COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Covid-19 has killed 100,000 people in the UK. Experts say the government is still getting it wrong
Ten months on, Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a somber public briefing Tuesday, in which he announced the country could now count more than 100,000 people as its Covid-19 dead, in what he called a "grim statistic."

Of the worst-affected nations, the UK has earned the dishonor of having the highest number of confirmed deaths in the world, proportionate to population.

A surge in case numbers that began in December has pushed hospitals to the brink. ICU workers say they have been forced to "dilute" their care and describe mental health struggles under unprecedented pressure.

Schools are shut and have moved online, disrupting the lives of students and working parents alike. All but essential shops are closed. In England, socializing, even outdoors, is banned, except in pairs for exercise.

... Like in the first wave, the government has been slow to respond to rising case and death numbers with restrictions. It has failed to get an adequate contact-tracing and isolation system running. And it has, again, been slow on border controls, only closing "travel corridors" with more than 60 countries or territories in mid-January amid record-breaking daily death tolls.

Experts say the government hasn't learned from its past mistakes and still lacks a coherent strategy.

... "The increased adherence to self-isolation rules among those with a higher household income suggests that many of those not isolating are breaking guidelines due to financial concerns, and more support needs to be put in place to allow people to self-isolate without fear of losing out financially," Fancour said.

After the hardship of the first wave, it's difficult to comprehend why the government hasn't adopted the models seen in countries that have been more successful in their responses, particularly in terms of border controls.
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Gorilla at the San Diego Zoo gets monoclonal antibody therapy after being infected with Covid-19
Winston, an elderly silverback gorilla, and eight other gorilla troop members tested positive for the virus earlier this month after showing symptoms of "mild coughing, congestion, nasal discharge and intermittent lethargy," the zoo said. The gorillas were suspected to have been infected by an asymptomatic staff member.

Due to concerns over Winston's age and underlying medical conditions, veterinarians performed a diagnostic examination and were able to confirm he had pneumonia and heart disease, San Diego Zoo Safari Park said in a news release.

From a supply not permitted for human use, Winston received monoclonal antibody therapy, heart medications and antibiotics.

"Treatment with these synthetic versions of the body's natural defenses is thought to be effective in diminishing effects from the virus," the zoo said in its news release. "The veterinary team who treated Winston believe the antibodies may have contributed to his ability to overcome the virus."

Monoclonal antibody treatments that are used to treat humans have been shown to reduce viral load and lower a person's risk of hospitalization and even death. Unlike a vaccine that takes a few weeks to work, antibody treatments work right away.

With the help of veterinarians, wildlife care professionals and specialists, the entire troop is on track to make a full recovery.

"San Diego Zoo Global is relieved to announce that the eight-member troop is eating, drinking, interacting and on their way to a full recovery," the release read.
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Global tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpasses 100 million
A year later, the pandemic shows little sign of loosening its stranglehold on billions of people's everyday lives. Cases continue to rise sharply in some parts of the world, and every day the losses mount, as more people lose loved ones to Covid-19, lose a business or lose their livelihood.

On January 15, the official global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surpassed 2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.

... The world passed the threshold of 1 million confirmed cases on April 2, and 10 million on June 28, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

It took until November 7 for the world to register 50 million confirmed cases. Since then, the trend has accelerated sharply. The 90 million case mark was passed less than three weeks ago, on January 10.

Almost a quarter of the 100 million cases reported so far have occurred in the United States, data from Johns Hopkins University shows. And more than 400,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the US, a tragic milestone reached on the last full day of Donald Trump's presidency.
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Taiwanese man fined $35K for breaking home quarantine 7 times
A Taiwanese man has been fined $1 million New Taiwan Dollars ($35,000) for repeatedly breaking his home quarantine.
The unnamed man, who lives in Taichung in central Taiwan, was doing a home quarantine in his apartment building after returning from a business trip to mainland China and violated it at least seven times, according to local media.
According to TTV News, the man left his apartment building seven times in just three days to go shopping, get his car fixed and more. He reportedly got into an altercation with one of his neighbors when they confronted him about leaving his home during quarantine.
The Taichung local government confirmed that the man returned from the mainland on January 21. Taiwan's regulations require quarantining for 14 days.
Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen denounced it as "a serious offense" and added that the man "must be given severe punishment."
In addition to the fine -- which is the highest one yet levied in Taiwan -- the man will have to pay $3,000 NTD ($107) per day for the cost of his quarantine. The Taiwanese government has been compensating quarantiners $1,000 NTD ($35) per day, which he will no longer be eligible for.
Taiwan has been one of the biggest success stories in the world when it comes to containing the coronavirus. The self-governed island closed its border early on, implemented mass testing and contact tracing and has strictly enforced quarantines.
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Fauci said 'macho guy' Trump saw masks as a 'sign of weakness' and many Americans followed his lead
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said former President Donald Trump likely didn't routinely wear a mask because he thought it diminished his "manhood."
  • "He's a pretty macho guy," Fauci said of Trump in an interview with the Atlantic.
  • Fauci said it's "unfortunate" Trump wasn't in the habit of wearing a mask because many Americans copied him.
"It's really tough to get into his head, but I think what was going on with him is he was not interested in the outbreak," Fauci said. "The outbreak to him was an inconvenient truth that he didn't accept as a truth. It's something that got in the way of what he really wanted to do."

"He's a pretty macho guy," Fauci, who's now President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor, went on to say of Trump. "It's almost like it diminishes one's manhood to wear a mask. To him, a mask was a sign of weakness. The unfortunate aspect of this is that a lot of people in the country took that on as a mantra. That's the problem."

... Asked if people died as a result of the example Trump set, Fauci told the Atlantic, "I don't want to say that. The reason I don't is that someone will take it out of context and say, 'Fauci said that the president killed people.' I don't want to go there."
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Virus advisers warn the U.S. will remain vulnerable without the quick passage of a relief bill by Congress.
The Biden administration warned that the U.S. would remain vulnerable to the coronavirus without quick passage of a relief bill by Congress.

Jeffrey Zients, Mr. Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said that the federal government still faced shortages of personal protective gear and other essential supplies that it will not be able to buy if Congress does not pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan, as well as funds to investigate contagious variants now spreading around the world.

“We are 43rd in the world in genomic sequencing — totally unacceptable,” Mr. Zients said.

... In a majority of U.S. counties, residents are at an extremely high risk for contracting Covid-19 right now.
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Millions earmarked for public health emergencies were used to pay for unrelated projects, inspector general says
Staff called the agency the ‘bank of BARDA’ and said research and development funds were regularly tapped for unrelated projects, including salaries and the removal of office furniture, the report finds

Fighting a pandemic is expensive. So is biomedical science, which is why many public health programs and projects rely on federal funding. But since 2010, millions set aside to develop drugs and vaccines for a public health crisis were misused by Health and Human Services Department staff. A whistleblower complaint triggered a federal investigation into the HHS office that oversees vaccine research. Investigators found that funds were improperly spent on salaries, administrative expenses and office redecoration.

The unidentified whistleblower alleged that officials in the office of the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, which oversaw the biomedical agency, wrongly dipped into the money set aside by Congress for development of lifesaving medicines, beginning in fiscal 2010 and continuing through at least fiscal 2019, spanning both the Obama and Trump administrations.

The inspector general substantiated some of the whistleblower’s claims, finding that staff referred to the agency as the “bank of BARDA” and told investigators that research and development funds were regularly tapped for unrelated projects, sometimes at “exorbitant” rates.
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Biden administration seeks to buy 200 million more vaccine doses, to be delivered through the summer
The White House also told governors they will get 16 percent more doses starting next week because of increased manufacturing

The Biden administration said Tuesday it was on the cusp of securing an additional 200 million doses of the two coronavirus vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States. With those vaccines, the United States would have enough to complete two-dose regimens for 300 million people. That's several million less than the total population, but more than enough for everyone older than 18. Those doses would be delivered throughout the summer, the president said yesterday.

The purchases would increase available supply by 50 percent, bringing the total to 600 million doses by this summer.

Because both products — one developed by Pfizer and German company BioNTech, and the other by Moderna — are two-dose regimens, that would be enough to fully vaccinate 300 million people. An estimated 260 million people in the United States are currently considered eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine, although Pfizer and Moderna have initiated trials for children as young as 12, the results of which could expand the pool.

The deals promised by Biden would not immediately speed up vaccinations. But they would greatly boost his chances of returning the nation to some semblance of normalcy by late summer or the fall.
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Cutting off stimulus checks to Americans earning over $75,000 could be wise, new data suggests
Biden is debating another round of $1,400 stimulus payments. Some in Congress have urged the president to target aid to lower-income families only.

As President Biden pushes for another round of stimulus payments for most Americans, calls are escalating to target the aid solely to low- and moderate-income families, and new data suggests that would provide the most needed and effective boost for the economy.

Families earning under about $75,000 typically spend the money quickly, according to a new analysis of how Americans are using the $600 economic impact payments this month by Opportunity Insights, a nonprofit research organization. Families earning above that threshold typically save the stimulus payment, which provides little help to the overall economy and signals the money was not as urgently needed.

Lawmakers from both parties lobbied the White House over the weekend for a less costly relief package that would only send stimulus payments to the most needy. Under Biden’s proposal, the vast majority of U.S. households would receive $1,400 payments.

“Targeting the stimulus payments to lower-income households would both better support the households most in need and provide a large boost to the economy in the short-run,” said John Friedman, an economics professor at Brown University and co-director of Opportunity Insights. “These checks are really impactful for lower-income households.”

... The price tag to send another round of checks to couples earning more than $75,000 and singles earning more than $50,000 would be $200 billion, yet the researchers estimate this group is only likely to spend $15 billion of that money — about 7 percent.

The initial round of $1,200 stimulus checks in the spring saw some increase in spending across all income levels, Friedman and Chetty say, but this second stimulus is revealing a wide gap. That’s likely because the recession is largely over for the rich, while poorer households are still deep in a recession. The Federal Reserve says unemployment for low-wage workers is still hovering around 20 percent — a near depression-like state.

“We’re seeing a pretty similar effect in how low-income households spent the stimulus in the first and second rounds and a smaller spending impact for high-income households,” said Friedman. “Low-income households have suffered by far the biggest economic shock. They need the help the most.”

... Some people who received a payment in January have posted on social media that they did not need the money and are donating it to charity.

“Stimulus checks arrived, time for a big food bank donation,” tweeted one woman last week.

But data indicates most people who did not need the money right away are saving the stimulus payments or using them to pay off student loan, credit card or mortgage debt.
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Philadelphia let ‘college kids’ distribute vaccines. The result was a ‘disaster,’ volunteers say.
Philadelphia is home to some of the most venerated medical institutions in the country. Yet when it came time to set up the city’s first and largest coronavirus mass vaccination site, officials turned to the start-up Philly Fighting COVID, a self-described “group of college kids” with minimal health-care experience.

Chaos ensued.

Seniors were left in tears after finding that appointments they’d made through a bungled sign-up form wouldn’t be honored. The group switched to a for-profit model without publicizing the change and added a privacy policy that would allow it to sell users’ personal data. One volunteer alleged that the 22-year-old CEO had pocketed vaccine doses. Another described a “free-for-all” where unsupervised 18- and 19-year-olds vaccinated one another and posed for photos.

Now, the city has cut ties with Philly Fighting COVID, and prosecutors are looking into the “concerning” allegations.

... Philly Fighting COVID’s young, entrepreneurial leaders also openly talked about the potential for profit, one former volunteer told WHYY: “They were bragging about how rich they were going to get.” Another volunteer said the group’s executives “said they were gonna be millionaires” by billing insurance providers for administering vaccine doses that Philly Fighting COVID got free. (Doroshin has disputed these allegations.)

... Notably, everyone on Philly Fighting COVID’s executive team is White, reported Philadelphia magazine — a fact that has raised eyebrows in a city that has struggled to vaccinate its substantial Black population, (Philadelphia is roughly 44 percent Black, but only 12 percent of vaccine doses have gone to Black people so far.) The city is also home to the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, which pioneered one of the earliest efforts to conduct coronavirus testing in communities disproportionately affected by the virus.

“If there was anybody poised and ready to do this, it was us,” founder Ala Stanford told the magazine, adding that the city had suggested she team up with Philly Fighting COVID to administer vaccine shots. “I happen to have been a doctor for 23 years, longer than some of these kids have been living, but I need these white kids to teach me how to do it?”
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China rolls out anal swab coronavirus test, saying it’s more accurate than throat method
Months-long lockdowns. Entire city populations herded through the streets for mandatory testing. The people of China could be forgiven for thinking they had seen it all during the coronavirus pandemic.

But now they face a new indignity: the addition of anal swabs — yes, you read that right — to the testing regimen for those in quarantine.

Chinese state media outlets introduced the new protocol in recent days, prompting widespread discussion and some outrage. Some Chinese doctors say the science is there. Recovering patients, they say, have continued to test positive through samples from the lower digestive tract days after nasal and throat swabs came back negative.

Yet for many, it seemed a step too far in government intrusions after a year and counting of a dignity-eroding pandemic.

“Everyone involved will be so embarrassed,” one user in Guang­dong province said Wednesday on ­Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. In a Weibo poll, 80 percent of respondents said they “could not accept” the invasive method.

... As for how the test is conducted, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention published instructions last March. It said that a stool sample should be taken from patients, and if that is not possible, to do an anal swab by inserting a cotton-tipped stick three to five centimeters (one to two inches) into the rectum.

In recent days, the state-run tabloid Global Times noted that the procedure was controversial, with some doctors saying nasal and throat swabs were more effective because coronavirus is a respiratory infection.
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House opens investigation of pandemic ventilator purchases overseen by White House
A Washington Post investigation found that the 11,200 ventilators made by a well-connected company were ill-suited for covid-19 patients and remain in a warehouse

A House subcommittee is investigating a government deal to buy $70 million worth of ventilators for the coronavirus pandemic response that a Washington Post investigation found were inadequate for treating most covid-19 patients.

Last spring, as part of its effort to increase the number of ventilators amid the crisis, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Logistics Agency purchased 11,200 AutoMedx SAVe II+ ventilators from Combat Medical Systems, which distributes the devices. But the ventilators were inadequate for treating covid-19 patients and remain in warehouses, according to Stephanie Bialek, a spokeswoman for the Strategic National Stockpile.

“AutoMedx appears to be the beneficiary of a potentially tainted procurement process,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the chairman of the House subcommittee on economic and consumer policy, which is in charge of the investigation, wrote in letters sent to the companies on Wednesday.

... After the initial contract to purchase the AutoMedx SAVe II ventilator in March, several military doctors and medical personnel expressed misgivings about the appropriateness of the SAVe II ventilator to treat covid-19 patients in an email chain reviewed by The Post, raising broader concerns about whether the national stockpile received the right products. Doctors familiar with the SAVe II called it “awful and underpowered,” according to the emails. One military doctor said an underpowered ventilator could “kill [covid patients] just as fast as no ventilator at all.”

Rather than back out of the contract, the Department of Health and Human Services requested that Combat Medical Systems make a new ventilator with improved features, said Katie McKeogh, a spokeswoman for the department. That ventilator became the SAVe II+, a device with improved capabilities but one that emergency room doctors say is still inadequate for the pandemic response.
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Existing drugs could help treat covid-19. How do we know when to use them?
Finding the balance between being ultra-rigorous in trials and trying to keep patients alive

There have been no substantial advances with new antivirals, and remdesivir, a drug approved for use in hospitalized patients, has had only a modest effect in curbing bad outcomes. We are in desperate need of safe, oral medications to treat early cases of covid-19 to prevent hospitalization and death.

Unfortunately, the debacle with hydroxychloroquine in the summer, touted by the former charlatan in chief as a cure-all for SARS-CoV-2 infection, further poisoned the well of repurposing old and generally safe medications for treating the new disease.

But potentially reliable medications are available already — and it’s time to start trying to use them, even if that means loosening the standards for deciding whether a drug works to use off-label to treat the coronavirus.

Ivermectin, a widely available, inexpensive medication used to treat parasitic infections in both humans and animals, was found to have antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2, prompting study by investigators. The results have been conflicting, leading the National Institutes of Health Covid-19 Treatment Guidelines group not to advise for or against routine use and recommending only further study. Ivermectin, however, is increasingly being tried both in the United States and internationally, with reports of widespread use. On Wednesday, the South African Medicines Control Council approved it for compassionate use.

Last week, the Montreal Heart Institute issued a news release sharing encouraging findings from a study of the anti-inflammatory medication colchicine in reducing covid-19-related hospitalizations or deaths. Colchicine is a an inexpensive and safe medication that had been on the World Health Organization list of essential medications for the treatment of gout until 2005, when it was replaced by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen. While the news release suggested a 21 percent reduction in death or hospitalizations, the actual number of those events was very small (fewer than 10, total), resulting in findings that are statistically fragile.

... So where does that leave us? From the physician perspective, with the overarching ethic for our profession being “Do no harm,” the use of a safe drug for 10 days is unlikely to be harmful for an individual and may have substantial benefit. The choice seems easy: Give it a try.

From the public health perspective, we might be recommending the use of a drug with no benefit to hundreds of thousands of scared individuals. It would be wasteful and misleading, at best, undermining the foundation of trust on which the field is built.

For me, personally, as one who is both an academic public health expert and physician, I am not ready to see fluvoxamine recommended in national treatment guidelines just yet. But I am ready to try it with individual patients who are at increased risk of bad outcomes. That’s the balance we’ll have to strike, one treatment at a time, as we try to find our way out of this pandemic.
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A Georgia GOP lawmaker refused coronavirus tests. He was kicked off the floor for ‘jeopardizing the health’ of colleagues.
As the Georgia House of Representatives convened on Tuesday, Speaker David Ralston (R) called for an unnamed lawmaker who had repeatedly refused to be tested for the coronavirus to discreetly remove himself from the room.

But no one left the chamber. So Ralston then called on a state trooper to escort out Republican state Rep. David Clark for violating the twice-a-week testing policy and for “jeopardizing the health of our members in this chamber.”

“I don’t know about y’all but I’ve been to too many funerals — and I’m tired of going to them,” Ralston said from his seat on the House dais after ordering Clark’s removal, prompting applause from fellow lawmakers.
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The Wisconsin Senate voted to end a statewide mask mandate.
The Wisconsin State Senate has voted to end a statewide mask mandate issued by the governor, a resolution that would put Wisconsin among a minority of states without such a requirement if assembly lawmakers approve it.

The resolution, which passed on Tuesday and was sponsored by Republican lawmakers who claim the measures are unconstitutional, would end a monthslong requirement to wear masks in public and indoor settings that came into force as part of emergency orders issued by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat.

The State Assembly is expected to take up the measure on Thursday. Republicans control both chambers of Wisconsin’s legislature.

Doctors and health care professionals have widely condemned the resolution, warning that masks are the best protection to prevent the spread of the coronavirus before people are vaccinated.

And evidence has shown that mask-wearing helps contain the spread of the coronavirus: A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that focused on Kansas last summer showed that new Covid-19 cases decreased 6 percent in counties that had mask mandates, while they increased 100 percent in those without one.

“Other than vaccines, mask-wearing is one of the few tools we have in our arsenal to help prevent spreading Covid-19 even further,” Bud Chumbley, the chief executive of the Wisconsin Medical Society, an advocacy group representing physicians, said in a statement.
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Moscow mayor lifts restrictions, declaring the pandemic is ‘on the decline.’
The mayor of Moscow, Sergei S. Sobyanin, declared on Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic was easing in the Russian capital, and abruptly lifted most of the remaining restrictions in place in the city, saying the focus must shift to strengthening the economy.

Although Mr. Sobyanin painted a promising picture of recovery, Russia has faced months of questions over the true scale of its outbreak and the efficacy of a Russian-developed vaccine. Last month, the state statistical agency in Moscow announced new figures indicating that the death toll from the coronavirus was more than three times as high as officially reported.

Russia has been hard hit by the pandemic, with a second wave that began in October bringing a spike in new infections and deaths, but the Kremlin expressed reluctance to impose a nationwide lockdown, even as cases surged.

“The pandemic is on the decline and under these circumstances, we must create conditions for the quickest recovery of the economy,” Mr. Sobyanin said in a statement published on his personal blog.

He added: “Friends, my warmest congratulations to you on our joint victory and one more step to a return to normal life in the wonderful city of Moscow!”

The Moscow government had already reopened museums, libraries and exhibition venues, and it promised to review the return of students to university campuses by the beginning of February.
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For sale in Oklahoma: a large stockpile of hydroxychloroquine.
The Oklahoma Department of Health is still trying to unload a stockpile of hydroxychloroquine — an antimalarial drug touted by former President Donald J. Trump as a “miracle” cure for Covid-19 despite a lack of evidence that it effectively treats the disease — that it purchased for $2 million last spring.

,,, The state is attempting to sell the stockpile back to the company it purchased it from, FFF Enterprises, a California-based health care distributor, or to find another buyer, Mr. Gerszewski said. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Oklahoma has been trying to unload the stockpile for months.

... Early, seemingly promising results, bolstered by political pressure, prompted the Food and Drug Administration to grant hydroxychloroquine an emergency authorization for use in very sick Covid-19 patients. Follow-up studies, however, found the drug neither sped recovery nor prevented healthy people from contracting the coronavirus or progressing to serious disease.

The F.D.A. revoked its emergency approval in June. The agency now warns that hydroxychloroquine can cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in coronavirus patients.

... When Mr. Trump contracted the virus in October, he received an antibody cocktail and remdesivir, an antiviral drug. Hydroxychloroquine was not mentioned as part of his treatment.
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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are variable, but often include fever, cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and loss of smell and taste. Symptoms begin one to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. Most people (81%) develop mild to moderate symptoms (up to mild pneumonia), while 14% develop severe symptoms (dyspnea, hypoxia, or more than 50% lung involvement on imaging) and 5% of patients suffer critical symptoms (respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction). At least a third of the people who are infected with the virus remain asymptomatic and do not develop noticeable symptoms at any point in time, but can spread the disease. Some patients continue to experience a range of effects—known as long COVID—for months after recovery and damage to organs has been observed. Multi-year studies are underway to further investigate the long term effects of the disease.

Source: Coronavirus disease 2019 - Wikipedia