What Does Long COVID-19 Look Like in Students?

What Does Long COVID-19 Look Like in Students?

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Long COVID-19 is a syndrome in which COVID-19 symptoms are experienced more than four weeks after someone is diagnosed with acute COVID-19. Students who are experiencing Long COVID may be hard to identify, but they need support, even though they may be unclear about how to discuss their problems. Let’s look at a few strategies that you can try at the beginning of a new class, and after a new class is underway, to help address this issue. 

Is Long COVID Really an Issue? 

Have you recently heard a student make a comment in your class that they just can’t retain information as well as they could before the pandemic began? Or that they all of a sudden have no energy, making it harder for them to focus? You may be wondering what is going on. After all, these students look perfectly healthy, and inconsistent performance in class activities is not unusual. What you may not realize is that some of these students may be struggling with Long COVID-19.  

Long COVID-19 also is known as long haul COVID or post-COVID conditions. It is a syndrome in which COVID-19 symptoms are experienced more than four weeks after someone is diagnosed with acute COVID-19. Its expression is highly individualized and affects each person differently. Long COVID has symptoms that may not only wax and wane but change in type over time.  

The CDC (2022) noted that nearly 1 in 5 adults who have had COVID-19 experienced Long COVID, and that the risk of Long COVID was slightly higher for young adults (Taquet et al. 2021). Unfortunately, the condition is often poorly understood (and sometimes is not even recognized) by students who have the syndrome themselves, their health providers, family, and friends. The same is true of college faculty, administration, and staff. This can make receiving support extremely difficult and complicated for students. 

Signs & Symptoms of Long COVID 

The most frequent symptoms associated with Long COVID have been likened to those experienced after a concussion. They include both mental, physical, and cognitive effects, such as: 

  • “Brain fog” (term used to describe a general condition involving lack of focus and mental clarity, memory and concentration problems, as well as confusion or forgetfulness) 
  • Fever 
  • Respiratory problems (like difficulty breathing or shortness of breath and cough) 
  • Sleep problems 
  • Headaches 
  • Heart symptoms (such as chest pain or a fast, pounding heartbeat) 
  • Joint or muscle pain 
  • Dizziness 
  • Loss of smell or taste 
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 

There are many more signs and symptoms of Long COVID that have been identified by medical professionals; the key point to remember is that the experience of Long COVID is very individualized, diverse, and mostly invisible. Moreover, the condition can get worse after engaging in activities that require a lot of physical or mental effort – making the condition frustrating, confusing, and often hard to accept as “real.”  

Given all the symptoms of Long COVID, it is understandable that students who are suffering from the syndrome cannot learn in the same way as they used to; in fact, their symptoms may be made worse by overwork, lack of sleep, and stress – circumstances common to student life. Therefore, as faculty members, we continually need to remind students that we will support them so that they can be successful in their coursework and academic activities. 

Addressing an Invisible Illness 

There are good reasons to be unclear about the cause of certain problems that a student is experiencing. Students themselves may wonder if it might be due to that recent “summer cold,” too much stress, tiredness because of taking care of the baby, or that side job. You may see a serious slide in motivation and energy in this student, and realize that they missed a couple of classes recently. 

Because they have not approached you, you may just assume that the situation will right itself before mid-terms. You may be feeling confused about what exactly is going on, and unsure about how to help.  

Students who are experiencing Long COVID may be hard to identify, but they need support, even though they may be unclear about how to discuss their problems. Let’s look at a few strategies that you can try at the beginning of a new class, and after a new class is underway, to help address this issue. 

Setting the Stage 

You may want to establish, early on, that you can be trusted with (and keep confidential) any academic concerns that students have throughout the semester.  A good strategy is to let your entire class know that you want to hear from them about any difficulties that they experience related to the course. This general announcement will make it easier to broach the subject of Long COVID with an individual student, should you see the need. 

Reasonable accommodations are mandated by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide an equal opportunity for people with disabilities to participate in an academic program or a job (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). You may include in your course syllabus (or initial announcements) information about Long COVID as a new category that is protected under the ADA (U.S. White House, 2021). This information will increase the likelihood that students will feel comfortable coming to you if they are struggling with Long COVID, or any other ailment. Assure them that you can help them locate the proper resources to help them address and manage their symptoms.  

One-on-One Guidance 

While providing a written policy reinforced by a class announcement early in the semester is ideal, don’t panic if you did not do so! You still can create an atmosphere of openness to discussing academic difficulties through later announcements and by encouraging the use of office hours, individual appointments, or on-line chats to connect with you. 

Sometimes, a gentle note or comment on an assignment, encouraging the student to talk to you, will help. You simply can state that you would like to help the student to improve their level of success, or that you can see them struggling academically in some specific way and would like to help. 

One-to-one guidance may not have been as common in pre-pandemic times, but it is important, now more than ever, as many students are feeling alone in struggling with their problems. Once the student contacts you, use open-ended questions and display a sincere interest in hearing the student’s perspective on their difficulties. From there, the student may explain that they have Long COVID, or may wonder if that is the case, and you can begin to work together to create a list of resources to help them.  

Scholarly Sources 

Association on Higher Education and Disability. (2021).  Supporting students with long COVID in higher education. Author.   

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2022, June 22). Nearly one in five American Adults who have had COVID-19 still have “long COVID”. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/nchs_press_releases/2022/20220622.htm   

Gose, B. (2021). COVID-19’s impact on learning accommodations. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://connect.chronicle.com/rs/931-EKA-218/images/LearningAccomodations_AWS_TrendsSnapshotv2.pdf 

Magee, S., & Imad, M. (2022, May 31). Colleges must support students with long COVID: Long COVID is here to stay.  Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2022/05/31/colleges-must-support-students-long-covid-opinion  

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022, June 28).  COVID-19: Long-term effects. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-long-term-effects/art-20490351  https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-long-term-effects/art-20490351

Redden, E. (2021, October 22). Supporting students with long COVID. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/10/22/workbook-focuses-supporting-students-long-covid  

Son, C., Hegde, S., Smith, A., Want, X., & Sasangohar, F. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 on college students’ mental health in the United States: Interview survey study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(9). https://doi.org/10.2196/21279 

Taquet, M., Dercon, Q., Luciano, S., Geddes, J.R., Husain, M., & Harrison, P.J. (2021). Incidence, co-occurrence, and evolution of long-COVID features: A 6-month retrospective cohort study of 273,618 survivors of COVID-19. PLoS Medicine, 18(9): e1003773. https://doi.org./10.1371/journal.pmed.1003773  

U.S. Department of Education. (2007). Disability employment 101: AppendixIV: Reasonable accommodations and the ADA. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/products/employmentguide/appendix-4.html  

U.S. Office of the White House. (July 26, 2021). FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris administration marks anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act and announces resources to support individuals with long COVID. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/07/26/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-marks-anniversary-of-americans-with-disabilities-act-and-announces-resources-to-support-individuals-with-long-covid/    

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