Months after COVID, 1 in 4 Michiganders studied have yet to recover

“I thought it’d be better by now, but now, I don’t see it ever getting better,” Jeff Curtis said, six months after he left the hospital following a COVID infection. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)

Months after being infected by COVID-19, 1 in 4 Michiganders surveyed reported they had not fully recovered.

Rather, COVID survivors report facing lingering illness, heightened anxiety, and economic uncertainty, according to a joint study led by the University of Michigan and made public Wednesday.


“We knew that the pandemic has caused a lot of stress and harms the mental health but just seeing the extent of it has been really striking,” said Nancy Fleischer, lead investigator and a professor at U-M’s School of Public Health.

She called COVID “a devastating illness in terms of the physical, social and economic impact.” 

“Many people have been experiencing very frequent symptoms of depression and anxiety,” she told Bridge Michigan.

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The Michigan COVID-19 Recovery Surveillance Study (MI CReSS) will document Michiganders' experiences over time. It is being conducted with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the first findings were released Wednesday.

Researchers said the data can be used to “make informed decisions about how to best support Michiganders during the ongoing pandemic.” They encouraged the state to remain “vigilant” in social distancing, handwashing and other safety protocols, but neither the report nor Fleischer discussed other policy implications.

“Many people have been experiencing very frequent symptoms of depression and anxiety,” said Nancy Fleischer, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. (Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan)

“It is critical that we, as a society, recognize that COVID-19 has effects beyond the acute phase, and that we really need to do everything we can … to reduce transmission so that we don’t have this increasing number of people with these long term health effects,” she said.

Doctors have begun to learn more about the lingering effects among so-called “long-haulers,” but much of the research has focused on patients who had been hospitalized. In contrast, the Michigan survey sought out a broader cross-section of infected people. Just 1 in 3 were ever hospitalized, although 65 percent described their symptoms during their initial infection as “severe” or “very severe.” Others said they were “moderate” or “mild.”

In telephone and online surveys of 638 Michiganders who were sick before April 15, researchers found the following:

  • Among the 1 in 4 (26 percent) who said they had not fully recovered from COVID-19, half reported suffering from fatigue; 44 percent from shortness of breath and 18 percent from altered taste and/or smell.
  • More than half (53 percent) of all respondents reported ‘worsened” stress levels and mental health.
  • Among those who fully recovered, recovery times varied, ranging from less than one week to 18 weeks.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 families struggled to pay bills, and 1 in 10 had difficulties getting enough nutritious food. A majority (60 percent) said they or their families experienced reduced employment hours or job loss.

Participants were selected from the Michigan Disease Surveillance System, which tracks confirmed cases of COVID-19. The average age was 52.

Their recollections underscored the chaotic first few weeks of the pandemic, when hospitals were overwhelmed, testing was limited, confusion reigned over symptoms and treatment.

  • Nearly 3 in 5 respondents made several attempts before they were finally tested. At least one person made as many as 10 attempts.
  • Nearly 1 of 4 respondents waited more than a week to seek care, 8 percent said they were turned away.
  • Among those who thought they knew the source of coronavirus exposure, half believed they were exposed at work, while a quarter thought they were exposed by a family member 

Nobody has to explain the infection’s physical toll to Jeff Curtis.

A former owner of an asphalt company, the 66-year-old Osseo man spent his life around heavy equipment. He loves tinkering on motorcycles and cars in the pole barn of his southeast Michigan home and camping in his fifth-wheel.

But now, six months after being wheeled out of Hillsdale Hospital after being on a ventilator for three days — celebratory moments caught on video — he’s 50 pounds thinner, his hair is falling out in clumps, and he’s gassed after 20 minutes of even the mildest of work.

Curtis, who was not part of the U-M study, welded a step on his Ford F-250 so he could climb inside.

“My legs won’t hold me, my arms won’t hold me,” he said.

A retiree, he liked picking up odd jobs and a bit of cash working on cars. He worries about another bout of COVID. 

“I damned near didn’t make it the first time, I don’t know if I could survive another round,” he said. “I don’t have the air capacity anymore.”

Most striking for Fleischer, the researcher, is COVID’s toll on mental health.

In interviews, some survey participants cut interviews short because they became distraught, said Patricia McKane, director of the state health department’s Life Course Epidemiology and Genomics division.

“Other times, people were upset and wanted to continue because they wanted so badly for their information to be helpful for other people,” she said.

More than 2 in 5 people interviewed (43 percent) reported that others acted “scared of them” because of their diagnosis and nearly one in five reported being embarrassed or afraid to disclose their diagnosis, researchers said.

Researchers are analyzing the data to see if COVID’S impact varied based on such factors as income, age, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. They’ve also begun interviewing a second group of participants: those who were sickened between April 15 and May 31.

The study is funded, in part, by U-M’s Institute for Data Science, School of Public Health, and MDHHS.

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Charlie Day
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 11:00pm

This article is totally misleading - Apparently they must only be studying people who claim to have continuing symtoms. I know hundreds of people who have had it, and nearly every one of them are doing just fine. The ones who aren't fine, weren't fine before, because they are obese and diabetic and have the same problems now that they did before the wuhan flu, except now they seem to be blaming wuhan instead of their eating habits.
Bridge, please stop using incomplete and misleading information to cause fear. People who don't know better are going to read this as "1 in 4 people who had covid will never recover" and that is totally false.

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 9:02am

Now I am confused .Trump says we have rounded the corner, don't worry it doesn't affect young people, look at me . I am cured I am immune. Etc Etc. Ya Right. The long term affect of the virus we really don't know. Listen to a scientist . Peace R.L.

T Mel
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 9:15am

I don't believe this. I personally know 70+ people who had had covid (including my children), and ZERO have lingering issues. Seems super-politically motivated

Your Fellow Lon...
Sat, 10/24/2020 - 11:01pm

There are hundreds of thousands of us. Most of the Long haulers I know were marathon runners/athletes/very healthy individuals before getting sick. I’m 40, with no pre-existing conditions and am 7 months into this Wretched thing. I have very real neurological issues (In addition to the physical) including peripheral neuropathy, muscle spasms, and raging 24/7 tinnitus - all of which appeared my 5th month, a month that left me bed-bound and almost unable to care for myself. Count your blessings that you and your family are recovered with ZERO lingering problems but please don’t minimize the ones who are not as lucky.

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 9:42am

I wonder what these people who are still recovering think of Trump's words: "Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life."

Or the fact he wants to repeal the ACA which would strip protections for pre-existing conditions with no plan for a replacement.

It's no wonder only 40% of the country approves of his response to COVID and that approval percentage keeps shrinking as more people get infected and as Trump continues to downplay the threat.

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 11:32am

“Many people have been experiencing very frequent symptoms of depression and anxiety,”
Sounds that this has more to do with other problems and less to do with the virus.

Dump Trump 2020!
Sat, 10/24/2020 - 3:52am

Matt, I agree. I get more depressed and anxious when Trump does dumb things than I do worrying about the virus. He has been awful from the beginning, but now he won't even acknowledge that that virus exists. Winter is coming. Spring was just a small taste of what will come. Before we had regional spikes that we were able to handle. What happens when the whole country spikes at the same time? What happens in winter when it's freezing and we have to put up tent ICU's? What happens when there is a worldwide shortage of supplies?

Take it Seriously
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 11:38am

Melania is still coughing. I was the same way, bad persistent cough for months, now persistent bad headaches. This is awful.

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 5:45pm

I keep trying to get mine posted. Don't worry just pretend it doesn't exist and it is not a problem. At least that is what our President implies. Just get and then say it isn't real. peace R.L>

Fri, 10/23/2020 - 8:25am

unbelievable. Know who won't get my vote next time around. You live with that one.

Majority sides with her but minority rules. I seriously hope you and your family stay safe. Too bad you wont do what needs to be done to keep mine and others safe. As an independent voter I am really dismayed at the lack of humanity that the republican party has shown. I used to vote republican a lot. Dont think I will unless there is a BIG change in policy and all the old ones are gone. We are fully aware that there is a virus out there but telling people just live with it without doing the responsible thing which at this time should be mandatory is down right wrong. People only care about themselves so sometimes they have to be made to for the betterment of all. That's when government is supposed to step in. Do your damn job.

Fri, 10/23/2020 - 10:17am

What's the big deal? It's only 25%.

Fri, 10/23/2020 - 10:21am

Forrest Gump said it best "Stupid is, stupid does". The pandemic that reigns is in the lack of common decency and respect for the very people this idiot is supposed to represent. Now we are seeing an increase in cases thanks to these republican idiots!

Sat, 10/24/2020 - 8:03am

No worry Trump says we have rounded the corner. Ya right.

Your Local Long...
Sat, 10/24/2020 - 11:10pm

To those saying this is false- there are hundreds of thousands of us all over the world experiencing Long Haul Covid. Most of the Long haulers I know were marathon runners/athletes/very healthy individuals before getting sick. I’m 40, with no pre-existing conditions and am 7 months into this Wretched thing. I have very real neurological issues (In addition to the physical) including peripheral neuropathy, muscle spasms, and raging 24/7 tinnitus - all of which appeared my 5th month, a month that left me bed-bound and almost unable to care for myself. I am a fraction of the person I used to be. Count your blessings that you and your family/friends are recovered but please don’t minimize those of us who are not as lucky by calling this is “fake” or poor journalism.
Google “Covid long haulers” for more info

Sun, 10/25/2020 - 1:00pm

Good thing to remember,state leaders( house,senate), federal leaders ( house,senate) we don't have access to the same health care they do that we pay for. What's wrong with this,? Instead of bickering with each other use that energy to bring the fight to them if you want real change.
Stop being their puppets!

Susan wheadon
Mon, 10/26/2020 - 7:27pm

Does Mike Shirkey think about the health care workers?

Susan wheadon
Mon, 10/26/2020 - 7:30pm

We need to think about our health care workers when we make decisions.