Op-Ed | New York State must do more to compensate injured workers who sustain long COVID

Hand poked on a row of wooden dominoes, with the words "COVID19" on the first piece and the words "LONG COVID" on subsequent pieces.
Photo via Getty Images

Now that the New York State legislature is back in session, it’s imperative for our lawmakers in Albany to do more to compensate injured workers who sustain Long Covid.  The time is now for our legislators to act.  Albany must ensure that those who worked in New York State and sustained Long Covid as a result of their work, have an ability to survive and obtain proper medical care and cash benefits.  Long Covid victims deserve more assistance for potentially life-changing disabilities associated with their illness.   

Studies indicate that about 1 million New Yorkers have struggled with Long Covid since 2020 and that number grows daily as more workers become sick from Covid and its related variants.  Most people get better from Covid-19 within weeks. However, many people continue to have symptoms or develop new ones after their initial recovery.   The New York State Department of Health recognizes that Long COVID is a serious problem that must be addressed on a government level. The United States Department of Human Services also recognizes that Long Covid can constitute a disability under the American Disabilities Act. 

Long COVID, or Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC), is a condition in which individuals infected with COVID-19 continue to experience a wide range of physical, mental, emotional, and psychological symptoms after their initial infection, impacting their daily lives.

The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board does not adequately take into account the fact that injured workers with Long Covid suffer from a wide range of symptoms. Clearly, the symptomatology disables workers the same as any other long-term disability sustained while working.   While the Workers’ Compensation system can ascertain through medical testimony if an injured worker has Long Covid, there is currently no law that allows for the disabling symptomatology to be attributed solely to Long Covid.   Absent a change in the regulations even with an ADA designation and all the literature regarding Long Covid, the Board cannot provide just compensation for working people with Long Covid.

Currently, the Workers’ Compensation Board does not go far enough in addressing injured workers who have contracted Long Covid. While there is recognition that many workers suffer from long covid with a range of symptoms such as brain fog, shortness of breath, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and chronic fatigue; the Workers’ Compensation system still allows for the insurance carrier to controvert each and every one of these symptoms as separate injuries. This results in enormous delays and bars recovery in many instances where the injured worker lacks the resources to successfully litigate his or her claim.

Aronova and Associates represents thousands of injured workers who have been exposed to covid as a result of their employment. One such individual was a New York City Transit worker, who was working as a bus operator during the pandemic. Tragically, he contracted Covid in March of 2020, which has developed into Long Covid and he has been unable to return to work as a result. Ultimately, he was forced to retire due to his ongoing symptoms. Despite his workers’ compensation claim having been established for work-related Covid since July of 2022, the Transit Worker has yet to receive any monetary compensation through New York’s Workers’ Compensation Board.

The Transit Worker and his family have struggled with the loss of his income and are facing foreclosure on their home as a result of this undue delay. This delay in benefits is a direct result of the insurance carrier’s ability to litigate each and every symptom as if it were a separate injury and disputing medical causation despite the fact that the claim has already been established for work related Covid. The delay tactics and excessive litigation of the insurance company have led to an undue prejudice and economic hardship deeply affecting the Transit Worker and his family. 

This Transit Worker is not alone in his situation. Many other injured essential workers suffer from Long Covid under similar circumstances. This must change immediately! It is critical for Albany lawmakers to pass legislation to ensure that those who suffer from Long Covid, while employed, can obtain the necessary medical care and cash benefits to recover from this disease, which for many essential workers, may mean for the rest of their lives.

Ester Aronova is the founding partner of Aronova & Associates, a law firm specializing in representing injured workers.