Tamir Kalifa / The New York Times

As the country looks towards a future of vaccinations and loosening restrictions, those who have already had COVID-19 are still feeling the lasting effects.

February 23, 2021

COVID-19 Symptoms Linger Long After Students Test Negative

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As Cornellians return to their demanding academics, some are also coping with the long-term effects of COVID-19 infection.

“The brain fog is real. It is so hard to sit and sift through [my] brain trying to force myself to pay attention or be present in the moment,” said Stella Linardi ’22, who tested positive for the coronavirus in September. “These days I miss things I wouldn’t have missed pre-COVID.”

Linardi, who finished the fall semester remotely from California after contracting COVID-19 at Cornell, has experienced short-term memory difficulties and brain fog since she was first diagnosed with the virus. 

This makes her part of a growing group of long-haulers — people coping with long-term COVID-19 symptoms. However, Linardi said she is hopeful that her brain fog and memory difficulties will ease, as some of her long-term symptoms already have.

In early February, Linardi’s sense of smell and taste returned, and aches began to fade. Her fatigue dissipated in the middle of February. After originally struggling to stand while infected with COVID-19, Linardi is back to running every day.

Linardi took one incomplete in the fall 2020 semester, but said she received help from her instructors and was able to finish the semester despite her symptoms. This spring, Linardi is taking Cornell classes remotely from her home in California.

To alleviate the brain fog, Linardi said she practices daily mindfulness, yoga and Tai-chi, among other practices that she has found are helping her rebuild focus. In the past, to relieve pain, Linardi did yoga and slept on her stomach to breathe more easily. Through holistic therapy, Linardi has coped with PTSD symptoms related to her traumatic experience of COVID-19.

“The people who get severely infected with COVID-19 undergo long chronic hypoxia. This seems to have effects particularly in the brain,” said Prof. Luis Schang, microbiology and immunology.

Silent hypoxia is a condition resulting in low oxygen levels caused by the mismatch of the blood flow to the lungs to the air sacs in the lungs. 

The damage caused by hypoxia occurs when the blood in the body has insufficient oxygen. As a result, those with hypoxia experience shortness of breath, headaches, as well as disorientation and confusion.

Those infected experience symptoms for an average of one to two weeks. But scientists are still eager for more data on how long the response to the virus will last, and this leaves scientists worrying as to what may come, Schang said.

According to Schang, scientists must gather a large collection of clinical data on human subjects, but researchers still don’t have a complete picture of the set and length of virus symptoms. Physicians’ understanding of long-term symptoms and the virus continues to develop as individuals such as Linardi continue to battle infection.

“[Surviving] is an act of revolution in and of itself. I feel like I’m more than my pain and all the trauma I’ve gone through,” Linardi said.