At a celebration of the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), President Biden announced that long Covid will now be considered a covered disability under the ADA and other federal statutes that protect persons with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services. The executive order highlighted new joint guidance from the United States Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) relating to this newly recognized condition.
For context, while most people infected by Covid-19 recover from the illness with little or no lingering effects, reports of long Covid symptoms have been growing among Americans for some time. Long Covid is the long-term persistent condition that people suffer from after contracting Covid-19. The symptoms vary but can include fatigue, ongoing high temperature, breathlessness, cognitive impairment, generalized pain and mental health problems. During his remarks, President Biden noted that these conditions can be disabling and that accommodations for these conditions are necessary for long haulers “so they can live their lives in dignity.”
According to guidance from the DOJ and HHS, long Covid will constitute a disability under the ADA “if the person’s condition or any of its symptoms is a ‘physical or mental’ impairment that ‘substantially limits’ one or more major life activities.” For example, if a person experiences memory lapses or difficulty concentrating as a result of long Covid substantially limiting their brain function or cognitive ability, that person could be considered disabled. Long Covid will not, however, automatically be considered a disability under the new guidelines and it is cautioned in the guidance that each decision must be made on a case-by-case basis. The guidance further provides that an “individualized assessment is necessary to determine whether a person’s long Covid condition or any of its symptoms substantially limits a major life activity.”