Santa Clara County may establish a specialized clinic at Valley Medical Center that would help treat those with long term COVID-19 symptoms and is waiting on the recommendations of physicians at the hospital before it forges ahead.

Long COVID, also known as long hauler syndrome, is a phenomenon where symptoms of the virus last more than a couple of months after initial infection and include fatigue, shortness of breath and memory problems. It’s estimated that around 15 to 25 million people in the United States may have long COVID, according to Brian Block, a UCSF doctor who joined supervisors for a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

Since COVID patients are dealing with a multitude of health issues, they may require seeing more than one specialist. The idea of a clinic is to streamline a patient’s experience so they aren’t bouncing from one specialist to another, and to also create a central place where doctors are able to communicate better. For the clinic to get going, VMC still needs to identify the extent to which long COVID is an issue within their medical system.

The facility conducted a rough survey among its primary care doctors to get a first glimpse of the problem and found that out of 50 primary care doctors, 75 percent reported treating patients with long COVID symptoms, said VMC’s Medical Director of Primary Care Angela Suarez during Tuesday’s meeting. Though of that 75 percent, doctors were individually only treating five patients each. Despite the survey results, Suarez said that there still is “no clear picture” as to the prevalence of the long COVID symptoms within VMC. The facility only recently created a code for the syndrome, which allows VMC to bill insurance companies for the care they provide and also makes data analysis easier.

County Executive Jeffrey Smith said in an interview that he estimates enough patients with long COVID will be identified within six to nine months, and that a clinic could be established within three to four weeks after county supervisor approval. He said a wing of VMC’s outpatient care facility would be devoted to the clinic and would include doctors like a pulmonary care specialist and infectious disease expert, among other physicians.

UCSF was one of the first hospitals in the country to open up their long COVID clinic in May 2020. Stanford opened up theirs in July.

Price & Product Availability Tracker

Discover where products are available & compare prices

According to UCSF’s Block, a number of factors may put some individuals at higher risk of getting long COVID, including obesity. Block said he has also been surprised by the number of young adults who he is seeing with the syndrome.

“We expected to set up a clinic for older adults,” said Block during Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re surprised that we’re seeing people without risk factors. We don’t know how permanent this is. We’re hopeful it is not permanent.”

The immediate affects of long hauler COVID are quite astonishing. Emily Hough, a fellow at Brown University’s School of Public Health who also joined Tuesday’s meeting, said that early data suggests that those with long COVID symptoms are 40 to 45 percent more likely to need some sort of accommodation when returning to work and 20 percent are having a difficult time returning to work at all.

At the moment, Santa Clara County is averaging 138 new COVID cases per week. County Health Officer Sara Cody announced on Oct. 7 that a number of factors, including transmission, hospitalizations and vaccinations, will determine when the county can get rid of its mask mandate. As of Oct. 26, 85.2 percent of individuals 12 and up in the county are fully vaccinated.