Think a mild case of COVID-19 is no big deal? Think again

More than 44.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Of them, over 715,000 have died.

But what about the millions who lived? Have they fully recovered?

According to new research, perhaps not.

We often talk about the symptoms of a disease as the immediate impacts such as a runny nose or fever. Yet, sometimes, we can't see the impacts to our health as internal signs of disease can go undetected for months or years. In this respect, COVID-19 might be of greater concern than initially realized.

Concerns about the long-term impacts of the virus aren't new. Particularly due to the presence of anosmia — a distinct symptom that causes a loss of smell — combined with reports of fatigue, “brain fog" and more, experts have been keenly aware of the potential impact on the brain and other systems. However, as the disease has only been around for less than two years, much has remained a mystery. This prompted several neurological studies over the last year to figure out just what was happening in the brains of COVID-19 patients.

A full understanding will require years of study, but researchers are starting to unravel some of the complexities. So far, a key theme is emerging: The range of impact is not limited to patients with moderate to severe symptoms, but rather cognitive deficits might be seen even in asymptomatic or mild cases. Given roughly a third of cases might be asymptomatic, this could have stunning implications.

Most recently, in one preliminary large-scale study, researchers used a biobank of 45,000 brain scans since 2014. They then followed up with patients who had since been diagnosed with COVID-19, and completed new scans and neurological assessments post-disease.

It's become incredibly clear that society has gravely underestimated the long-term impact of the virus.

After controlling for variables, a clear and concerning pattern emerged. Portions of the brain in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 were found to have reduced gray matter, or fewer cell bodies, in several regions versus patients without infection. When accounting for normal changes with age, even mild cases continued to show loss of gray matter. The infected patients also showed cognitive decline on performance tasks, and the specific areas impacted led the team to suspect the possibility of increased susceptibility to aging diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer's.

This study is still in peer review, yet several other studies have yielded similar results. In one published by the Lancet in July, researchers found those who had been hospitalized with a ventilator showed cognitive declines that matched the equivalent of 10 years of aging compared to their peers, or roughly the equivalent of 7 points on the standard IQ scale. The same study also revealed mild cognitive decline for asymptomatic and mild cases, highlighting that even those who think they are “feeling fine" might not actually be fine.

Other studies are actively investigating declines in cognition and links with aging, while some doctors are warning that even asymptomatic cases are producing mild to moderate scarring on the lungs. This is often called a ground glass opacity on a chest X-ray, and it can appear as if one had smoked for years.

We've yet to find out if such changes will be permanent — it's possible the effects of the virus will improve with more time. However, it's become incredibly clear that society has gravely underestimated the long-term impact of the virus, and that leaders who sought to use death or hospital tallies as primary indicators for policy changes — versus loftier goals to substantially reduce or eliminate cases — may have destined millions to future health concerns.

This raises the question of what the coming years and decades might look like. Will there be a mass wave of aging diseases and cognitive disabilities among COVID-19 patients? Some experts suggest it's possible, a prediction that would require political leaders to prepare for millions of disabled Americans.

Few will come out of the pandemic unscathed, whether financially, physically or emotionally. But time and time again, we're reminded that no matter how much we are done with this virus, it is definitely not done with us.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are 5 facts that anti-abortion activists don't want you to know

Want to reduce abortions?

Great — but doing so doesn't require unconstitutional abortion bans.

This article was originally published at Colorado Newsline

Conversations on female reproductive biology have long been muted. The duct tape is often applied by religious and conservative sects that historically view even the most basic utterances of sexual education as lewd. The result? A fundamental lack of understanding of reproductive health by sexually active people — including by people who can get pregnant.

In light of Texas' controversial six-week abortion ban, it is therefore all the more reason to address the science behind pregnancy, and illustrate why anti-abortion activists have yet again missed the boat:


Anti-abortion activists love to tell you you're killing babies, yet there are at least four distinct scientific terms relating to human development that should not be used interchangeably: zygote, embryo, fetus and baby.

A zygote is an egg cell that has been fertilized with a male gamete, or sperm. Contrary to popular thought, this is not calculated as the start of a pregnancy. The weekly calendar count actually begins on the first day of the pregnant person's last menstrual period, often a full two weeks prior to fertilization. The zygote marks the combination of DNA.

Pregnancy tests are reliable starting about 10 days after this time, which can total nearly four weeks after the start of the pregnancy. Accordingly, the average pregnancy is not detected until four to seven weeks, with zero guarantee of carrying to full term at this stage. In fact, it's estimated that up to 50% of fertilized ovums this early result in miscarriages.

After fertilization, the zygote will form into a blastocyte and then an embryo. This cluster of cells begins to map head versus tail and primitive systems. Only after the eighth week of pregnancy is the term fetus applied. There remains no guarantee of successful development, and rates of miscarriages throughout the first trimester stay as high as 20%.

The fourth term, baby, does not apply until the fetus is delivered from the womb. Given the limits on viability, this renders phrases such as “unborn baby" or “unborn child" misleading, as they make assumptions of viability that cannot be determined.

The so-called six-week 'fetal heartbeat'

At six weeks, the embryo — not fetus — does not have a fully functioning heart. Instead, an ultrasound detects electrical activity in localized primitive cells of the embryo that will later go on to develop into a full cardiac system. With absolutely no guarantee of viability at this stage — for either the heart or the pregnancy — defining the embryo as having certain viability is scientific nonsense.

Poll after poll shows the majority of Americans agree that abortions should be legal in all or most circumstances, while only 39% believe they should be illegal.

Actual fetal viability

Despite many advances in medicine, fetal viability remains a gray zone under 24 weeks. Even at 24 weeks, 30% to 40% of preemies do not survive despite robust medical intervention. It is not until 28 weeks that survival rates reach 80% to 90%, although some that survive will continue to experience long-term symptoms of underdevelopment. Romanticizing potential viability of an embryo or fetus prior to this stage is unscientific and causes much emotional harm.

Late-term abortions

Late-term abortions are overwhelmingly due to health complications or a lack of access to early care. Evidence-based reform could help eliminate many late-term abortions.

Most people don't regret getting an abortion

Over 95% of people who received an abortion said in a five-year follow up study it was the right choice for them.

Poll after poll shows the majority of Americans agree that abortions should be legal in all or most circumstances, while only 39% believe they should be illegal. This sentiment is well enshrined in the landmark case Roe v. Wade, and despite misinformation attempts by anti-abortion activists, reasonable fetal viability is not seen until well near 28 weeks.

It's critical to note that recognizing the science of human development in no way belittles the birthing experience for those who become pregnant, yet dismissing the nuanced biology can have severe negative impacts on those who are forced to carry an embryo or fetus against their will. The changes required to break misinformation cycles are extensive, and include addressing the lack of diversity and scientific expertise in leadership.

For example, in Colorado, voters have never elected a woman to governor, U.S. Senate or Denver mayor. This creates a dearth of experiences and narratives, leaving men like Gov. Jared Polis, Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock to be responsible for nearly 50% of constituents with whom they do not share reproductive biology.

Without adequate representation, pregnant people rely on the voices of our allies to educate and combat misinformation. If they aren't comfortable discussing female sexual health, then perhaps they ought to cede ground to the women and scientists who are.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Children are now dying for Republican 'freedom'

Apparently, the bodies of sick or dead children are not a motivator for today's Republicans.

Then again, when were they?

This article was originally published at Colorado Newsline

When 20 children were gunned down at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012, Republicans didn't fight to end gun violence — they doubled down on unfettered gun access.

When scientists warned decades ago that generations of children would grow up with the perils of climate change, Republicans didn't lead the charge for clean energy — they called the scientists liars and increased their support for oil and gas companies.

And now, as pediatric hospitals overflow with children hospitalized by the delta variant, Republican leaders aren't coming to the rescue — they are the ones still refusing mask mandates and pandering to anti-vaxxers under the guise of freedom.

Whose freedom, exactly?

Setting aside the impacts of COVID-19 on adults, I could write all day about how the delta variant is looking worse for kids.

I could point out the increased transmissibility, noting that for every infected person the delta variant now infects an average of six or seven new people — not two or three like last year's strain. Coupled with new evidence that suggests younger children might actually be more likely to spread the disease, it's easier than ever for young people to get sick from this virus.

I could point out how the delta variant has led to a near sevenfold increase in pediatric cases over 30 days from July to August — a time when children haven't been in school — and how children now make up about 15% of overall cases in the United States. With precautions getting thrown out the window, classrooms are already becoming hotbeds of viral transmission as schools reopen.

I could point out how vaccinations among American teenagers are the lowest of all eligible age groups, and nowhere near the amount needed to resume activities as normal. As of just a few weeks ago, only 25% of children ages 12 to 15 were fully vaccinated.

I could highlight how at least 1,902 children have been hospitalized for COVID as of Saturday, or share the deaths of five school children in Mississippi who recently contracted the virus. I could remind everyone that many of these children are not yet eligible for the vaccine, and they are wholly reliant on the adults around them to make safe decisions.

I could then go on to make very reasonable, science-informed policy proposals for universal masks — they work — and vaccines — they work, too — to reduce transmissions. I'd provide graphs and cite experts to show how it's easier to prevent outbreaks than control them, and why that's better for the economy. Most of all, I'd point out that refusing to impose mask mandates and strong quarantine measures in schools is akin to inviting the “Outlook does not look good" response from a Magic 8 Ball.

And if I did all this, would it matter?

I don't know. It feels like despite all the deaths in the past year and a half, too many American adults would still rather protect their perceived right to do whatever they please over protecting the right of a child to live.

Republican leaders — and all adults — prove me wrong.

Prove to me that mandating a thin piece of cloth over your nose and mouth isn't too much effort to save the life of a child.

Prove to me that you'll strongly support vaccinations, because you understand that the best path to a child's long-term health is overcoming this pandemic as quickly as possible.

Prove to all of us that your mantra isn't “Freedom for me, but not for thee."

There was a time I thought protecting children and future generations was a shared value. Now, I'm not so sure — if you wouldn't change your policies to save children before, why would you change your policies to save them now?

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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