Cleared to play, Asia Durr still dealing with flare-ups after 'worst case' of long-haul COVID

New York Liberty star Asia Durr is sharing more details about her bout with long-haul COVID-19 as the number of new COVID-19 cases rises again in the United States amid the holiday season.

In a feature by USA Today Sports' Nancy Armour, Durr said doctors at Mount Sinai Health System told her in November 2020 she was the "worst case of COVID" they had seen and "the longest long-hauler patient" they'd had among hundreds.

Durr, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 WNBA draft, is one of the most high-profile cases of long-haul COVID. Her case shows that anyone, even a young, professional athlete, can suffer from the worst of the disease.

“People say all the time, 'You’re young, you’re an athlete, you’re in great shape.’ Obviously, that doesn’t matter when it comes to COVID,” Durr told USA Today Sports.

She was cleared to play basketball by doctors last month after missing two seasons because of the virus. But she still experiences flare-ups and has to be cautious in ramping up her training.

Durr on contracting COVID

Asia Durr.
Asia Durr in a 2019 game against the Chinese national team. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY USPW / reuters)

Durr, 24, announced a "complicated and arduous" battle with COVID-19 in July 2020 that resulted in her sitting out the 2020 bubble season at IMG Academy. She said she first tested positive on June 8, 2020.

She told USA Today Sports she experienced exhaustion, chills and nausea during training the day before and woke up in a pool of sweat that night. Her symptoms became worse and she went to the hospital, where a nurse told her it "sounds a bit COVID-y."

Via USA Today Sports:

“Some days, I really didn’t think I was going to make it because of how sick I was. I always had a positive mindset, but I just got used to being sick for so long and doctors not being able to give me any type of response, answer, anything.

“Yeah,” she added, “it was bad.”

The Liberty put her in touch with Mount Sinai Health System, which created a facility to study and treat those with long COVID, per USA Today Sports.

“I started talking with some doctors there around November (2020),” Durr said. “Doctors were telling me, 'You’re the worst case of COVID I’ve seen. You’re the longest long-hauler patient I’ve ever had.’ They’re seeing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of COVID patients.”

Durr detailed her challenges with ongoing symptoms on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" in January, six months after her positive test. She described lung pain that felt like "somebody took a long knife and was just stabbing you in your lungs each second." She said she hadn't been able to pick up a basketball yet wasn't able to do any physical activity.

Returning to sports from COVID diagnosis

Doctors medically cleared Durr to play again 17 months after her initial positive test, she announced last month on Instagram. They put her through tests to make sure there was no damage to her heart.

But she is still still experiencing memory loss and occasional "brain fog," a term used by patients to describe when their thinking is "sluggish, fuzzy and not sharp," according to Harvard Health. And she's still taking two medications for her symptoms.

The flare-ups that likely occur because the virus attached her nervous system, specifically doctors said the nerves, have decreased, but still happen. Triggers include too much sugar, too much physical stress and too much talking, she told USA Today Sports.

Durr said she is working out on her own. Though she is cleared to play, it's unclear what that looks like in practice. Will game activities cause flare-ups? How has taking two years away from physical activity impacted her, and how does that play into a comeback amid those flare-ups?

Athletes who by trade are at peak fitness have spoken honestly about difficulties returning to game form after a COVID diagnosis that isn't a long-haul case, and many of them have been basketball players.