My email inbox is so much lighter, and the to-do list is easier to manage. Who would say that after a week of sick leave thanks to covid? I can because I indeed got covid, I used the ‘out of office’ email, and delegated work. But as I got the energy back, I was intent on getting those quick emails and tasks sorted so I could feel lighter before getting into anything that needed heavy lifting.
I couldn’t do the heavy lifting because my brain and body were still recovering. The reports that covid is like the flu, based on my experience are correct. What I have found different is that the fatigue is real and the ability to look at a screen for long periods can be reduced.
Coughs, colds, flus and covid are affecting each of us differently. Some bounce back in less than 1 or 2 days, while others are struggling weeks later. The research behind long covid is only really coming to the fore now. The benefit of working in both sports and HR is that I have had access to the research about long covid before it started becoming mainstream news.
The bottom-line advice for your recovery from covid is rest and to pace your return to usual activities. If you get back into the things that stress your body and mind too soon, then you are likely to delay your recovery and put yourself at risk of having long term repercussions.
In October 2021, the World Health Organisation published a clinical case definition of post-COVID condition also known as ‘Long Covid’:
“Post COVID-19 condition occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, usually 3 months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis. Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction but also others which generally have an impact on everyday functioning. Symptoms may be new onset, following initial recovery from an acute COVID-19 episode, or persist from the initial illness. Symptoms may also fluctuate or relapse over time. A separate definition may be applicable for children.”
Now long covid doesn’t just apply to athletes who rush back into training. It also applies to you and me. The people who may get back into work too soon. I appreciate that time off can mean less pay and work not done. But it could be the best thing for you and your team in the long run. Ever heard of opportunity cost? Don’t take the time off now and you could be taking 3x more time off later because of complications. Or worse still, while you battle through the brain fog or cognitive delays covid offers up, you make decisions are not in the best interests of you, your team or the business.
So, what are the symptoms to look out for?
Symptoms of long COVID can persist for weeks or sometimes months. These can include but this is not a full list:
- shortness of breath
- low mood
- difficulty concentrating, cognitive impairment or ‘brain fog’
- chest pain
- joint pain
- muscle aches and pains
- muscle weakness
- ongoing changes to smell or taste
- fast-beating or a ‘pounding’ heart
- sleep disturbances.
If you think you may be experiencing long covid, we recommend you keep a diary of your symptoms and activities for a few days, and then seek help from your doctor or healthcare team.
Did you know COVID-19 healthcare is fully funded for up to 6 weeks from the first day of your symptoms or the day you test positive, whichever is earlier.
What if you or your team do work that is physically active?
We are encouraging business leaders to incorporate into their pre-work and site checks, a physical “how am I feeling” check for those who are returning work after covid, if they tested positive or were a household contact who continued to test negative. This is an effective way to:
- identify if someone if starting to show symptoms
- identify if someone is suffering from long covid after their return to work
- track long covid symptoms, and
- understand how the work may need to be adapted to ensure those health and safety risks associated with someone suffering long covid are mitigated
If a long covid symptom is brain fog then decision making and response times could be significantly reduced. If that worker is involved in high-risk work, then rushing back into work could put them in situations they are simply not ready for and affect the safety of those around them.
What if the employee can’t afford to be off work until they have fully recovered from long covid?
This is where an effective return to work plan is needed. You may need to identify what work can be done and what support is required for that person while they are at work. It could be that all they need are more frequent breaks or their computer screens to be adjusted.
A frank conversation with the employee will be required to find out what their personal financial situation and mental health is really like so together you can figure what is going to work best. Depending on what leave entitlements are available you could use any accrued paid leave entitlements to top up the employee’s pay. The employee may also qualify for the covid leave subsidy if they can’t work at all.
It is worth mentioning income insurance or mortgage protection insurance to the employee because they may be able to make a claim. Or alternatively, help them to access support via Work and Income. After all, with lockdowns and other winter bugs expected, many people will not have enough leave to cover their absences and if they are unwell they shouldn’t be working either.
This is a conversation business owners need to have with their accountants and mentors too. It is all too easy for us to get back into work because we are needed and must be there so the work keeps coming in. If you are in this situation, then you had better put a succession plan in place as soon as possible.
There is no doubt, long covid is another ripple effect covid is leaving on us, and we are learning as we go through this.
We encourage you to read more about long covid and figure out how you can accommodate a longer return to work in your team.
Here are some helpful resources on long covid for you to read:
- Covid-19 Website information about long covid – https://covid19.govt.nz/prepare-and-stay-safe/about-covid-19/covid-19-symptoms/#long-covid
- Ministry of Health Information about long covid – https://www.health.govt.nz/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-health-advice-public/about-covid-19/long-covid
- Health Navigator long covid advice and information https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/health-a-z/c/covid-19-long-covid/
- Affect of long covid on athletes – https://globalsportmatters.com/health/2022/02/09/how-athletes-dealing-with-uncertainty-long-covid-asia-durr-austin-phyfe/
- Newsroom article about the effects of long covid on athletes https://www.newsroom.co.nz/lockerroom/long-covid-tackles-even-the-fittest-athletes
- British Journal of Sports Medicine – Infographic about the staged return to exercise after testing positive – https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/54/19/1174