Public Health goes online for survey of long COVID-19 among Nova Scotians

·3 min read
Nova Scotia wants to hear from people who still have COVID-19 symptoms or impairments 12 weeks after their positive test.  (GagliardiPhotogra/Shutterstock - image credit)
Nova Scotia wants to hear from people who still have COVID-19 symptoms or impairments 12 weeks after their positive test. (GagliardiPhotogra/Shutterstock - image credit)

Public Health in Nova Scotia has stopped calling people to follow up on their COVID-19 cases and is asking them to instead fill in an online survey to help the province track symptoms and impairments that linger after three months.

Ashley Harnish, a health services manager for Nova Scotia's health authority, said the website survey is a continuation of a phone-based survey they started doing last year.

They want to hear from people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 three or more months ago, and are still experiencing symptoms or impairments related to the disease.

The previous version saw any adult in Nova Scotia who tested positive get a follow-up phone call from a public health official, who would then ask them the survey questions.

"But because of the numbers and the rapid testing, we've pivoted to an online platform so individuals can complete that platform on their own," she said.

Overall, about 2,000 people have completed the survey. Only a small number have filled out the online version since it started earlier this month. Both surveys look at "persistent needs" relating to COVID that continue after the person has passed the typical recovery time.

"Do they have any symptoms, and if you do have symptoms, do you have any functional impairment as a result of that," Harnish said.

If people say yes to both, the health authority will get a staff member to contact the person to offer help.

A positive PCR test or an at-home positive rapid test both count as the COVID-19 start date for the survey.

Harnish said in Nova Scotia, people typically get up to 12 weeks of support from Public Health after a positive COVID-19 test.

"It's after those 12 weeks, so about three months, that we get tagged in to support those needs," she said.

Symptoms of long COVID-19

She said national surveys have found about 10 per cent of people who get COVID-19 will need support for more than three months.

"And we do see that in our Nova Scotia numbers as well, where 10 per cent will identify as having an ongoing, persistent need and about two per cent will have more significant impairment," she said.

Harnish said people report a variety of symptoms that continue after three months. "It might be fatigue plus difficulty concentrating, which is impacting their ability to go to work or engage in the previous employment as they knew it to be," she said.

That two per cent tend to report ongoing fatigue, trouble concentrating and remembering, and muscle weakness. Harnish said so far there are no clear patterns among the people who get the longer symptoms, but public health officials are watching for them.

Harnish said the program is focused on identifying problems and letting people know about possible solutions, rather than a medical examination into the long-term effects of COVID.

None of the answers will be used as research, although the health authority might seek consent to use it for that down the road.

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