Could Long Covid Be the Senate’s Bipartisan Cause?

Senator Roger Marshall’s voice was shaking with emotion as he made the case for speedy and focused research into long Covid. Marshall, the junior senator from Kansas, is a Republican and a medical doctor. But addressing the first-ever Senate hearing on long Covid last month, he wanted the audience to know that his interest wasn’t just professional and it definitely wasn’t just political. It was also personal.

One of his loved ones, he explained, suffered from severe long Covid. “We’ve taken my loved one to dozens of doctors,” he said. “I’ve talked to 40, 50, 60, 80. I’ve read everything there is to read about long Covid, talked to other members of the Senate that have had long Covid. What are they doing? So I share your frustration.”

It was personal for many in the audience, as well. Four years after the Covid pandemic began, leaving millions of people suffering from long-term health effects, the hearing had been announced with about a week’s notice — a scramble for people who were ill and, in many cases, in dire financial straits. But somehow the room was overflowing.

Many in attendance told me they were worried that the political polarization around everything pandemic-related would thwart even belated progress on this important issue. I came away with a very different view.

Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, kicked off the hearings by making an impassioned plea on behalf of the patients. He said the medical establishment had been too dismissive of their plight, and he conceded that Congress had not done nearly enough to help.

But it was Marshall who spoke with precision about the scientific literature. He rattled off the leading theories about why some people with long Covid are debilitated and described specific symptoms in detail.

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