Test The Whole Country For Coronavirus : NPR

A man is tested for the coronavirus on Sunday in Košice, Slovakia, as part of a nationwide effort to test nearly everyone over age 10 for the virus.

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A man is tested for the coronavirus on Sunday in Košice, Slovakia, as part of a nationwide effort to test nearly everyone over age 10 for the virus.

Zuzana Gogova/Getty Images

Slovakia undertook a massive effort over the weekend: to test nearly all adults in the country for the coronavirus.

Amid a steep spike in cases, more than 3.6 million Slovaks were tested for the virus, according to Prime Minister Igor Matovic – that’s about two-thirds of the population.

Of those tested, 38,359 tested positive for the virus – 1.06%.

Antigen tests were used, rather than PCR tests. Antigen tests give results within minutes, but are less reliable than PCR testing. The tests were free, and conducted at some 5,000 testing sites around the country, with assistance from Slovakia’s military.

“We have made a great leap forward,” the prime minister, Igor Matovič, told reporters on Monday.

“But we should not think that because of this 1%, now all is fine. It is not,” he added, according to Agence France-Presse. “In reality, up to 2% of our inhabitants might be infected. It is not at all a good situation.”

Two regions of the country with the highest case numbers were tested the previous weekend — a pilot in which 91% of those eligible were tested. In that round of testing, 3.97% were found positive.

More tests are planned for next weekend, but districts with a positive incidence of less than 0.7 percent will be exempt.

Children under 10 are exempt from the tests. Those over 65 who spend much of their time at home, as well as other vulnerable groups, are also exempt.

For all others, the test is optional – but a strict 10-day quarantine is required for those who choose to not get tested, The Lancet reports. Anyone who tests positive must go into strict isolation at home or a state quarantine facility for 10 days. Police officers are doing spot checks during the three-week testing period, and those who have taken the test are given a certificate they can show to police. Those who are found breaking the quarantine or isolation rules can be fined 1650 euros (about $1,920).

One goal of the program is to keep the nation’s hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Another is to avoid a severe lockdown. Schools have already been ordered to close for a month, amid closings of public venues and restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants.

Matovič said that the government’s scientific advisory team had recommended a three-week lockdown for all, rather than the testing program, but he said a lockdown would cause too much economic pain, according to The Lancet.

Some have been critical of the government’s plan.

Alexandra Brazinova, an epidemiologist at the Medical Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava, worried

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A Health Care Worker’s New Normal : The Picture Show : NPR

The daughter of health care worker in the New York City area portrays her family during the pandemic. Her photography gives witness to her mother’s determination to live fully in a new normal. — Laura Beltrán Villamizar, NPR photo editor

Raymonde Elian no longer does her hair and makeup before work. No more earrings. But she still aims to look “neat and clean” as it helps her feel in good spirit.

Melissa Bunni Elian


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Melissa Bunni Elian

Raymonde Elian no longer does her hair and makeup before work. No more earrings. But she still aims to look “neat and clean” as it helps her feel in good spirit.

Melissa Bunni Elian

My mother works as an emergency room technician at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, N.Y. This year, while I sought ways to work online and my father telecommuted, my mother has been risking her life to take care of others.

My mom is one of the health care workers you meet in the triage ward. Maybe she drew your blood or monitored your heart. If you succumb to the coronavirus, she’d be one of the staffers transporting your body to the overflowing morgue.

I wasn’t able to photograph her at the hospital. So like other photojournalists confined to their homes, I turned the camera to my own life and family. I focused on what I’ve always seen: my mother’s rituals and the subtle changes around our home.

In the spring, before wearing masks was common, my mother wouldn’t leave the house without one. She’d return from a 12-hour shift with trenches dug into her face by the N95 she had to reuse for a week at a time.

Many Americans have now returned to a semblance of life, but frontline families like ours continue to bear the greatest risk in this pandemic.

Health care workers were forced to come up with ways to preserve N95 masks. Raymonde Elian wore three masks so that the N95 was less exposed.

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Melissa Bunni Elian

Health care workers were forced to come up with ways to preserve N95 masks. Raymonde Elian wore three masks so that the N95 was less exposed.

Melissa Bunni Elian

When my mother left Haiti in 1979, she left behind my infant older sister and my father, who worked as an accountant at an elementary school. In the U.S., my mother initially assembled hand saws in a steel tool factory while attending school, then as a cashier at a department store.

By the time I was born in 1987, she and my father were both working in corporate America. My mom was working at an investment firm, but she had other career interests, so she began taking courses at Iona College. A philosophy course on death and dying inspired her to leave the corporate world.

At age 38, she began working in child care and then as a nurse’s aid, all while caring for our family and taking

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Kidney Transplant Chain Is A Touching Act of Kindness : NPR

An American flag flies outside the Houston Methodist Hospital at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus in Houston, Texas.

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An American flag flies outside the Houston Methodist Hospital at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus in Houston, Texas.

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You never know where an act of kindness ends.

Tara Berliski of Magnolia, Texas, offered to donate a kidney to her husband, John Berliski. His were removed in July because of polycystic kidney disease. Doctors at the Houston Methodist Hospital living donor program explained that because John Berliski has type AB blood, he could receive a kidney from almost any donor. But if John and Tara Berliski chose to enter a kidney swap program, they might be able to help someone else, too; someone else might help them.

John Berliski told the doctors, “Yes, I’ll go ahead and help whomever.” It set off an extraordinary chain of events, as reported in the Houston Chronicle.

Justin Barrow, a 40-year-old youth pastor in Longville, La., has a rare kidney disorder, and had a transplant when he was 15; it was beginning to falter. A cousin offered to donate their kidney, but doctors said it wasn’t a good match. A kidney from Tara Berliski would be.

Diane Poenitzch of Garland, Texas, had been on the list to receive a transplant for nearly four years. Her sister, Paula Gerrick, had offered to be a donor, but her blood type is AB. Not a good match for her sister, but potentially for John Berliski.

The National Kidney Foundation says more than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney. Yet only about 20,000 receive a transplant each year. A patient on that list will wait an average of three to five years before they become one of the fortunate ones to receive a transplant. Many—there is no nice way to say this—die waiting.

But on October 20, a 30-hour series of operations began at Houston Methodist, involving more than 80 doctors, nurses, and technicians.

Justin Barrow’s cousin, Samantha Barrow, donated a kidney to Misael Gonzalez, whose mother, Teresa Salcedo, donated a kidney to Debra Lewing, whose supervisor, Dawn Thomas, donated a kidney to Diane Poenitzsch, whose sister, Paula Gerrick, has AB blood type, and donated a kidney to John Berliski.

Dr. Osama Gaber was the lead surgeon. When his young daughter, Nora, died in 1998, his family donated her organs for transplant. Years later, they founded Nora’s Home, where organ transplant patients and their families can stay before and after surgeries.

The 10 donors and recipients are all recovering, doing well and began to meet one another this week. They are former strangers, now bound for life by blood and kindness.

“You know you are saving loved ones,” Tara Berliski told us from Magnolia, Texas. “And that’s everything.”

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‘2020 Has Been A Terrible Year’ : Goats and Soda : NPR

The multibillion-dollar global effort to eradicate polio hasn’t just stalled. It’s moving backward.

When the Global Polio Eradication Initiative began in 1988, roughly 350,000 kids a year were paralyzed by the virus. By 2016 that number had been driven down to 42 cases of any type of polio anywhere in the world.

But now cases are on the rise and expected to climb even further in the coming months. So far this year officials have tallied more than 200 cases of wild polio and nearly 600 cases of the vaccine-derived form of the disease. Most of the vaccine-derived strains of polio are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but now these rogue strains of polio are also turning up across much of sub-Saharan Africa, Yemen, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Vaccine-derived polio is caused by remnants of earlier versions of the live virus used in the oral polio vaccine. The vaccine can be shed through feces. In places with poor sanitation, the vaccine can be spread through wastewater. Over time, the virus from the oral vaccine can replicate, regain strength and become just as virulent as the original virus against which it’s supposed to protect.

And worst of all most kids born after 2016 have no immunity to the most prominent vaccine-derived polio strain because that strain was thought to be on the verge of elimination and is no longer included in the primary oral vaccine they would have received.

What’s more, millions of children have not received vaccines because of conflict and lack of access in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan plus pandemic lockdowns.

“2020 has been a terrible year and will continue to be a terrible year,” says Michel Zaffran, head of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

The pandemic is part of the problem. In March, WHO ordered a pause to all polio eradication campaigns to make sure vaccinators going door to door weren’t unwittingly contributing to the spread of COVID-19. That order was lifted over the summer, but “as a result, 30 to 40 countries have not conducted mass immunization campaigns,” Zaffran says. “During that period, up to 80 million children have been left unprotected against polio.”

The fear is that with so many children now susceptible to polio, outbreaks could erupt, particularly in areas with poor sanitation where the virus can thrive.

And then there’s the role the Taliban have played in stymieing vaccination efforts. “For the last 28 months, there was a ban on polio activity in the southern provinces controlled by Taliban,” says Mohammedi Mohammed, head of immunization for UNICEF in Afghanistan.

“Twenty-eight months! It’s enormous,” he says of the amount of time that vaccinators have been barred by the Taliban from doing door-to-door polio vaccination drives. “If we continue like this, soon we will have three years of children that were born but not vaccinated. So we are building up the susceptibles for a mega-outbreak.” And there’s no sign that the Taliban are going to lift the ban.

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GW Launches Clinic To Help ‘Long Haulers’ With Persisting COVID-19 Symptoms : NPR

Patients with “Long COVID” have relied on social media groups to get through the worst of their symptoms. Doctors at the GW COVID-19 Recovery clinic hope to provide treatment and medical research to support them.

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Maureen would have been in her last year at the Georgetown University Law Center this fall, living in an apartment on H Street and preparing to graduate — in person or virtually — this spring. Instead, she deferred this past semester and has been at home in Upstate New York for months, passing time while she waits to start classes again in January.

It’s one of the ways her life has been sidetracked for the better part of a year. Maureen counts herself among the long-haulers, people who suffer from “Long COVID,” a lingering, rotating onslaught of symptoms that has affected patients of all ages and stumped doctors worldwide.

“I’ve been really healthy up until this point,” says Maureen, who preferred not to use her last name for privacy reasons. “I ran cross country in college. I was still trying to do five to seven miles of running a day. And this has just been absolutely debilitating.”

After experiencing all the symptoms associated with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — headaches, fatigue, a sore throat, shortness of breath, body aches — Maureen still thought it couldn’t be COVID-19. She’d been social distancing, washing her hands, and wearing a mask. And besides, she was only 24 years old. “But I had the purple fingers and toes,” she says. “Once the COVID toes presented themselves, I did end up getting myself tested.”

But the test came back negative.

She and other long-haulers who spoke to DCist say one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced has been testing. They got sick in March or April, back when the District had testing shortages and there was widespread confusion about who had access to them. When these long-haulers were finally tested, they received false negative results — or, at least, it would appear that way since they still had symptoms.

A COVID-19 testing site in Fort Totten. Long-haulers say one of the biggest issues they’ve faced is getting accurate and timely test results.

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Despite her negative results, doctors told Maureen: “You definitely have COVID — just ride it out for 30 days,” she says. “But I’m still riding it out.”

The specialists she saw, including a pulmonologist, cardiologist, rheumatologist, and hematologist, weren’t able to provide many answers about what her specific condition was and how to treat it. Maureen says one told her, somewhat dismissively, “You know, anxiety manifests itself in the body.”

Her condition has become the subject of peer-reviewed studies and massive online support groups — some have even begun lobbying Congress about Long COVID.

Maureen turned her attention to friends in New York and found informative articles online, including a June feature published in The Atlantic, which made the

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Congressman Calls For Federal Crackdown On Unproven Coronavirus Treatment : Coronavirus Updates : NPR

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, is calling on the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate sales of a non-FDA approved drug marketed as a treatment for COVID-19.

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Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, is calling on the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate sales of a non-FDA approved drug marketed as a treatment for COVID-19.

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A member of Congress, who has led efforts to investigate alleged coronavirus scams, is calling for the federal government to crack down on an unproven treatment for COVID-19. Widespread sales of that purported treatment – a drug known as thymosin alpha-1 – were first identified by an NPR investigation earlier this month. More than 30 doctors in more than a dozen states around the country have marketed the drug as a treatment for the coronavirus, despite the fact that it has never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for any condition and such claims are, in the words of the FDA, “not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.”

The congressman, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), leads the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy. He is now calling for the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission to take action against one prominent doctor who has marketed the drug: Dr. Dominique Fradin-Read of Los Angeles.

Fradin-Read is known for her work with the actor Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness brand Goop. Fradin-Read helped formulate a dietary supplement called “Madame Ovary” for the brand. She also runs the practice VitaLifeMD, and had falsely marketed thymosin alpha-1 as an “FDA approved” drug, which she claimed was “one of the best ways to prevent and fight COVID-19.”

“Such false claims appear to be illegal and ought to be subject to strict enforcement by FDA and FTC,” Krishnamoorthi wrote in his letter to the leaders of those agencies. “I ask you to open an investigation into VitaLifeMD, and to take all appropriate action against VitaLifeMD and its principals.”

Fradin-Read did not respond to messages from NPR for this story. But she has previously defended prescriptions of the drug, saying she had prescribed it to members of her staff, her mother, and had even taken it herself without any negative effects.

The FTC and FDA are responsible for enforcing laws against false and misleading advertising. A spokesperson for the FTC declined to comment, and the FDA did not respond to a message NPR.

Earlier on in the pandemic, Krishnamoorthi called on the Trump Administration to take action against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of InfoWars for marketing colloidal silver-infused toothpastes as a supposed COVID-19 prevention measure. (The National Institutes of Health say colloidal silver is not safe or effective for treating any condition, and can even permanently turn a person’s skin blue at high doses.) The FDA then warned Jones that such claims were misleading and could violate federal law.

Krishnamoorthi’s current

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Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

President Trump announced a partnership with two national pharmacy chains to administer coronavirus vaccines to nursing homes at an event in Fort Myers, Fla.

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The Trump administration announced a new partnership with two major national pharmacy chains to facilitate the distribution of a future coronavirus vaccine to nursing homes on Friday.

“Today, I’m thrilled to announce that we have just finalized a partnership with CVS and Walgreens,” President Trump told a group in Fort Myers, Fla., at an event centered on seniors. He said the plan was for the pharmacies to “deliver the vaccine directly to nursing homes at no cost to our seniors.”

The Pharmacy Partnership for Long Term Care Program is part of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed effort. No coronavirus vaccines have yet been authorized by the government, though several vaccine candidates are in the final stages of clinical trials.

“Early in the COVID-19 vaccination program, there may be a limited supply of vaccine and our planning efforts need to focus on those at highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19,” Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters on a press call.

That includes people older than 65, who are much more likely to get severely ill and die from the coronavirus than other age groups. The details of which would be the first groups to get a vaccine once one is authorized is still in flux, but seniors would likely be among the first to be eligible.

The pharmacy program “provides end-to-end management of the COVID-19 vaccination process,” Butler explained. That includes scheduling on site clinic dates with each facility, ordering supplies like syringes, and ensuring cold-chain management of the vaccine. Once the vaccine is on site, pharmacy staff will administer it to residents and staff and report it to the required public health department.

The program will be free for facilities, but optional. “This is voluntary. They have to opt-in,” Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services told reporters. “This will be something that will be available to every nursing home and senior living facility in the country.”

“This is really significant,” Claire Hannan, Executive Director of the Association of Immunization Managers wrote to NPR. “We’ve never really had coordinated partnership between pharmacies and public health across all states.”

Friday was the deadline for states to deliver a vaccine distribution plan to CDC, which will be evaluating the plans and providing feedback over the next two weeks, according to federal health officials.

One of the leading vaccine candidates, made by Pfizer, requires ultra-cold storage, which “could pose a major challenge to getting nursing home and long term care residents vaccinated,” explains Hannan, “so the value of this partnership can’t be understated.”

That aspect of the program stood out to Stacie Dusetzina, professor of health policy at Vanderbilt as well.

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Trump Vs. Biden On Health Care, Prescription Drugs, Medicare : NPR

Read President Trump's and Democratic nominee Joe Biden's plans for health care.

Caroline Amenabar/NPR; Wil Taylor/Flickr

Read President Trump's and Democratic nominee Joe Biden's plans for health care.

Caroline Amenabar/NPR; Wil Taylor/Flickr

Key priorities

Joe Biden

  • Create a public option health care plan that expands off the Affordable Care Act.
  • Decrease the price of prescription drugs.
  • Protect abortion access.
  • Invest $775 billion in child and elder care.
  • Read details of Biden’s plans below.

Donald Trump

  • Repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a new plan, which has not been publicly proposed.
  • Lower the price of prescription drugs and insurance premiums.
  • Read details of Trump’s plans below.

Biden’s plans for health care

Biden’s health care plan centers around reinforcing and expanding the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — via a public option while also improving access to care.

The public option plan is described as available to all Americans, “whether you’re covered through your employer, buying your insurance on your own, or going without coverage altogether,” adding that the option is “like Medicare” — but is not Medicare.

The public option would be offered with no premiums to Americans who live in states that don’t have access to Medicaid benefits that they would qualify for in other states.

Though not explicitly mentioned in his proposal, Biden has said that undocumented immigrants would be able to buy into the public option plan and receive unsubsidized coverage — an option currently not allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

In terms of lowering costs on the individual health insurance marketplace, his proposal would do away with the “income cap” — which currently stands at 400% of the federal poverty line — that enables eligibility to receive a tax credit to help pay for premiums. The plan also would ensure that no household is putting more than 8.5% of their earnings (instead of the current 9.86%) into health insurance plans.

Biden’s proposal would work to lower prescription drug prices within Medicare, create an independent commission to oversee and regulate the price of new drugs, and get rid of the tax breaks given to pharmaceutical corporations on advertising.

On abortion access, Biden is in favor of restoring funding for Planned Parenthood. He does not support the so-called gag rule or the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal funding for abortions. Biden backed the Hyde Amendment for a significant portion of his career and only came out against the legislation in July 2019, saying he could “no longer support an amendment that makes that right [to an abortion] dependent on someone’s ZIP code.”

Biden also wants to allocate $775 billion toward a plan for child and elder care. A lot of the funding would go toward cutting Medicaid waitlists for people needing home and community care, and to provide tax breaks to people who care for older family members.

Biden also pledges to invest in further health care employment, training 35,000 workers on how to aid Americans suffering from opioid addictions and adding “tens of thousands” of new jobs caring for veterans.

Biden also calls for the creation of a public health jobs corps, which would employ more than

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