I interviewed nine of them for this story, all of whom share commonalities. Most have never been admitted to an ICU or gone on a ventilator, so their cases technically count as “mild.” But their lives have nonetheless been flattened by relentless and rolling waves of symptoms that make it hard to concentrate, exercise, or perform simple physical tasks. Most are young. Most were previously fit and healthy. “It is mild relative to dying in a hospital, but this virus has ruined my life,” LeClerc said. “Even reading a book is challenging and exhausting. What small joys other people are experiencing in lockdown—yoga, bread baking—are beyond the realms of possibility for me.”
Even though the world is consumed by concern over COVID-19, the long-haulers have been largely left out of the narrative and excluded from the figures that define the pandemic. I can pull up an online dashboard that reveals the numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and recoveries—but LeClerc falls into none of those categories. She and others are trapped in a statistical limbo, uncounted and thus overlooked.
Some have been diagnosed through tests, while others, like LeClerc, have been told by their doctors that they almost certainly have COVID-19. Still, many long-haulers have faced disbelief from friends and medical professionals because they don’t conform to the typical profile of the disease. People have questioned how they could possibly be so sick for so long, or whether they’re just stressed or anxious. “It feels like no one understands,” said Chloe Kaplan from Washington, D.C., who works in education and is on day 78. “I don’t think people are aware of the middle ground, where it knocks you off your feet for weeks, and you neither die nor have a mild case.”