▶ Watch Video: Senator Tim Kaine on his experience with long COVID, federal aid he is seeking to help others

In the spring of 2020, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee and current Virginia Senator Tim Kaine became one of the first prominent politicians to test positive for COVID-19. Two years later, he told CBS News he’s still fighting the virus.

“I feel like, you drop an Alka-Seltzer in the water and watch it fizz,” Kaine said. “It kind of feels like that; like a fizzing or buzzing nonstop… I can feel it in the tip of my forehead right now. I can feel it in the tops of my legs.”

His symptoms are distinctive, but other patients reporting long COVID symptoms have reported brain fog, persistent cough and permanent loss of taste or smell. The symptoms could be affecting up to 23 million Americans, according to estimates cited by the Government Accountability Office.

Mattie Smith, a Virginia mother of three boys, is one of them. The traveling nurse said more than a year after contracting the virus, it’s still a fight to lift herself out of bed each morning.

“I used to exercise with my dad every morning at 5 a.m. before I went to work,” Smith said.

She also said she suffers from COVID fatigue. Smith needs an inhaler for breathing troubles but wouldn’t tell anyone for months, worried she’d be viewed as a “complainer.”

“I think [people are] concerned they won’t be taken seriously,” she added.

Earlier this month, the White House announced plans to boost research into long COVID and possible treatments. Kaine proposed a new law that goes even further to fund more research, compile a more accurate count of long COVID-19 patients and help people get access to care.

Sen. Tim Kaine speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal coronavirus response on Capitol Hill on March 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Susan Walsh / Getty Images

In Tennessee, nurse practitioner Pam Poore said her long COVID patients often need to see neurologists for memory problems or cardiologists for heart symptoms in an area where specialists are difficult to find.

“We have so many patients that need to be referred to specialists, but the waiting lists are long,” she told CBS News.

There’s another hurdle. In rural America, vaccine hesitancy remains rampant and many are reluctant to seek tests or care for symptoms that aren’t life-threatening.

Kaine said his legislation would also require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reach out to people experiencing long COVID symptoms and encourage them to seek treatment.

“Some don’t even want to admit it. Like man, COVID is bad enough. No. 2, maybe I did tell somebody, and they didn’t believe me, or they told me it was just anxiety,” he said.