Will Grogan stared blankly at his ninth-grade biology assignment. It was work he had mastered in class the day before, but now it looked utterly unfamiliar.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he blurted to his teacher and classmates, who reminded him how adeptly he’d answered questions about the topic the previous class. “I’ve never seen this before,” he insisted, becoming so distressed that the teacher excused him to visit the school nurse.
The episode, earlier this year, is one of numerous cognitive mix-ups that have plagued Will, 15, since he contracted Covid in October, along with issues like fatigue, aching legs and dizziness. As young people across the United States prepare to return to school, many are struggling to recover from lingering post-Covid neurological, physical or psychiatric symptoms.
Often called “long Covid,” the symptoms and their duration vary from patient to patient, as does the severity. Studies estimate long Covid may affect 10 percent to 30 percent of adults infected with the coronavirus. Estimates from the handful of studies of children so far range widely.
Pediatric Covid-19 cases have risen sharply, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant and the fact that well under half of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated and children under 12 are still ineligible.
Doctors say even children with mild or asymptomatic initial infections may experience long Covid: confounding, sometimes debilitating issues that disrupt their schooling, sleep, extracurricular activities and overall life.
“The potential impact is huge,” said Dr. Avindra Nath, chief of infections of the nervous system at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “I mean, they’re in their formative years. Once you start falling behind, it’s very hard because the kids lose their own self-confidence too. It’s a downward spiral.”