Rob Stein

The Biden administration is promising to finally solve the nation's chronic shortage of COVID-19 tests. But is the new administration doing enough, especially with the more contagious coronavirus variants now looming?

Many public health experts are encouraged by the new administration's commitment to the importance of testing. But some are concerned officials are moving too slowly.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The devastating fall and winter wave of coronavirus infections that is causing so much misery across the U.S. appears to have finally peaked, according to several researchers who are closely tracking the virus.

While another surge remains possible, especially with new, more infectious variants on the horizon, the number of new daily infections in the current wave appears to have hit a high in the past week or two and has been steadily declining in most states since, the researchers say.

The coronavirus pandemic appears to have shortened the average life expectancy in the United States, according to new research, and the impact is most dire for racial and ethnic minorities.

The deaths caused by COVID-19 have reduced overall life expectancy by 1.13 years, according to the analysis by researchers at the University of Southern California and Princeton University.

That would be the largest single-year decline in life expectancy in the past 40 years and cut U.S. life expectancy to 77.48 years — the lowest it's been since 2003, the researchers say.

Americans are being more careful to avoid catching and spreading the coronavirus but are still not being careful enough to slow the pandemic, especially with worrisome, apparently more contagious new variants looming.

That's the conclusion of the latest findings, released Friday, from the largest national survey tracking behavior during the coronavirus pandemic.

The nation is at a pivotal moment in the fight against the pandemic. Vaccines are finally starting to roll out, but the virus is spreading faster than ever — and killing thousands of Americans daily. And it will be months before enough people get inoculated to stop it.

That means it's critical to continue the measures that can limit the toll: mask-wearing, hunkering down, hand-washing, testing and contact tracing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized the first coronavirus test that people will be able to buy at a local store without a prescription and use for immediate results at home to find out if they're positive or negative.

The test will cost about $30 and be available by January, according to the Australian company that makes it, Ellume.

The last thing a lot of people want to do these days is get on a plane. But even a pandemic would not stop Victoria Gray. She jumped at the chance to head to the airport this summer.

"It was one of those things I was waiting to get a chance to do," says Gray.

She had never flown before because she was born with sickle cell disease. She feared the altitude change might trigger one of the worst complications of the devastating genetic disease — a sudden attack of excruciating pain.

While Democrats remain more likely than Republicans to support new measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, a majority of U.S. adults from both political parties now agree more steps are needed to fight the pandemic, according to the latest results from a large ongoing survey.

Federal health officials are likely to shorten their recommendation for how long people should quarantine to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus from the current 14 days to as few as seven.

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

NOEL KING, HOST:

With the pandemic out of control in the United States, the nation's precarious coronavirus testing system is starting to strain again.

More than 10 million people have now been confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus in the United States as the spread of the virus accelerates at an alarming pace across the nation.

The U.S. now accounts for about one-fifth of all of the 50 million infections worldwide, more than any other nation. The data comes from Johns Hopkins University.

Support for President Trump increased in 2020 in many of the U.S. counties that lost lives at the highest rate to COVID-19, according to an NPR analysis.

Of the 100 counties with the highest COVID-19 death rates per capita, 68 had a higher proportion of votes cast for Trump this cycle than they did in 2016. This includes both Republican-leaning counties and counties that supported Joe Biden.

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More Americans may be wearing masks than early last spring, but other recommended behaviors to stop the pandemic's spread haven't kept pace, according to a new federal survey. And young people are the least likely to take needed steps to stop the virus, the data suggest.

The proportion of U.S. adults reporting wearing face masks increased from 78% in April to 89% in June, according to the nationally representative survey released by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday.

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