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Arizonans sick for months as new study seeks to understand 'long-haulers'

Posted at 5:48 PM, Dec 08, 2020

SURPRISE, AZ — More than 12,000 Arizonans reportedly contracted COVID-19 Monday, and they all will experience the virus differently.

Many will recover within two weeks, but doctors say some will battle symptoms for months, potentially years, to come.

FULL SECTION: Everything you need to know about coronavirus

The group with lasting issues call themselves "long-haulers." Groups have formed on social media with thousands of people sharing stories of their lasting symptoms and unexplained issues that have confounded many doctors.

"We are really interested in understanding how long these symptoms persist, and whether or not there are other chronic diseases that may develop differently in individuals that have COVID," said Dr. Leslie Farland, an Assistant Professor in The University of Arizona’s Epidemiology Department.

The University of Arizona, with the help of Arizona State University, is conducting a CoVHORT study "to better understand the short-term and long-term health effects of COVID-19."

"Even with these new vaccines coming down the pipeline, coronavirus is going to be impacting our communities for a long time," said Dr. Farland.

"We’d like it to translate to care for patients," said Dr. Megan Jehn, an Epidemiologist with ASU. "Anything that we can do to minimize the long-term impact from this viral illness, I think would have a measurable impact on our community."

Tammy Bayne from Surprise first caught COVID in late February. "I thought I had narcolepsy or something," she said. "On the way home [from the doctor], I fell asleep driving. Luckily it was right in front of my mailbox."

The next day, February 29, the 55-year-old checked into the hospital. "They kept me for like a week," she said. "My feet were swollen. They still are. Feels like little prickly pins. I couldn’t breathe."

When doctors sent her home she was far from 100% percent. "I don’t even remember March. I slept, that’s it," said Bayne.

Nearly ten months later, things are not much better. "I am on [oxygen] about 20 hours a day," said Bayne. "Some days all I can do is get up and take a shower, and then I am wiped out for the rest of the day."

Bayne is now hoping doctors can find some solutions to her persistent pain. "[The study] is very important, because it’s ruining so many people's lives," said Bayne.

The virus has taken Tammy's ability to drive, her financial safety and stability. "We’ve kind of just been sliding by on credit cards," she said. "APS has been good. They’re not turning anything off. We just make as much payments as we can on that."

It has also robbed the grandmother of the moments she values most. "I haven’t seen my grandkids very much this year," she said. "It breaks my heart. They’re tiny and I can’t hug them because we don’t know how sick Grammy is right now."

Tammy does not know if she will ever be able to work again or sleep without oxygen tubes. But she has a message for others. "It is not a hoax. It’s not fake...try and have some compassion."

The UofA and ASU study is completely voluntary. Already they have had more than 2,000 Arizonans sign up, but their goal is 10,000 men and women - both COVID and non-COVID participants.

If you're interested, you can sign up here: