coronavirus

Updated at 7:31 p.m. ET

President Trump's positive coronavirus test has set off contingency possibilities that center on some key questions: What if COVID-19 renders the president incapable of executing the duties of his office? How would that affect the government — and the current election season?

Vice President Pence has tested negative for the coronavirus, a spokesman says, after President Trump announced his own positive test.

Devin O'Malley, the vice president's spokesman, told NPR that Pence is tested every day.

A new generation of faster, cheaper coronavirus tests is starting to hit the market. And some experts say these technologies could finally give the U.S. the ability to adopt a new, more effective testing strategy.

"On the horizon — the not too distant horizon — there are a whole series of testing modalities coming on line," says Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health. "And that gives us hope we can really expand our testing capacity in the nation."

Just as the coronavirus pandemic began its rapid and deadly spread across the United States, a well-known doctor named Dominique Fradin-Read told thousands of viewers tuning into an Instagram Live video that she had an answer: "one of the best ways to prevent and fight COVID-19."

The Trump administration has compared Operation Warp Speed's crash program to develop a COVID-19 vaccine to the Manhattan Project. And like the notoriously secretive government project to make the first atomic bomb, the details of Operation Warp Speed's work may take a long time to unravel.

The past seven months have been a big strain on families like Mandi Boren's.

The Borens are cattle ranchers on a remote slice of land near Idaho's Owyhee Mountains. They have four kids — ranging from a first grader to a sophomore in high school. When the lockdown first hit, Boren first thought it might be a good thing. Home schooling temporarily could be more efficient, plus there'd be more family time and help with the chores.

With COVID-19 continuing to spread, and millions of Americans still out of work, one of the nation's most urgent problems has only grown worse: hunger.

First restaurants and school cafeterias closed, then COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-packing plants slowed processing. In the spring, shoppers started seeing signs declaring limits on the amount of fresh meat they could buy in one trip. Prices for some products crept up. 

Each week we answer some of your pressing questions about the coronavirus and how to stay safe. Email us your questions at goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject line "Weekly Coronavirus Questions."

Among the many things that have been radically changed by the coronavirus pandemic is the airline industry. Air travel demand is down a whopping 70% from last year, according to the industry group Airlines for America, and now the clock is ticking for tens of thousands of pilots, flight attendants, reservation agents and other airline employees, who will likely lose their jobs on Oct. 1, if Congress doesn't extend federal aid for the airlines.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Jesus Gonzalez was about a year into starting a Cuban food catering and "pop-up" business in Lexington, Ky. It's like "a food truck, but without a truck," he says.

His steadiest gig was setting up tables with a spread of Cuban food at local breweries so people could eat while quaffing pints. But then all that shut down. And he says things aren't back to normal enough yet for the breweries to bring him back.

The United States is home to the world's best-known technology companies, but so far the use of smartphones to fight the coronavirus has been tepid at best.

Smartphones have the potential to be a powerful tool in tracking the spread of COVID-19. They can tell you exactly how close you've been to other people, for how long and keep a detailed log of everyone you've been around for the last 14 days. Linked to testing systems, they can rapidly alert you if someone you've been in contact with tests positive.

As of now, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization say the primary way the coronavirus spreads is by hitching a ride on respiratory droplets when people are in close contact.

Respiratory droplets form when someone sneezes, coughs, talks or sings, for example. They don't travel far and fall to the ground quickly.

In a year that's been plenty scary, this much is clear: Pandemic Halloween will be different than regular Halloween. Many traditional ways of celebrating are now considerably more frightful than usual, because now they bring the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Updated at 12:50 p.m. ET

In a speech Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly, President Trump once again sought to blame China for the COVID-19 pandemic and called on Beijing to be punished for its handling of the disease, which has killed nearly 1 million people worldwide – a fifth of them in the United States.

It's still unknown when a COVID-19 vaccine might be available in the United States. But when one is first approved, there may only be 10 million to 15 million doses available, which may be enough to cover around 3% to 5% of the U.S. population.

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 200,000 on Tuesday — reaching what was once the upper limit of some estimates for the pandemic's impact on Americans. Some experts now warn that the toll could nearly double again by the end of 2020.

"I hoped we would be in a better place by now," said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "It's an enormous and tragic loss of life."

 

At a campaign rally in Wisconsin last week, President Trump announced U.S. farmers will receive an additional $14 billion in coronavirus relief aid.

 

David Usher, chief financial officer for a 12-bed rural hospital in western Kansas, is sitting on $1.7 million he's scared to spend.

The money lent from the federal government is meant to help hospitals and other health care providers weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet some hospital administrators have called it a payday loan program that is now brutally due for repayment at a time when the institutions still need help.

Marcie was at work at a Ford plant when she got a text warning her she might have been exposed to the coronavirus. It wasn't a sure thing — she was a few steps removed from the confirmed positive case. But it was worrying.

"So am I supposed to leave work? Technically I could be positive and not know it," said Marcie, who didn't want her last name used because she's worried about retribution for talking about the plant. "But, you know, a lot of people just can't do that. Can't just get up and go. We depend on the forty hours."

Updated on Sept. 18 at 2:15 p.m. ET

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there were lots of stories about scrappy manufacturers promising to revamp their factories to start making personal protective equipment in the U.S.

Back in the spring, fuel-cell maker Adaptive Energy retooled part of its factory in Ann Arbor, Mich., to make plastic face shields. Now, 100,000 finished shields are piling up in cardboard boxes on the factory floor — unsold.

Updated at 4:45 p.m. ET

The Federal Reserve left interest rates near zero as expected Wednesday and pledged to keep supporting an economic recovery that appears to be losing steam.

Most members of the Fed's rate-setting committee said they expect interest rates to remain near zero through at least 2023 as the economy slowly digs its way out of the coronavirus recession.

Updated at 6:50 p.m. ET

President Trump on Wednesday again said widespread distribution of a vaccine against the coronavirus would happen before the end of the year, directly contradicting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield. The CDC chief testified earlier Wednesday that a vaccine would not be widely available until next spring or summer.

Trump said he expects the government to be able to distribute a vaccine "sometime in October," though "it may be a little later than that."

The Big Ten Conference said it will return to football on the weekend of Oct. 23-24, a reversal from the conference leadership's decision a little more than a month ago to sideline its football program in the fall due to coronavirus concerns.

The vast majority of children dying from COVID-19 are Hispanic, Black or Native American, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers analyzed the number of coronavirus cases and deaths among people under the age of 21 that were reported to the CDC between Feb. 12 and July 31 of this year. They found more than 390,000 cases and 121 deaths.

Before a new federal eviction ban went into effect recently, Alice and Jeremy Bumpus were on the verge of getting evicted. They live in a house outside Houston with their three kids, and they both lost their jobs after the pandemic hit. Alice worked at an airport fast food restaurant; Jeremy worked at a warehouse.

"We explained to the judge that due to everything that was going on, we just fell behind on just our one month's rent," Alice says.

Agi Hajduczki, a research scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, opens a large freezer and takes out boxes of DNA. She is part of a team making a COVID-19 vaccine.

Hajduczki places a small, clear plastic tray under a piece of white paper on the table of her lab. The tray is dimpled. Pale yellow fluid can be seen under the dozens of dimples.

Some of the dimples are clearly more yellow than others.

Senate Republicans rallied around a $300 billion coronavirus aid package, but it fell short of the necessary 60-vote majority to advance, effectively killing the measure. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone Republican joining Senate Democrats to oppose it — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., missed the vote.

Nurses at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., were on edge as early as March, when patients with COVID-19 began to show up in areas of the hospital that were not set aside to care for them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had advised hospitals to isolate COVID-19 patients to limit staff's exposure and help conserve high-level personal protective equipment that's been in short supply.

Cynthia Maclin cannot get out of bed most days.

Chronic lung disease leaves her short of breath and ended her 45-year career as a medical administrator. COVID-19 cases are on the rise in her hometown of Chicago, and Maclin has already lost eight friends and family members to the virus, including the father of her two daughters. For the first time, this month, she's also unable to pay rent.

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