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Coronavirus Pandemic

Michiganders experienced increased disabilities following COVID illness

Man using crutches

Michigan residents who were sick with COVID-19 in 2020 were almost twice as likely to experience disability following their illness, according to the latest report from the Michigan COVID-19 Recovery Surveillance Study.

The study, which has been following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Michiganders, also showed that nearly 1 in 3 Black respondents reported a mobility disability after their COVID-19 illness.

“To have this level of disability after infection is going to be a problem, not just for the individual, but for the medical system and the health care system and the public health system at large,” said lead investigator Nancy Fleischer, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. “Even though we’re still focused on wave after wave of infections, we are going to have to deal with wave after wave of consequences for long-term health, including disability.”

For their analysis, researchers asked respondents diagnosed with COVID-19 on or before Nov. 15, 2020, if they had difficulties with mobility-related disabilities. They asked more detailed questions about five other types of functional disability to those diagnosed between Oct. 1 and Nov. 15, 2020.

Three domains of functional disability, measured as whether respondents had difficulty walking or climbing stairs; serious difficulty concentrating, remembering or having difficulty making decisions; and blindness or difficulty seeing, all were significantly higher after a COVID-19 infection.

Among other key findings, researchers noted that:

  • 27% of all respondents with COVID-19 wellness reported having some type of disability, compared to 15% before the illness
  • Women, white respondents and those with a household income of $75,000 or more had significantly higher prevalence of any functional disability after their COVID-19 illness compared to before their illness
  • Respondents who were classified as obese had a significantly higher prevalence of any functional disability and mobility disability after their illness compared to before

Fleischer said the researchers are continuing to study the disease and its impact on Michiganders, including how different waves have affected them.

The study is a partnership between researchers at the U-M School of Public Health and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and seeks to inform health equitable responses to the current pandemic and future public health efforts.

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