ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Photographer Omar Melendez struggled to return to work after contracting COVID-19 earlier this year and wasn’t sure when he would be able to do another photo shoot.
What you need to know
- Many people with long-term COVID-19 are having trouble returning to work
- More than 25% of people who get COVID develop long-lasting symptoms, studies show
- Long-haul COVID-19 was classified as a disability from July
- People with established disabilities may find it difficult to get benefits, says UCF researcher
“It literally stopped me from doing almost anything,” Melendez said. “Just getting up from the hospital bed to the sink. It took maybe half an hour, 40 minutes, just because I couldn’t breathe.”
After contracting the illness in July, he spent months recovering. His symptoms forced him to turn down major appearances.
“I felt really bad when a friend of mine contacted me and she was getting married, and she wanted me to photograph her wedding, and I promised her a long time ago and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll definitely do it,'” he said.
More than one in four people who contract COVID-19 develop long-lasting symptoms, according to multiple studies by researchers at major US universities, and many people wonder if they will have to become disabled.
Although long-haul COVID was classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act in July, getting benefits can still be extremely difficult, according to UCF public health researcher Dr. Makella Coudray,
“In terms of COVID-19, it’s an infection,” said Coudray, who studies COVID-19 long-haul carriers and their needed care. “For example, it is very difficult for a nurse to prove that she was infected at the hospital where she worked versus was she infected when she went to the supermarket?”
While symptoms of long-term COVID-19 can be debilitating, the disability system wasn’t really set up for these kinds of conditions, Coudray said.
Only about four in 10 people who apply for Social Security get it, she said, and that’s for people with established disabilities.
“For example, chronic fatigue syndrome, which is one of the most common symptoms for long-haul haulers, there is no test to measure chronic fatigue,” she said.
Melendez is one of the lucky ones. He may not be 100% back yet, but he’s feeling good enough to do photoshoots again. He can earn income again by doing what he loves.
“It was a long road, but now I can stand much longer and walk better,” he said.