Research Letter: Association between long COVID symptoms and employment status

medRxiv. 2022 Nov 18;2022.11.17.22282452. doi: 10.1101/2022.11.17.22282452. Preprint


Background: Symptoms of Coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) infection persist beyond 2 months in a subset of individuals, a phenomenon referred to as long COVID, but little is known about its functional correlates and in particular the relevance of neurocognitive symptoms.

Method: We analyzed a previously-reported cohort derived from 8 waves of a nonprobability-sample internet survey called the COVID States Project, conducted every 4-8 weeks between February 2021 and July 2022. Primary analyses examined associations between long COVID and lack of full employment or unemployment, adjusted for age, sex, race and ethnicity, education, urbanicity, and region, using multiple logistic regression with interlocking survey weights.

Results: The cohort included 15,307 survey respondents ages 18-69 with test-confirmed COVID-19 at least 2 months prior, of whom 2,236 (14.6%) reported long COVID symptoms, including 1,027/2,236 (45.9%) reporting either 'brain fog' or impaired memory. Overall, 1,418/15,307 (9.3%) reported being unemployed, including 276/2,236 (12.3%) of those with long COVID and 1,142/13,071 (8.7%) of those without; 8,228 (53.8%) worked full-time, including 1,017 (45.5%) of those with long COVID and 7,211 (55.2%) without. In survey-weighted regression models, presence of long COVID was associated with being unemployed (crude OR 1.44, 95% CI 1.20-1.72; adjusted OR 1.23, 95% CI 1.02-1.48), and with lower likelihood of working full-time (crude OR 0.73, 95% CI 0.64-0.82; adjusted OR 0.79, 95% CI 0.70 -0.90). Among individuals with long COVID, the presence of cognitive symptoms - either brain fog or impaired memory - was associated with lower likelihood of working full time (crude OR 0.71, 95% CI 0.57-0.89, adjusted OR 0.77, 95% CI 0.61-0.97).

Conclusion: Long COVID was associated with a greater likelihood of unemployment and lesser likelihood of working full time in adjusted models. Presence of cognitive symptoms was associated with diminished likelihood of working full time. These results underscore the importance of developing strategies to respond to long COVID, and particularly the associated neurocognitive symptoms.

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