovered and how many died from the virus. 

However, not much data has been collected to date that helps us understand how many community members suffer from the lingering symptoms and health complications weeks, months and even years after an acute COVID-19 infection. This is what is referred to as long-haul COVID.

Long-haul COVID is a medical condition that is caused by contracting the virus and never making a full recovery, or making a full recovery then unexpectedly experiencing symptoms weeks, or months later. Individuals with long-haul COVID reported mostly feeling continuous, debilitating fatigue, breathing difficulties, brain fog, digestive issues, tinnitus,  chest pain, heart palpitations and racing heart rates unrelated to anxiety weeks after their initial infection. 

Research is now indicating that the acute phase of COVID is not the only way the illness impacts our health. Long-haul COVID is yet another health crisis affecting our Indigenous community members. And as Indigenous communities, we need to continue to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, and provide care for those who are struggling with long-haul COVID or further health complications from COVID. 

As Indigenous communities, we need to understand how those with long-haul COVID, chronic illnesses and disabilities massively impacted by this global pandemic, and continue to provide support, car, and protection for those most vulnerable — immunocompromised, disabled, elderly, women, and children in our indigenous communities — and every community member. And long-haul COVID is teaching us that it can impact even those most healthy, as it is found predominantly in women ages 20-40. 

Continuing to prevent community-wide spread should remain as one of our priorities as Indigenous communities.

Masking, updating indoor air ventilation and filtration, testing, reporting, and avoiding mass gatherings that lack safety measures brings justice to those who have passed on due to COVID and those whose health is still suffering.

As Pueblo and Indigenous communities, we need to continue to stay up to date on COVID realities and data, and continue to do all we can to prevent spread and illness as our commitment to ending violence against our communities, and in particular, our Native women. 

Long COVID has devastated individuals as they struggle to access health care and receive a diagnosis, especially since these patients are not able to work for months and even years. Some patients have been bed-bound and house-bound for months. Enduring symptoms not only impact the health of our communities, but our healthcare system. We need to learn how to continue to care for each other in this global pandemic. 

For more information about long COVID

Please contact, follow and research the following organizations: Body Politic, Long Covid SOS, Long Covid Physio, Post Covid Conditions – Center for Disease Control and Prevention on social media. Research the following topics: Long Covid in the United States, Post-Covid, Covid Long Haulers, etc. 

Reach out to your local health care team to talk about Long COVID, and connect with others who may be experiencing similar symptoms and health complications post infection. 

Stay tuned for more information about Long COVID impacts and realities in Indigenous communities. 

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Chasity Salvador, CSVANW
Chasity Salvador, CSVANW

Chasity Salvador is a community partner with the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, a Long COVID survivor and advocate, an Indigenous poet, writer, traditional farmer, seedkeeper, and community doula from the Pueblo of Acoma. She is working to revitalize medicinal plant knowledge and helping those who continue to suffer from the lingering affects of COVID-19 in her Pueblo.