By MAEVE SHEEHEY and REBECCA RAINEY
The Biden administration announced Monday that long Covid, a condition where people experience long-term Covid-19 symptoms long after clearing the actual virus from their system, could be considered a disability under civil rights laws.
The White House announced the new long Covid guidance on the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination.
In Rose Garden remarks on Monday marking the ADA anniversary, President Joe Biden noted that long Covid conditions can rise to disability level. He said accommodations for these conditions are necessary for long-haulers “so they can live their lives in dignity,” noting that this effort is the “first of its kind.”
“We’re bringing agencies together to make sure Americans with long Covid who have a disability have access to the rights and resources that are due under the disability law,” Biden said, adding that this includes accommodations in the workplace, school and health care.
The guidance comes more than a year after the U.S. began shutting down vast swaths of its economy and public life to slow the spread of Covid-19, and months after the availability of multiple vaccines started the country on its path back to normalcy. But as the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads and some states lag in their vaccination rates, Covid-19 cases are on the rise in many places.
One of the major concerns about the virus’ effect on unvaccinated people is the long-term harm that Covid can cause, with some “long-haul” patients reporting symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty thinking and chronic pain.
The executive order highlighted new joint guidance from the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services that clarified that long-term Covid can qualify as a disability under federal anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to the DOJ, long Covid will be considered a disability “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.”
But long Covid is not always considered a disability under the new guidelines. The agency said an “individualized assessment is necessary to determine whether a person’s long COVID condition or any of its symptoms” limits their abilities.
The White House also highlighted guidance published earlier this month from the Labor Department that clarifies that employers must try to reasonably accommodate workers who have been diagnosed with a disability because of long Covid, like by providing modified equipment or work schedules.
However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the workplace anti-discrimination provisions of the ADA, has clarified that an employer doesn’t have to provide an accommodation for an employee if it would cause an “undue hardship” or is too expensive.
In his remarks, Biden said his administration is dedicated to continuing the fight for accessibility. As a senator, Biden was a co-sponsor of the ADA, which was signed by then-President George H.W. Bush. Biden emphasized the bipartisan nature of that legislation during his speech, saying, “we did it together.”