"People think that, with COVID-19, 1 percent die and the rest just have flu," virologist Peter Piot, a giant of AIDS and Ebola research, tells The New York Times. "It's not that simple — there's this whole thing in the middle." Piot, 71, should know: The coronavirus "hit me like a bus" in March, he said, and he's only now able to move about for more than 10 minutes at a time. Researchers are still learning about the new coronavirus, but some people fortunate enough to recover still face lung scarring, heart damage, persistent fatigue, blood clots, strokes, neurological problems, and other long-term damage.
People in their 70s or older, like Piot, "are most likely to die from the virus, while younger people generally have a milder form of COVID," Renuka Rayasam writes at Politico. "Survivors in their 40s, 50s, and 60s will likely suffer the longest," experiencing serious aftereffects following more severe infections. The exhaustion and shortness of breath can make it impossible to return to work for a year or more, which can also lead to deteriorating mental health. COVID-19 survivors aren't allowed to join the U.S. military, Rayasam notes.
Middle-aged survivors are "the group that we're concerned about when we discharge," Shari Brosnahan, a pulmonary and critical care doctor at NYU's Langone Health, tells Politico. "If you were an active person with this disease and were in the ICU, your transition away from either being a primary breadwinner or taking care of kids or taking a trip in your retirement, those are things that have been taken away from you."
The 99,000 recorded U.S. COVID-19 deaths grab most of the attention, but it's worth remembering — and keeping in mind — that life hasn't returned to normal for many of the 1.68 million Americans infected with the coronavirus, and it may not feel normal for quite a while.