A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we all have come to understand new lingo such as staying in your bubble, doing a Zoom call, or having a “quarantini” at your virtual happy hour. Most recently some new terms have surfaced with potentially serious implications: suffering from long-haul COVID-19 and being a long-hauler.

YPO member and CEO of Hormone Therapeutics, Hunter Howard, has the dubious honor of being one of the first recorded cases of COVID-19 in Dallas, Texas, USA, in March 2020. Getting the illness so early was such a novelty that Howard was interviewed by a local TV station about his experience. Howard became quite sick with COVID-19 but thought he had recovered. Months later, he kept experiencing a variety of strange symptoms. Today, Howard is considered one of the millions of people in the U.S. who are long-haulers, those who experience ongoing physical, neurological or emotional symptoms due to a previous COVID-19 infection.

While an acute case of COVID-19 lasts a couple of weeks, long-haul COVID-19 can last months and now a year. Symptoms can occur long after someone has recovered from acute COVID-19. Symptoms can even appear in someone who tested positive for the virus but was asymptomatic. Long-haulers can experience a wide range of symptoms from chronic conditions such as fatigue, loss of smell or taste and “brain fog,” to serious respiratory and cardiovascular problems, including chest pain, shortness of breath or a rapid heartbeat.

When the pandemic began last year, Howard was busy running his anti-aging and hormone replacement therapy services company. He caught COVID-19 traveling back from a ski trip to Aspen, Colorado, USA, and went to his doctor for treatment. Over the next few months, he called his business network of doctors and health care professionals to discuss the COVID-19 crisis.

“I witnessed firsthand how little top pathologists understood the novel virus. Given the early transmission data, I did not believe we fully comprehended the scope of this impending pandemic and were adequately preparing for it. Without a national testing and containment strategy, elected officials, CEOs, administrators at all levels were forced to come up with their own plans while competing with each other for scarce resources. I started contacting my friends at YPO, and we decided ‘if not us, then who?’ to try to provide the support and services that were needed,” says Howard.

Strength in numbers

Working with the YPO Healthcare Business Network along with the StartUp Health community of 400+ global innovative health care companies, Howard founded the Global Pandemic Coalition (GPC) to gather the best services and solutions and connect these offerings to people seeking them. The GPC includes more than 300 companies from six continents providing an array of COVID-19 products and services that solve critical issues such as testing, monitoring and reporting, including:

  • YPO member and CEO of Vee Technologies Chocko Valliappa built a QR code testing app, contact tracing app, a daily symptom checker, and a proximity fencing app to learn if a person had crossed paths with anyone infected in the past week. These tools were used in companies and schools in India.
  • YPO member and Founder of Canadian Energy Audit Hamed Ghanbari started the Health Hygiene platform Code-9 in Toronto with safety audits, compliance tools and symptom checkers/trackers, used at the Toronto airport.
  • Founder of In-House Physicians, Jon Spero, built one the nation’s top rapid scaling daily symptom checkers, temperature checkers and COVID-19 testing operations used to keep food plants in the U.S. operational.

A year later, COVID-19 guidelines and policies are in place for testing and treatment, but so many questions still remain regarding business and school re-openings, vaccines, and when life can get back to normal. According to Howard, YPO CEOs wanted to hear from the experts and come together to discuss what was happening in their countries, companies and communities. 

Gathering virtually

Partnering with the YPO Manufacturing Excellence Network, the YPO Healthcare Business Network and GPC hosted a one-day virtual reality (VR) tradeshow and conference in March 2021. The event included a tradeshow, featured Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN as the guest speaker, and included White House COVID-19 Task Force members and other key medical professionals. More than 1,000 global CEOs participated to learn about vaccines, mutation strains and vaccine rollout in the developed world.

Howard explains, “A VR event is an animated video game version of a tradeshow in an auditorium, and an incredible way to bring people together from around the globe when travel and social gathering is restricted. You are placed into an avatar, and you walk around the tradeshow floor visiting booths or walking into different virtual auditorium speaker sessions. I was bumping into YPO friends from Thailand, India, Colombia and Ukraine the same way that I would have bumped into them at a YPO event. You’re not seeing your friend’s face, but it’s their voice as you talk to another avatar in a virtual world.”

Living with long-haul COVID-19

After a year of dealing with COVID-19, both in managing his own health and the GPC’s work, Howard intended to refocus his attention on his day job, running Hormone Therapeutics. Then the long COVID-19 symptoms started, and Howard once again recognized he was in a position to help others. Unlike acute COVID-19, which has been tracked through various governmental organizations, long-haul COVID-19 is not as easy to define. Both long-haulers and health care providers have created numerous groups on social media, such as Facebook, to find other people who have experienced lingering COVID-19 symptoms.

If you are a leader of your company, you need to understand how long-haul COVID-19 can impact your workforce. How do you understand this and support them? ”
— Hunter Howard , CEO of Hormone Therapeutics share twitter

Some long-haul COVID-19 symptoms overlap with those of chronic diseases including myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Howard believes this overlap brings unprecedented opportunities for research to accelerate our knowledge of and treatment for post-viral illnesses. Working in partnership with the organization Solve/ME, Howard started the Long Covid Alliance, a network of patient-advocates, scientists, disease experts, and drug developers to collaborate and share their collective knowledge about post-viral illnesses.

Howard says the idea for the Alliance was to bring everyone together to create a bigger megaphone to raise awareness to drive research and funding, because everyone has been so isolated in dealing with COVID-19. Today the group includes 76 organizations and companies and has achieved these successes:

  • Submitted recommendations to Congress for long-haul COVID-19 research investment in the COVID-19 Economic Relief Bill
  • Helped secure USD1.25 billion for long-haul COVID-19 research, diagnostics and clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Shared research process recommendations and best practices with NIH
  • Compiled a list of top-tier long-haul COVID-19 research proposals for NIH consideration

The years to come

No matter when the pandemic is officially over, long-haul COVID-19 is here to stay. Approximately 30% of COVID-19 patients in a new but small study from the University of Washington reports that symptoms persisted months after their infection. And according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), there is absolutely certainty of a post-COVID-19 syndrome, with anywhere from 25% to 35% of COVID-19 patients having lingering symptoms.

On a bigger scale, this suggests that long-haul COVID-19 could be one of the largest mass disabling events in modern history affecting a large portion of people in their prime working years who will be managing COVID-19-related medical issues, possibly for years to come.

“If you are a leader of your company, you need to understand how long-haul COVID-19 can impact your workforce. How do you understand this and support them? While we are trying to lower our costs for health insurance, we are also trying to make our workforce healthier, more productive, happier and more resilient. COVID survivor is now a pre-existing condition insurers will need to make decisions on with different implications for long COVID sufferers,” says Howard.

Howard adds that companies would benefit in the future from quicker, cohesive federal action and consistent communication and direction. He says that we need longer-term planning and risk models and that communities need health security to return to normal.