Living with Long COVID as a Singer

Living with Long COVID as a Singer

When I moved to New York City at Christmas 2018, I had no idea I’d have only a year of “normal life” before a viral pandemic would change the world forever. I was considered an essential worker in 2020 and continued to work in an empty city, singing and studying on Zoom, waiting with baited breath for restrictions to be lifted and the threat of the virus to lessen. Unfortunately, the threat and effects of the virus remain with me as much of the world has opened up, because I am one of the approximately 20 million Americans living with Long COVID.

I got infected with COVID-19 a single time in May 2022. I was still masking on transit and in indoor group settings, but I had “vaxxed and relaxed” slightly while working in a busy office setting. Initially I had a “mild” infection, in that I wasn’t hospitalized and had what felt like an awful flu for a week. I took antivirals (Paxlovid) and healed pretty quickly—I even sang a competition about two weeks after my positive test date! 

Three weeks post-infection, COVID attacked and infected my gallbladder, which sent me to the hospital. After discussion, the doctors decided it was too high-risk for a poor outcome or complications to do the removal so soon after the infection. They decided to treat with antibiotics and a six-week waiting period of bedrest and a strict diet before the removal surgery, which was a success. 

However, after the surgery, I developed new, strange symptoms: intense “hit by a truck” levels of fatigue, rashes that the surgeon had never seen before, hair falling out, heart palpitations that felt like out-of-place panic attacks, chronic pain all over my body, excessive sweating and dizziness, poor temperature regulation… the list goes on. I minimized it all and just thought “Gosh, I’m recovering so slowly from this surgery,” until my OB-GYN said the words “Long COVID” during a routine visit and referred me to the Mount Sinai Post-COVID Care Clinic. 

My official diagnosis came in October 2022 after suffering symptom onset in August, three months after my initial infection. Since then, I have built up my medical team with the best doctors I’ve found in NYC and have been trying to treat my symptoms with a lot of trial and error, since there is no known cure yet. I participate in a lot of clinical research trials as I am able, to try and help advance the research and get some more experimental treatment—but nothing has helped my progress significantly yet. 

My doctors are all optimistic about my prognosis that this will not be permanent due to various personal factors, but the timeline is unknown and has felt quite slow, as of now more than one year into this complicated illness.

What Singers Should Know about COVID Today and Long COVID

The best (and only) way to avoid Long COVID is to avoid COVID-19 infection and reinfection! Anyone, regardless of age, health, or risk factors can develop Long COVID symptoms of six months or more, and the current reported statistic is that 15% of Americans are suffering with post-COVID symptoms.

Many young people believe they are not considered “high risk:” however, many of the risk factors are not being widely discussed, including that any previous COVID infection puts one in the “Higher Risk” category according to the CDC, and numerous reinfections can have a cumulative effect. 

The best way to avoid reinfection is to strive for clean air: use an N95 or KN95 in both indoor and outdoor crowded settings, as well as all indoor shared spaces and especially public transit and healthcare settings; use HEPA air purifiers to filter indoor air in gathering spaces; and ventilate indoor spaces with open windows and doors. COVID is airborne, not transmitted by droplets as previously thought—so while surgical (e.g., blue) masks may provide a physical barrier, they are not as protective as the fit and material of N95 and KN95 masks.

While I understand there is great social pressure to unmask, young artists without insurance or whose income depends upon their health have so much “on the line” and should weigh the risk of unmasking very carefully. Each COVID infection compounds the risk for lasting health issues. Even a phrase as simple as “I don’t want to get sick” is a great reply to “Why are you wearing a mask?”

It is also important to make a plan with your doctor for if you do become infected with COVID-19. A study was recently published showing that taking Metformin (a diabetes drug) during the acute infection phase can reduce Long COVID risk by up to 41%. Antivirals such as Paxlovid have also been shown to reduce Long COVID risk as well as shorten the acute infection duration and lessen symptoms. Tessalon Perles (generic, benzonatate) can help reduce coughing and any damage that may cause, as well. 

It’s important to have this plan in place with your medical care team in advance, so you can “just push go” when you first test positive and aren’t feeling well. If you become infected with COVID-19, it is also important to plan to “radically rest” for up to four weeks to reduce the risk of post-infection complications and possible Long COVID.

As I have learned more about my Post-COVID symptoms and diagnoses (dysautonomia, POTS, ME/CFS, mild MCAS, hypermobility/hyperflexibility-caused chronic pain), it has become clear that the more I “push through” the disabling symptoms, the worse I feel. My doctors strongly encourage me to pace my daily activities—even the most basic things like taking a shower or washing the dishes have to be tracked and accounted for, or I can exhaust myself into a post-exertional malaise (PEM) “crash.”

Singing, the Future, and Moderate Long COVID

At the beginning of my diagnosis, I continued to try my best to sing as I was able—but even on the best days, when I would rest for days leading up to a church service or two, I found myself bedridden with pain and fatigue for several days after singing professionally. 

Over a year later, the balance I have found is that I am able to practice for only about 10–15 minutes on a good day before I start feeling dizzy, my abdominal and back muscles start to ache, and my mind starts to get “hazy” from PEM. On days when I am really determined to sing, I have tried practicing lying down but, even then, the athletic, physical, muscular effort of singing is challenging for me and causes PEM fatigue. 

While I’ve had more than a year to learn about and process this illness and my new disability (as well as my own internalized ableism, which I’ve worked tirelessly to unpack), I’ve had the unexpected gift of clarity in reflecting upon the facets of my identity, both as a human and an artist. A politically charged, new illness like this (along with a compromised immune system) has resulted in physical isolation from friends and family—as well as uncomfortable conversations, people keeping me at arm’s length, and relationships ending. 

I’ve found this to be a common thread in people with Long COVID and was relieved to learn I wasn’t alone in this experience being isolating. I’m also so grateful for the friends and new communities I’ve found in the last year via modern technology, as well as those who have checked in on me, sending memes to make me laugh and “friend check” texts! Facetime chats have been a major blessing and, most of all, the space and time alone has given me plenty of time to reflect, learn, and grow.

Through this “time in the cocoon,” I’ve changed and no longer think that the greatest art comes from flawless legato or a perfect technique—although I know it doesn’t hurt! Art comes from collecting and distilling experiences—from the life you live, the soul you cultivate, and the people you meet, love, and collaborate with. I’m grateful for the opportunity to “zoom out” from the hamster wheel of “the industrial YAP complex” and remember why I sing: it’s not just to prove myself to a row of people behind a table, but to tell stories I feel compelled to bring life to by making music with people I care about.

Before I got sick, I had lost the real reason I keep singing, running in the (soprano-ful) rat race of trying to be the best, most standout special singer. Now that I have some distance and perspective, I see so clearly that I already had everything I needed to make the music I wanted to make, and I should never have held myself back from performing because my technique had some flaws or I “wasn’t ready.” Once I’m able to begin rebuilding my muscles and stamina, I’ll keep the technique work going—but I also won’t hold myself back from pushing the Record button and sharing what I have to offer, even if it isn’t “perfect” yet. 

The forced time away from singing has pushed me into a higher perspective that I am so grateful for. Singing means so much more to me than getting a gig with a particular high-profile opera company or impressing certain people. I will never take for granted again the ability to tell stories and share beauty through music.

While I currently have no “back to singing” timeline, I am currently working on regaining basic daily functioning and healing my nervous system through alternative and physical therapies, medications, meditation, reduction of stimuli, and experimental trials. I keep hope alive and look forward very much toward singing and musical storytelling on the other side of this illness. 

Personally, I am looking forward to reaching new benchmarks as I heal . . . like starting strengthening rehab when I am physically stable enough, my first voice lesson back, my first day back at work in-person, my first full day of walking around the city I love and call home. I’m really looking forward to the normal life I took for granted and all the steps to get there.

Julia Claire Taylor

Julia Claire Taylor is an American soprano living in New York City who was recently disabled by Long COVID. She especially loves performing opera by Verdi and Mozart, with an added passion for showtunes by Sondheim and Porter. While her singing career is “on pause” for health reasons, she continues passionate grassroots advocacy work and information dissemination about COVID-19 infection prevention, Long COVID, and disability advocacy, as her health allows. She’s also enjoying collaboration with publishers, photographers, and others to create art and storytelling projects about her experiences. Pre-COVID, Taylor received her BA in voice performance from Vanderbilt University and her MA in opera performance from University of Kansas under the tutelage of Joyce Castle. She has performed opera, art song, and musical theater across North America and Europe in operas, concerts, and festivals. Taylor looks forward to performing all genres of music again when she is able and hopes to someday write a book about this unique time of healing. For more info, visit