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Selena Simmons-Duffin

Americans have fallen way behind.

The rent's overdue and evictions are looming. Two-thirds of parents say their kids have fallen behind in school. And one in five households say someone in the home has been unable to get medical care for a serious condition.

These are some of the main takeaways from a new national poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If you have a baby at home or are expecting one in the next few months, you might be on edge for all sorts of reasons, but particularly because of COVID-19. The delta variant of the coronavirus has turned nearly every community in the country into a bright red hot spot of viral infection. Babies can't get vaccinated against COVID-19 yet — and the youngest age included in current vaccine clinical studies is 6 months old.

Updated September 3, 2021 at 3:14 PM ET

The Texas abortion law that went into effect this week reads: "A physician may not knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child."

Tensions are high right now. As the delta variant spreads like wildfire across the U.S., vaccination rates are still low in many places and parents and school staff are anxiously wondering what will happen when schools start up again. Should there be more mask mandates? Will businesses have to close again? Will big gatherings be banned?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a lot of ways to pick up on COVID-19 outbreaks, but those methods often take a while to bear fruit.

Not so with the Provincetown cluster that started around July 4th weekend. "We triggered the investigation as people were getting symptomatic," says Demetre Daskalakis, a deputy incident manager for CDC's COVID-19 Response. "Pretty amazing — it is warp speed."

If you are uninsured or you've been on unemployment benefits this year, new financial help — passed by Congress this year — means you might be eligible for free health insurance.

Updated October 13, 2021 at 11:05 AM ET

With the delta variant taking off around the U.S., the federal government updated its masking guidelines for fully vaccinated people last week.

The current COVID-19 surge in the U.S. — fueled by the highly contagious delta variant — will steadily accelerate through the summer and fall, peaking in mid-October, with daily deaths more than triple what they are now.

Updated July 29, 2021 at 12:05 PM ET

This story has been updated throughout to reflect new research.

New data on the delta variant is coming in, and it's not looking good. The currently authorized vaccines are still very protective, especially against hospitalization and death. But when it comes to getting an asymptomatic or mild case of COVID-19, they may not be quite as protective as they were against earlier strains.

Updated August 4, 2021 at 12:50 PM ET

With the highly contagious delta variant surging ferociously, Americans are once again grappling with pandemic anxiety.

The surge has prompted a flurry of new mask mandates, vaccine mandates and other steps to try to get the coronavirus back under control.

There are more than 2 million people across the United States who have no option when it comes to health insurance. They're in what's known as the "coverage gap" — they don't qualify for Medicaid in their state, and make too little money to be eligible for subsidized health plans on the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges.

Perhaps the only respite pandemic closures brought to my family — which includes two kids under age 6 — was freedom from the constant misery of dripping noses, sneezes and coughs.

Here's one (more) sign the COVID-19 pandemic is on the decline in the United States.

"I don't trust them — I don't," says Sandra Wallace. She's 60 and owns a construction company in Arizona. To her, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance has been inconsistent.

"It's all over the board," she says. "They say one thing one minute and then turn around and say another the next minute."

Updated May 10, 2021 at 2:33 PM ET

Gay and transgender people will be protected from discrimination in health care, the Biden administration announced Monday, effectively reversing a Trump-era rule that went into effect last year.

The Biden administration launched a website and text line on Friday to help people find COVID-19 vaccines near where they live. A national 1-800 hotline in dozens of languages will also soon be announced, according to a senior official from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Signing up for health insurance can be a confusing headache. At the same time, the need for a financial safety net if someone in your family gets sick is incredibly important. With the ongoing pandemic and economic crunch, the stakes are even higher.

Now, during a special enrollment period, the Biden administration is trying to make getting health insurance irresistible — and simpler, too.

Imagine waking up, brushing your teeth, and quickly swabbing your nose to test for the coronavirus — whether you feel sick or not.

While everyone's hopes are trained on COVID-19 vaccines to lead the way out of the pandemic, public health experts say that other public health tools are still crucial for stopping the virus.

The scramble to secure a COVID-19 vaccine appointment is chaotic and fierce. There are not yet enough doses for everyone who's eligible and wants to get vaccinated. As frustration rises, the federal government hasn't offered much besides assurances that things will get better and appeals for calm.

Updated 2:20 p.m. ET

The Trump administration is making several big changes to its COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy, officials announced Tuesday, in a bid to jump-start the rollout and get more Americans vaccinated quickly.

The first change is to call on states to expand immediately the pool of people eligible to receive vaccines to those 65 and older, and those with underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

This time last year, the world was heading into a pandemic that would upend everything and cost 1.9 million lives — and counting. The promise of the new year is that vaccines are finally here and offer a way out.

It's an incredibly difficult time to be a contact tracer in the United States. Just imagine having to call up a stranger a few days before Christmas to tell them they've been exposed to COVID-19 and need to quarantine for 14 days.

For public health workers tasked with making contact tracing calls, "these are very challenging conversations at any time, but the longer the pandemic continues, especially around the holidays, it's difficult to ask folks to quarantine," says Lindsey Mauldin, who oversees Pennsylvania's contact tracing program.

An important federal advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added its vote of support for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

In an emergency meeting Saturday, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend the first COVID-19 vaccine for use for people 16 or older in the U.S, expressing hope that the vaccine would help curb the spread of the disease that has killed more than 295,000 people in the U.S.

More than 1,000 hospitals across the United States are "critically" short on staff, according to numbers released this week by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Those hospitals, which span all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, represent about 18% of all hospitals that report their staffing status to HHS. And that number is expected to grow: 21% of all hospitals reporting say they anticipate having critical staffing shortages in the next week.

As of Jan. 20, 2021 — Inauguration Day — the federal government is about to get much more involved in health care and the COVID-19 pandemic response. Exactly how much more involved, now that Joe Biden is president-elect, depends on whether Republicans keep control of the Senate. And that likely won't be determined until early January, when Georgia's two Senate run-off races are held.

As coronavirus cases rise swiftly around the country, surpassing both the spring and summer surges, health officials brace for a coming wave of hospitalizations and deaths. Knowing which hospitals in which communities are reaching capacity could be key to an effective response to the growing crisis. That information is gathered by the federal government — but not shared openly with the public.

President Trump has tried to get rid of the Affordable Care Act since the first day of his presidency, but there's one part of Obamacare that he wants to preserve.

"We will always protect patients with preexisting conditions — always," Trump told a campaign crowd on Sunday in Londonderry, N.H. It's a message he has shared repeatedly in the final days and weeks before the presidential election.

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."

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