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HHS Report on Long COVID Encourages Return to Mask Mandates

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report raises the specter of a return to mask mandates.

The 57-page report, titled “Health+ Long COVID Human Centered Design Report,” includes an “exploration of how and why the impact of Long COVID on individual lives varies from person to person,” and how that can “increase health disparities between peoples and communities.”

The authors note the long-term effects of COVID-19 can “be mild and barely perceptible, or they can be ever-present and wholly debilitating,” and can have an impact not just on physical health but also on “social determinants of health,” including “financial stability, discrimination from health care providers due to race, ethnicity, age, gender, or sexual orientation,” and disproportionately affects people “of color.”

The report lists ways to “increase public awareness” of Long COVID and recommends public policies to “protect everyone,” including mask mandates and social distancing in public spaces.

The report, published in November, is one of three released after President Biden in April directed HHS to coordinate a government-wide strategy to deal with Long COVID.

Marketing Document

The HHS report, compiled by the design agency Coforma, is filled with eye-catching graphics, photographs, and personal anecdotes from people who describe their continuing fear of COVID-19 and how the disease has victimized them, and negatively impacted personal relationships and finances.

The report is not credible, Rikin “Rik” Mehta, Pharm.D., an attorney, biotech entrepreneur, former consumer safety officer at the U.S Food and Drug Administration, and adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center said on The Heartland Daily Podcast, on November 30.

“Scientifically, I put no weight into this report,” said Mehta. “It was not designed by health care professionals or scientists. It was created by a team of visual graphic designers.”

‘Collection of Quotes’

The report is a waste of time and money, says Doug Badger, a senior research fellow at the Center for Health and Welfare Policy at the Heritage Foundation, and author of the April 27, 2021 report, “The CDC and Mask Mandates: Unmasking the Truth.”

“It includes no medical data on long COVID and offers no therapeutic advice to people with long COVID,” said Badger. “Instead, its ‘human-centered design’ produced a collection of quotes from people who told interviewers they have long COVID.”

Badger cited one example, from a student named Shannon, who told the report’s authors, “I don’t have time to be a professional patient. I’m still living my life.”

“The report is filled with similar vacuities, including 30 definitions of long COVID that patients contributed—‘I used to be a Lexus, and now I’m a broken Honda’ is among those definitions,” said Badger. “Long COVID is a vaguely defined and poorly understood condition. It demands rigorous scientific inquiry, not a frivolous report of this kind.

Public Should Be Wary

In addition to mask mandates and social distancing, the report recommends revisions to accommodation by employers and schools to support people with Long COVID, workplace training, hiring incentives, hazard pay, financial assistance for current and former students, mandated insurance benefits, more staffing to accommodate Social Security Disability claims, and Long COVID ratings for health providers.

The public should be concerned because the recommendation can easily become policies of the Biden administration, says Mehta.

“Given the unpredictability, the flip-flopping we’ve seen with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), I think these types of reports that would normally be shelved may come back to be used as foundational guidance to push mandatory restrictions or serve as the basis for some outlandish public policy,” said Mehta.

Ignores Other Health Issues

Mehta says if the government really wanted to do something meaningful to address Long COVID, it should bring back hard science and statistically significant research reports with study designs, rather than anecdotes.

“Not what we call ‘customer journey’ experiences,” said Mehta. “Unfortunately, what this report has done is taken a narrow subset of patients, such as those who suffer from Long COVID, and make that the most important health issue, ignoring the other health issues we face—whether it’s mental health challenges, suicide rates, or social isolation.”

Badger says the public is unlikely to accept mask mandates again.

“Public health authorities failed to establish the value of mask mandates, and most people have moved on,” said Badger. “People view masking as a personal choice. That’s unlikely to change. Mask mandates would not be well-received, especially if they involved the masking of children.”

AnneMarie Schieber (amschieber@heartland.org) is the managing editor of Health Care News.

AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News, Heartland's monthly newspaper for health care reform.


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