Clarence Troutman survived a two-month hospital stay with Covid-19, and then went home in early June. But he’s far from over the disease, still suffering from limited endurance, shortness of breath and hands that can be stiff and swollen.
“Before Covid, I was a 59-year-old, relatively healthy man,” said the broadband technician from Denver. “If I had to say where I’m at now, I’d say about 50% of where I was, but when I first went home, I was at 20%.”
He credits much of his progress to the “motivation and education” gleaned from a new program for post-Covid patients at the University of Colorado, one of a small but growing number of clinics aimed at treating and studying those who have had the unpredictable disease caused by this coronavirus.
As the US general election nears, much attention is focused on daily infection numbers or the climbing death toll, but another measure matters: Patients who survive but continue to wrestle with a range of physical or mental effects, including lung damage, heart or neurological concerns, anxiety and depression.
“We need to think about how we’re going to provide care for patients who may be recovering for years after the virus,” said Dr. Sarah Jolley, a pulmonologist with UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and director of UCHealth’s Post-Covid Clinic, where Troutman is seen.
Long-haul patients need care
That need has jump-started post-Covid clinics, which bring together a range of specialists into a one-stop shop.
One of the first and largest such clinics is at Mount Sinai in New York City, but programs have also launched at the University of California-San Francisco, Stanford University Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania. The Cleveland Clinic plans to open one early next year.
And it’s not just academic medical centers: St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, part of a network of community clinics in South Central Los Angeles, said this month it aims to test thousands of its patients who were diagnosed with Covid since March for long-term effects.
The general idea is to bring together medical professionals across a broad spectrum, including physicians who specialize in lung disorders, heart issues and brain and spinal cord problems. Mental health specialists are also involved, along with social workers and pharmacists.
Many of the centers also do research studies, aiming to better understand why the virus hits certain patients so hard.
“Some of our patients, even those on a ventilator on death’s door, will come out remarkably unscathed,” said Dr. Lekshmi Santhosh, an assistant professor of pulmonary critical care and a leader of the post-Covid program at UC San Francisco, called the OPTIMAL clinic.
“Others, even those who were never hospitalized, have disabling fatigue, ongoing chest pain and shortness of breath, and there’s a whole spectrum in between.”
‘Staggering’ medical need
It’s too early to know how long the persistent medical effects and symptoms will linger, or to make accurate estimates on the percentage of patients affected.
Some early studies are sobering. An Austrian report released this month found that 76 of the first 86 patients studied had evidence of lung damage six weeks after hospital discharge, but that dropped to 48 patients at 12 weeks.
Some researchers and clinics say about 10% of US Covid patients they see may have longer-running effects, said Dr. Zijian Chen, medical director of the Center for Post-Covid Care at