The new coronavirus that infected Tricia Sales in March still plagues her. The horse trainer and onetime cocktail server deals with dizziness and nausea. At times, she can’t feel her hands and feet.

Her five-month struggle has meant specialists, drugs, a spinal tap, imaging scans and 15 hospital visits. The uninsured single mother said she owes more than $100,000 in medical bills but is too sick to fully work.

“I have been too ill to deal with the bills and have been focused on mainly trying to feel better,” said Ms. Sales, 41 years old, who had qualified for a Medicaid program for people with high medical expenses that reduce their income. Some of her medical bills are being sent to collection agencies.


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Ms. Sales is among a group of patients, the exact size of which is unknown, developing long-term medical problems from Covid-19 that require extended—and often expensive—medical care, stressing families’ financial security and taxing an already strained health system.

A number of doctors and researchers are warning the fallout from people who develop long-term health effects from coronavirus could ripple through the U.S. economy, burdening public safety-net programs such as Medicaid while leaving many patients with significant medical debt.

“We need to mobilize the medical community as a whole, and that’s going to cost money,” said Zijian Chen, director of Mount Sinai Health System’s Center for Post-Covid Care. “It affects patients’ ability to work, and that has major implications as well for the economy.”

Covid-19, in some cases, can be lethal, killing more than 170,000 people in the U.S. so far. Other victims of the virus see no symptoms after a recovery that can take as little as a week or two. But a third category reports symptoms that linger for weeks, sometimes months, including extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, neurological issues and irregular heart rhythm.

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