Athletes face long haul in recovering from COVID-19

Jaime C. Harris | 2/18/2021, midnight
According to medical researchers, an estimated 10% of patients who contract COVID-19 become long haulers, a term used to describe ...
The New York Liberty's top pick Asia Durr with her family. Lois Elfman photos

According to medical researchers, an estimated 10% of patients who contract COVID-19 become long haulers, a term used to describe people that experience weeks and months of symptoms after they are infected. World class athletes are part of the group with prolonged effects from the novel coronavirus.

One of the NBA’s most prominent young stars, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, shared with reporters on Tuesday that he is still battling the lingering symptoms of COVID-19 after testing positive in early January. “I think it messes with your breathing a little bit,” said Tatum. “I have experienced some games where I don’t want to say struggling to breathe but…you get fatigued a lot quicker than normal.

“Just running up and down the court a few times, it’s easier to get out of breath or tired a lot faster,” the 22-year-old, 2020 All-NBA Third Team selection expounded. “I’ve noticed that since I’ve had COVID. It’s just something I’m working on. It’s gotten better since the first game I played, but I still deal with it from time to time.”

Tatum was out for over two weeks, missing a total of five games from Jan. 9 until his return to the Celtics lineup Jan. 25. He is fortunate. New York Liberty guard Asia Durr is uncertain if she will ever resume her professional basketball career after battling COVID-19 since last June. On July 7, the Liberty announced Durr would be out the entire 2020 season.

In a recent episode of HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” the 23-year-old second overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft said she is laboring with ongoing symptoms. “I haven’t been able to [work out]” said Durr, who lost 32 pounds.

“It’s really challenging for me. But I’ve talked to doctors and they’ve told me I’m not cleared yet. I’m not cleared to be able do anything physically, which could cause flare-ups.”

Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, has been prevalent among athletes who test positive for COVID-19. Last September, Wayne Sebastianelli, Penn State’s director of athletic medicine, said that heart scans conducted on Big Ten athletes who had COVID-19 revealed “30 to roughly 35% of their heart muscles” showed signs of myocarditis.

Almost six months later, with rising cases in multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, also referred to as MIS-C, there are growing concerns among those entrusted with the well-being of pre-teens, teenagers, and men and women in their early 20s engaged in competitive athletics, as to how and when to integrate them back into sports as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

There still isn’t extensive data on long-haulers as community transmission of COVID-19 was first identified in the United States in February of last year. However, narratives such as Tatum’s and Durr’s serve as loud warning signals for athletes that still may believe being in top physical condition is a safeguard against continuing medical issues resulting from contracting the novel coronavirus.