Selena Simmons-Duffin

Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.

She has worked at NPR for ten years as a show editor and producer, with one stopover at WAMU in 2017 as part of a staff exchange. For four months, she reported local Washington, DC, health stories, including a secretive maternity ward closure and a gesundheit machine.

Before coming to All Things Considered in 2016, Simmons-Duffin spent six years on Morning Edition working shifts at all hours and directing the show. She also drove the full length of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014 for the "Borderland" series.

She won a Gracie Award in 2015 for creating a video called "Talking While Female," and a 2014 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award for producing a series on why you should love your microbes.

Simmons-Duffin attended Stanford University, where she majored in English. She took time off from college to do HIV/AIDS-related work in East Africa. She started out in radio at Stanford's radio station, KZSU, and went on to study documentary radio at the Salt Institute, before coming to NPR as an intern in 2009.

She lives in Washington, DC, with her spouse and kids.

Updated 11:55 a.m. ET

Two drugmakers, Pfizer and Moderna, have announced promising interim results for their vaccine candidates, raising hopes in the U.S. and abroad that the end of the pandemic may be in sight. But, if and when the vaccines are authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, distributing them presents a daunting challenge.

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.

Health care was going to be the defining issue of the 2020 election before a pandemic and economic upheaval eclipsed pretty much everything else. But of course, the pandemic has highlighted many health policy issues.

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."

Updated at 1 pm, to include comment from the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services

Even the most effective, safest coronavirus vaccine won't work to curb the spread of the virus unless a large number of people get immunized. And getting a vaccine from the manufacturers all the way into people's arms requires complex logistics — and will take many months.

The United States has more than 50,000 contact tracers for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit, according to a survey of states conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in collaboration with NPR.

The White House's apparent failures to do thorough contact tracing after its coronavirus outbreak has led local health officers to take matters into their own hands.

The District of Columbia and nine neighboring jurisdictions are calling on White House staff and visitors who might be connected to the recent outbreak there to contact their local health departments.

Regular, every-day contact tracing for the coronavirus typically entails a health worker calling up to a dozen or so contacts of the person with the known infection. But what does it look like when you're contact tracing the President of the United States, in the hectic, jam-packed last weeks of a reelection campaign?

Updated Friday 2:15 p.m. ET to include a comment from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The federal government is preparing to crack down aggressively on hospitals for not reporting complete COVID-19 data daily into a federal data system, according to internal documents obtained by NPR.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently sent guidance to states on how to prepare to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine. The agency asked for a distribution plan as soon as October and said that vaccination sites should be ready by Nov. 1. Those dates caught a lot of people off guard and set off some alarm bells that political pressure was tainting the process.

Updated 3:40 p.m. ET

Note: This story was updated to include Massachusetts, which began to share contact tracing data on its website on Wednesday.

When everyone who tests positive for coronavirus in your community gets a call from a public health worker asking them about their contacts and those contacts are then asked to quarantine, the process creates a powerful way to keep the virus from spreading.

The United States needs as many as 100,000 contact tracers to fight the pandemic, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Congress in June. We need billions of dollars to fund them, public health leaders pleaded in April.

Earlier this month, when the Trump administration told hospitals to send crucial data about coronavirus cases and intensive care capacity to a new online system, it promised the change would be worth it. The data would be more complete and transparent and an improvement over the old platform run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, administration officials said.

Instead, the public data hub created under the new system is updated erratically and is rife with inconsistencies and errors, data analysts say.

Olivia de Havilland, who starred in dozens of movies through the 1930s and '40s, has died at age 104. She died at her home in Paris of natural causes, her publicist, Lisa Goldberg, confirmed.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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It is back. After a three-month hiatus, President Trump resurrected his briefing about the coronavirus tonight. And there was a big shift in his tone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Updated July 16, 9:40 a.m. ET

The Trump Administration has mandated that hospitals sidestep the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and send critical information about COVID-19 hospitalizations and equipment to a different federal database.

From the start of the pandemic, the CDC has collected data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, availability of intensive care beds and personal protective equipment. But hospitals must now report that information to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC.

Updated 6:15 p.m. ET

More than 1,200 current employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have signed a letter calling for the federal agency to address "ongoing and recurring acts of racism and discrimination" against Black employees, NPR has learned.

A coalition of LGBTQ clinics and organizations are suing to block a Trump administration rule that aims to strip "sex discrimination" protections for transgender people from laws that govern health care. The rule, issued in final form by the Department of Health and Human Services on June 12, is distinct from last week's landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that bars discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace.

An NPR survey of state health departments shows that the national coronavirus contact tracing workforce has tripled in the past six weeks, from 11,142 workers to 37,110. Yet given their current case counts, only seven states and the District of Columbia are staffed to the level that public health researchers say is needed to contain outbreaks.

Updated at 7:29 p.m. ET

The Trump administration on Friday finalized a rule that would remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people when it comes to health care and health insurance.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Liz McLemore was laid off from her digital marketing job in early March, and her health insurance coverage disappeared along with it.

"I've always been a saver, so I wasn't as concerned about the monthly money coming in," says McLemore, who's 42 and lives in Inglewood, Calif. "But I really was concerned about the [health] insurance."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Note: The graphic in this story is no longer being updated. For more recent data, go to our new post on this topic.

Updated May 7, 5:36 p.m. ET: This story was originally published on April 28. We've updated it throughout to reflect updates and new data from several states.

The Trump administration is having to backtrack on when it can provide data on the race of COVID-19 patients.

First things first: It's not yet time to end social distancing and go back to work and church and concerts and handshakes.

Public health experts say social distancing appears to be working, and letting up these measures too soon could be disastrous. Until there is a sustained reduction in new cases — and the coronavirus' spread is clearly slowing — we need to stay the course.

When the call came from the local health department in northeast Nebraska, Katie Berger was waiting. She had already gotten a text from the salon where she'd gotten her hair done recently, telling her that one of the stylists had COVID-19. She knew she was at risk.

It's the question on everyone's minds: What will it take for us to come out of this period of extreme social distancing and return to some semblance of normal life?

It turns out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been working on a plan to allow the U.S. to safely begin to scale back those policies. CDC Director Robert Redfield spoke with NPR on Thursday, saying that the plan relies on not only ramped-up testing but "very aggressive" contact tracing of those who do test positive for the coronavirus, and a major scale-up of personnel to do the necessary work.

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