Health News

Man loses pregnant wife to COVID-19, shares what he wants others to know


(NEW YORK) -- Juan Duran-Gutierrez is now a single father raising three young children, including a newborn, after his wife, Aurora Chacon-Esparza, died of COVID-19 during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Chacon-Esparza was healthy and following safety precautions, according to Duran-Gutierrez, when she contracted COVID-19 in June while seven months pregnant with the couple's third child together.

"I really thought she was going to pull through," Duran-Gutierrez, of Minnesota, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "She’s always been a really strong woman. She didn’t have any pre-existing conditions. She was healthy."

Chacon-Esparza, who would have turned 36 in August, was hospitalized on June 14 after one week of isolating with COVID-19 symptoms at home, along with other family members who had also been exposed to the virus, according to Duran-Gutierrez.

Just around five days later, Chacon-Esparza was placed on a ventilator.

"She continued to get short of breath and her lung disease worsened to the point where she was struggling to breathe," said Dr. Todd Stanhope, the OBGYN who treated Chacon-Esparza at North Memorial Health in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. "I counseled both her and Juan the day that she was intubated that she was struggling to breathe and without intubation, she would have exhausted herself trying to breathe."

Shortly after being intubated, Chacon-Esparza had to undergo an emergency cesarean section to deliver her third child, a healthy baby girl that Duran-Guiterrez named Andrea.

The baby, who tested negative for COVID-19, was born at 30 weeks weighing 4 pounds, according to Stanhope, who performed the emergency C-section.

Less than one month after giving birth, Chacon-Esparza passed away, leaving behind a husband, three children ages 7 and younger, two older stepchildren and her extended family.

"I thought until the end that she was going to make it," Duran-Gutierrez said of his wife, whom he was able to finally see in the hospital just before she passed away. "I was holding her hand and talking to her."

"She really took care of herself," he said. "She protected herself whenever she went out, I’m talking face masks, and she had a whole bunch of hand sanitizers and hand wipes in her SUV, so she was really taking care of herself."

The impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women

Just as Duran-Gutierrez, a Lyft driver, is now looking ahead to his future as a single dad, he is also coming to terms with what he now knows about how COVID-19 affects pregnant women.

"For pregnant women, be very careful," he said. "I’m not trying to alarm anybody when I share this story. I don’t want pregnant women to feel like it’s going to happen to them, but they should take all the precautions because it could happen to them."

For 35-year-old Ruth González Esparza, her bout with COVID-19 came in the 38th week of her pregnancy.

The mother of two told GMA through a translator that she never thought she would be infected by the virus, though she was admitted to Denver Health in Colorado, after having a sore throat. She tested positive for COVID-19 immediately following the birth of her son, Jose Luis Sanchez González, on March 31.

Esparza had a normal labor and delivery with no symptoms, according to Denver Health. It was only after her delivery that Esparza began feeling symptoms that included fever, cough and muscle pain.

"I also had high blood pressure and the baby’s heart rate was very low," Esparza said, adding that she was afraid, even for her 5-year-old daughter who was at home.

"We didn’t know this could happen to us," she said. "You immediately think the worst and all the news scared me even more."

Esparza was one of the first mothers to have COVID-19 at Denver Health. After she tested positive, she was intubated in the intensive care unit for two weeks and separated from her newborn for one month.

Esparza made the decision to separate from him for protection.

"I felt mentally very sad, depressed, scared because even though I had a lot of faith in God, I was scared; every day I didn’t get better is another day that I felt more sick, more tired and the only thing that keep me going was the calls with my mom, with my husband and with my daughter, Kerem," Esparza said.

More than 26,000 pregnant women in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since January and 45 pregnant women have died due to complications from the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Among the diagnosed cases of pregnant women with COVID-19, an overwhelming majority were, like Esparza and Chacon-Esparza, women of Hispanic and Latina descent, according to the CDC.

In a study released this summer, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found the rate of virus exposure among Black and Hispanic women to be five times higher than among white and Asian women.

Researchers have not yet determined why Hispanic women are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, according to Dr. Rashmi Rao, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

"There could be an increased amount of pre-existing conditions. It could just be that there are racial disparities in care in the United States," Rao told GMA. "Some of it has to do with social determinants, like socioeconomic status or possibly the way people are cohorted in certain areas in the country, where depending on how many people live with you, can you really socially distance, and that may be present in some populations more than others."

"There are many theories, but the truth is from a science standpoint, we have not concluded anything based off a certain race that would make them more predisposed to it just based on their racial background or ethnicity," she said.

More than eight months into the virus hitting the U.S., there are also still many questions remaining for all pregnant women about how they could be impacted by COVID-19.

"What I’ve been telling my patients is the one thing I can tell you for sure is that pregnant women get COVID," said Rao. "Everything else I think is still a little bit of conjecture."

Researchers are learning as they go when it comes to how COVID-19 affects pregnant women because the virus is still relatively new and full-scale studies are just underway.

For instance, roughly nine months into the pandemic, researchers are just now able to see what complications, if any, there are at delivery for women who contracted COVID-19 early on in their pregnancy, according to Rao.

"That's another concern that pregnant women have and I’ve had to tell them that we’ll have to wait on this," she said. "As of right now, there’s nothing overwhelmingly glaring to us about the baby’s birth weight or birth timing but stay tuned because we are keeping a close eye on that."

What doctors do know is that pregnancy causes changes to the immune and respiratory systems, which has led to speculation that pregnant women might be more vulnerable to the disease.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, agreed. Adalja's work focuses on infectious disease and pandemic preparedness.

"We tend to be more cautious of pregnant women because pregnant women are considered immunosuppressed and they also have physiological changes, as they go along in their pregnancy," Adalja told GMA, adding that there's still a lack of data. "It makes them more prone to get into respiratory distress quicker."

Adalja said pregnant women with COVID-19 may be mere likely to be admitted to the ICU, since doctors are watching these patients closely considering we're dealing with a novel disease.

"We're cautious with pregnant women but what we've seen so far, is not necessarily the same with what we've seen with for example, Zika or the same with influenza," Adalja said.

One recent study on non-hospitalized pregnant women found that symptoms for pregnant women with COVID-19 can be prolonged, lasting two months or longer for a quarter of the women who participated in the study.

The common early symptoms for pregnant women were cough, sore throat, body aches and fever, according to the study, all symptoms felt by Chacon-Esparza before she was hospitalized.

"It all started with body aches, then the nauseous came, a lot of coughing, high fevers and then shortness of breath, which is the reason she went to the hospital," Duran-Guiterrez said of his late wife. "She was admitted immediately because her oxygen was pretty low."

A study in June from the CDC found that while pregnant women don't seem any more likely to die of COVID-19 than other groups, they do appear to be more likely to become extremely sick, and even become hospitalized, once they get infected.

Despite worse symptoms seen in pregnant women with COVID-19, there was no difference in the risk of death between pregnant and non-pregnant women with COVID-19, the study found.

While every woman needs to consult with her own doctor, there so far is no broad evidence to suggest that otherwise healthy women should avoid getting pregnant during the pandemic, according to Rao, who emphasizes that getting pregnant is a very personal decision for each woman and her doctor.

"From a health standpoint, we are not recommending that people delay pregnancy for COVID, mostly because this isn’t getting better anytime soon and as of right now we are not seeing any overwhelming reason why pregnancy in and of itself is causing an increased risk or susceptibility to COVID," said Rao. "If that data were to come out, sure we might make different recommendations, but right now, from a health standpoint, there’s no contraindications to getting pregnant at this time."

After a month-long stay in the hospital, Esparza was released as doctors continued to monitor her recovery process. She is now doing well and raising her children with her husband, Federico González.

Esparza's message to expectant mothers is to wear a mask and visit your doctor if you feel any symptoms of illness.

"Especially if you have complications, take care of yourself," she said. "You owe it to your baby to not become one of the statistics."

Five tips for moms-to-be

If a woman is pregnant during the pandemic, there are things she should do to help keep herself safe throughout her pregnancy.

Here are five tips from experts.

1. Wear a face mask and practice good hand hygiene: "Face coverings are a must and frequent hand washing is an absolute must and that’s probably one of the most important things," said Rao.

For hand washing, CDC guidelines are to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.

Face masks should be worn in addition to "prevention actions like washing hands frequently and avoiding close contact with other people," according to the CDC. Pregnant women should both wear masks themselves and avoid contact with others who are not wearing masks.

2. Practice social distancing: Pregnant women should limit their travel and try their best to avoid outings in places where they cannot social distance, according to Rao.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women say at least 6 feet away from people outside their household.

3: Continue with all doctors' appointments:
Pregnant women should not skip routine healthcare appointments or avoid going to the hospital in an emergency, experts say.

If you have concerns because of COVID-19, the CDC recommends that women talk with their health care providers ahead of time about what protocols they have in place to keep healthy patients away from those who may be sick and to minimize any potential exposure to COVID-19.

4. Quarantine before delivery: "For the mom or parents or anyone who is going to be in contact with the child, it’s important to quarantine around the delivery time so that way the baby is not exposed after birth," said Stanhope.

5. Get recommended vaccines: The CDC recommends that women get vaccinated against influenza during pregnancy, as well as the whooping cough (Tdap) vaccine.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Dentists warn against these vampire fangs Halloween hacks on TikTok

inhauscreative/iStockBy JACQUELINE LAUREAN YATES, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Just when you didn't think things could get any creepier this season (or this year), a DIY vampire fang Halloween hack gone wrong has made its way to TikTok.

Popular TikTok personality Whitney Kait, known as @muawk, shared a video of herself trying to remove fake fangs where she begins to breathe hysterically and panic after realizing they aren't budging.
Since posting, Kait's video has received more than 10 million views and more than 6,000 comments from other TikTokkers who were just as freaked out by her experience.

"The panicking, I felt that!" one person said, with another chiming in, "please tell me you got them off" along with a surprised face emoji.

Her viral vampire fang fiasco might be even more dangerous than it first appears. She later posted a video update where she's seen brushing her teeth with the fangs still stuck in place. She also admitted in her caption, "Okay I need actual help!!!! I used nail glue (yes I'm dumb) but how do I get them off!!!!!!!"

A few people directly entertained Kait's plea for help responded with "try eating an apple and see if they fall off." Someone else suggested for her to embrace her new look, saying, "just accept that you are now a vampire for life."

There was a response video posted by Illinois-based dentist Dr. Julie Davis, who advised Kait to call a dentist for safe removal.

"Be really careful until they fall off or a dentist removes them," she captioned the video, along with a look of concern. She also offered to help Kait if she is in Chicago.

Another Michigan-based dentist, Dr. Zainab Mackie, also known as "Your TikTok Dentist," posted a video informing everyone not to use nail glue.

"It's poisonous and won't come off," she says.

As an alternative, Mackie suggests if you are using acrylic nails as your fangs to try using denture glue as it is safe and easy to take off. She also said orthodontic wax is an alternative that won't stay on but is great for pictures.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Trump's Operation Warp Speed adviser: All Americans could be immunized with COVID vaccine by June

simon2579/iStockBy SONY SALZMAN and VICTOR ORDONEZ, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Most Americans may have access to a COVID-19 vaccine by early spring, one which could potentially immunize them by June, according to Operation Warp Speed's chief adviser, Dr. Moncef Slaoui.

"It's not a certainty, but the plan -- and I feel pretty confident -- should make it such that by June, everybody could have been immunized in the U.S.," Slaoui told ABC News' Bob Woodruff Wednesday morning.

President Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed is an effort created to accelerate a vaccine rollout without sacrificing safety. The program has pumped billions of dollars into numerous pharmaceutical companies in hopes of developing one or more safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. The money is intended to help ramp up development, trials and manufacturing while removing financial risk from the companies, in case the vaccines don’t work out.

Despite the rapid pace of vaccine development, Slaoui said he has not received any improper pressure from the White House to expedite the process beyond what he considers safe.

"I've had absolutely no pressure, really, no pressure," Slaoui said, adding that he would have quit if that were the case. "And I have [always] said, if I get undue pressure, I will say it and I will resign."

Slaoui said the pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer are likely to be the first with vaccine candidates to apply for emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, possibly as soon as November or December. If a vaccine is authorized before the end of the year, Slaoui said approximately 20 to 40 million doses of it will be stockpiled and ready for distribution for a limited population.

"Then we can start immunizing the highest risk people, front-line workers, the health care workers, before the end of the year," Slaoui told ABC News. "Now, not every one in that population can be immunized in December, but the companies will continue to manufacture and produce vaccine doses -- and in January, we plan to have about 60 to 80 million doses of those two vaccines."

Slaoui said AstraZeneca's clinical trial is due to resume in the U.S. "imminently."

This comes as clinical trials for AstraZeneca's vaccine was put on regulatory hold by the FDA and pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson's vaccine candidate was put on a voluntary pause to investigate why certain volunteers developed unexplained illnesses during the trial. AstraZeneca has already resumed its trials in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

But halting the two late-stage clinical trials may have caused some vaccine skepticism, despite most scientists saying it's a sign the process is working, and pointing out that many clinical trials are slowed to investigate potential problems before moving on.

Slaoui worries vaccine attitudes may also be influenced by recent politics.

"I think, unfortunately, it's the politics around it," Slaoui said. "And I think if these same events were happening two years ago, far away from an election time, I'm sure the same scrutiny would happen, but it would have a different tone to it."

In September, prior to halting these clinical trials, a Gallup Poll indicated that only about half of Americans would take a vaccine if it were free and available now.

The goal of Operation Warp Speed is to have multiple vaccine options available for the American people. Already eight are in human trials. So, Slaoui is encouraging more people to volunteer for ongoing and future COVID-19 vaccine trials.

He visited George Washington University's Vaccine Research Center -- one of the sites of an ongoing Moderna vaccine trial -- for a press conference Wednesday morning, and is now urging people to sign up.

Slaoui said Moderna has obtained nearly 29,000 volunteers of the 30,000 required to complete their phase 3 study. Like many of the vaccines currently being tested, Moderna's requires two shots administered a few weeks apart.

Once an independent monitoring board says the data from these late-stage trials is ready to be evaluated, it may take the FDA about three weeks to make its authorization decision.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

In the face of rising infections, Texas funeral home directors prepare for the worst

sshepard/iStockBy ERIN SCHUMAKER, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- In El Paso, Texas, funeral directors are preparing for a worst-case scenario.

Over the past two weeks, COVID-19 infections have risen 500%, according Angela Mora, the city's health director. While El Paso is doing more testing, rising hospitalizations and a 12.7% positivity rate for COVID-19 tests suggest that El Paso's outbreak is worsening.

The World Health Organization recommends that governments get their positivity testing threshold below 5%.

While experts consider deaths from COVID-19 to be a lagging indictor of the outbreak’s severity, funeral home directors in the city say they have seen between a 30% and 40% increase in deaths. A third of those deaths are COVID-19 cases.

At Sunset Funeral Homes, the staff is preparing to be "overwhelmed" in coming weeks, funeral director Christopher Lujan told ABC News. Across town, Perches Funeral Home is doing its own preparations. The funeral home chapel was turned into a refrigerator truck to ensure there was sufficient space to store corpses if deaths continue to rise.

As of Tuesday, El Paso had reported more than 34,000 COVID-19 infections and 560 deaths from the virus, according to city data. Young people between the ages of 21 and 39 are driving the recent rise in infections, according to El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, who added that El Paso residents, of whom more than 85% are Latino, are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection and death.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

International Pronouns Day: What to know about using pronouns

ABC News Photo IllustrationBy GMA TEAM, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- She, he, they, ze, her, him, them, zir.

They're little words that are a part of our everyday language. But to many, the way these words -- known as pronouns -- are used can make a big difference in acknowledging identity.

"Using the correct pronouns not only shows that we recognize others for who they are, but it’s also a sign of respect and courtesy," said Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, Alabama state director for the Human Rights Campaign. "When someone is misgendered, meaning, when another person uses incorrect pronouns or descriptors to refer to them, we’ve found that it can be upsetting, invalidating, hurtful and even a cause of harm."

International Pronouns Day is celebrated on the third Wednesday of October. It seeks to make "respecting, sharing and educating about personal pronouns commonplace," and encourage inclusive language for those who may identify as transgender, gender nonconforming, non-binary, gender neutral and more.

ABC News' Good Morning America spoke with Anderson-Harvey about using pronouns, where she touches on these topics and more:

1. Never assume that you know a person’s pronouns and, when appropriate, how to ask someone about their pronouns.

2. Why using someone's pronouns is important.

3. Simple ways that you can integrate inclusive language, such as with your email signature and when you introduce yourself to others.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Pregnant woman ran a mile in less than 6 minutes a week before her due date

jbk_photography/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A 28-year-old pregnant woman who ran a mile in less than six minutes is showing that pregnancy has no limits.

Makenna Myler, who runs with the Valor Track Club in Orange County, California, ran one mile last week in 5 minutes and 25 seconds, and she did it while nine months pregnant.

Her husband, Mike, captured the feat on video and shared it on TikTok, where it has gone viral with tens of thousands of likes, comments and shares.

"I think pregnancy is a beautiful thing and it’s not an injury or a sickness, that you’re still really capable," Myler, who ran track at Brigham Young University, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "I think a lot of women are showing that, that women are capable and that’s what matters."

Myler said she and her husband, whom she describes as her biggest supporter, jokingly bet each other $100 that she would not finish the mile in under 8 minutes, a bet Myler clearly won.

Myler, whose due date was Oct. 19, said that while her sub-6 minute mile is getting attention, she doesn't want other women to think her training during pregnancy has been a breeze.

"The first trimester I didn’t have that extra weight but I was exhausted and I was probably running slower than I am now," she said. "I’ve had to listen to my body and really let myself recover and get a workout in if I can, if my body is feeling it, but they’re definitely few and far between."

Myler added of her approach to workouts, "When people say, ‘What are you going to run this time?’ I say, ‘Whatever my body wants.' If I don’t want to do it, I’m not going to do it, because pregnancy and my health obviously comes first."

And while most women will not run nearly 5-minute miles, the workout done by Myler, who has dreams of representing the United States in the Olympics, is a safe one, experts say.

"For my patients, in general, I tell them that they can continue doing anything that they were doing before pregnancy as long as it remains comfortable and doesn’t cause any pain," said Dr. Danielle Jones, a board-certified OBGYN in College Station, Texas, who is not involved in Myler's treatment. "You don’t see it a lot because most people get uncomfortable by the third trimester and aren’t wanting to run a five-minute mile, but there’s definitely people out there who can comfortably continue that in their pregnancy."

Jones stressed that there are conditions that prevent women from exercising during pregnancy and that women should always consult with their doctors throughout their pregnancies and keep them informed of their exercise routine.

For pregnant women who are able to exercise, doing so offers many benefits, according to Jones.

"Maintaining a healthy exercise routine in pregnancy, just basically continuing the pregnancy routine that you had prior to pregnancy, is associated with shorter labors and a lower risk of c-sections because it helps with endurance, which labor and delivery is kind of like a marathon in itself," she said. "It also helps with recovery after delivery as well, so whether the patient has a vaginal delivery or a c-section, they’re going to get back to feeling better and like themselves faster if they’ve maintained a healthy and active pregnancy."

Myler said she has been under a doctor's supervision throughout her pregnancy and has used her training as an elite athlete to make sure she is getting the proper rest and nutrition to keep her baby healthy.

"I’ve been spending the last 10 or so years [as an athlete] listening to my body and hearing what it needs," she said. "[Other women] should not expect to run five-minute miles or compare themselves."

And while she plans to continue training after giving birth, Myler said she has no plans to "bounce back" into shape.

"I hate the term bounce back because I want to be a different person and I want to change," said Myler, who will be a first-time mom. "I hope this baby brings a lot of growth and change."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Jeff Bridges has been diagnosed with cancer

Tibrina Hobson/Getty ImagesBy MEGAN STONE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Actor Jeff Bridges announced on Monday that he has been diagnosed with cancer.

In an announcement on social media, the Big Lebowski actor didn't mince words about the seriousness of his diagnosis.

With a nod to one of his signature characters, Bridges began his statement by writing, "As the Dude would say.. New S**T has come to light."

"I have been diagnosed with Lymphoma," he continued. "Although it is a serious disease, I feel fortunate that I have a great team of doctors and the prognosis is good."

Bridges confirmed that he started treatment and he will "keep you posted on my recovery."

The Academy Award-winning actor, 70, extended his sincerest gratitude to all those that have rallied around him, writing that he's "profoundly grateful for the love and support from my family and friends." He ended his statement by encouraging people to vote on Nov. 3.

"We are all in this together," he stated.

Lymphoma is cancer of the body's lymphatic system, which helps fight germs, according to the Mayo Clinic. The organization added that treatment for the disease varies, but may involve chemotherapy, immunotherapy medications, radiation therapy, a bone marrow transplant or some combination thereof.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Olivia Newton-John shares advice to women fighting breast cancer


(NEW YORK) -- Olivia Newton-John continually uses her platform to advocate for cancer research and now she is taking it a step further with the launch of her new foundation.

The four-time Grammy Award-winning singer and actress, who is currently battling breast cancer for the third time, launched the Olivia Newton-John Foundation this month to fund research for treatments and therapies to cure cancer.

The star was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and again in 2013. She revealed in 2018 that the disease returned and metastasized to her spine.

In a recent interview with ABC News' Good Morning America, the actress, 72, revealed she is "feeling really good" and spoke about what led her to launch this new charity.

"I feel really positive and very excited about bringing this foundation and a lot of knowledge to people, and funding research to find out lots of answers -- to find kinder treatments for cancer," she shared.

"The inspiration has been a long one because I've been on this cancer journey for 28 years," she added. "I'm a thriver of three times going through this process."

Having gone through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, she said she now is interested in funding treatments that aren’t as taxing to the body.

"I've always thought, 'Gosh, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could create kinder therapies that help boost the body's immune system instead of knocking us down?'" she said.

Newton-John is an outspoken advocate for plant medicine and says that’s largely due to the influence of her husband, John Easterling. She affectionately calls him "Amazon John" because he spent several years in the Amazon rain forest learning about this type of medicine.

"I'm very lucky that I have him in my corner, and teaching me about the plants and the herbs," she said. "He grows cannabis for me and I take tinctures that have helped me greatly."

Ongoing efforts are being made to research what role cannabis may play in the future.

"While some like Newton-John find relief of cancer-related pain and nausea from cannabis, it has not clinically proven to be the best choice," according to health expert Dr. Imran Ali, a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Newton-John says she believes there is a significant lack of progress in research for these treatments.

"There are lots of ideas on how we can help people with cancer and treat cancer, but there's been no real science behind the studies," she explained. "So the idea is to raise money to fund the research on the other kinds of things that are kinder, including a lot of plant medicine."

Newton-John is dedicating the foundation to all forms of cancer treatments -- not just breast cancer research -- because she dreams of one day "realizing a world beyond cancer."

"That's everything that drives me forward," she said. "To think that we could help people to live in a world where cancer was just something that you treated like diabetes, or asthma, or the flu, or you know, something that you could live well with, which I'm doing. And I hope to continue to do that for a long time."

She hopes to find ways to "support the body, mind and spirit of people going through cancer" through her new charity.

One of the first efforts she is doing to raise money for the ONJ Foundation is her upcoming auction with Julien’s Auctions on Nov. 30. More than 300 items, including artwork, memorabilia and more, are up for sale. The proceeds from the auction will be donated to her foundation.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Newton-John has been quarantined in her California home with her husband, and she said she is mainly focused on her health and positivity in her life.

"I think being at home so much, which has been wonderful for me because it's a novelty because I've been on the road most of my life it seems ... and to wake up every day and to hear the birds and see the sunshine in the trees," she shared on what she values. "I'm so grateful for every day."

Although the pandemic has largely affected the way many treat and prioritize their health, Newton-John says this is just the way of life for cancer patients.

"Because of this pandemic people have become extremely conscious of their health and how important it is to help boost their immune systems, how to eat properly, and how to protect each other and themselves," she said. "And people with cancer have been going through that, always, and they'll be doing that long after the pandemic is over."

"It's a good time to kind of reinforce the idea that, 'Yes, we're all going through something, but cancer patients have been dealing with this forever, sadly, and going forward, let's help them,’" she added.

Her message to women fighting breast cancer? Prioritize putting yourself first and remember "your mind is such an important part of your healing."

"The first time I had breast cancer was in 1992 and I'm still here," she said. "The treatments weren’t as good then as they are now, and there's a lot of information you can get online on how to support yourself and how to think well."

She urged those fighting cancer to take care of their mental health and surround themselves with good energy.

"We're not just a body going through cancer -- we're a whole human with the mind, body, spirit and soul," she said. "And we need to try and think positive thoughts. We need to surround ourselves with people who are going to give us positivity back. It really helps."

The actress implored survivors to "do something for yourself every day that you love."

She also recommended finding a person in your life to answer questions from those seeking information on your health -- so you can instead put your energy into "doing something that you love doing for yourself."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Not just a Trump-touted 'cure': Monoclonal antibodies may be 'bridge' to coronavirus vaccine


(NEW YORK) — Antibody medicines like the one that earned President Donald Trump's praise after treatment earlier this month are not just for COVID-19. For the past 30 years, this type of medicine has been used to treat cancers, inflammatory diseases and infections. Although experts say this type of medicine could be a game-changer for COVID-19, they are not a "cure," as the president has sometimes touted, nor are they intended to replace a vaccine.

Antibodies are our natural response to an infection. They can be harvested from the blood of recovered patients, or -- using modern technology -- manufactured synthetically in a lab.

The idea to use antibodies as medical treatment dates back as early as the 1890s when Emil von Behring successfully treated children suffering from a severe bacterial infection called diphtheria using antibody-containing serum from the blood of horses recently exposed to the same bacteria. The discovery earned him the first Nobel Prize in medicine.

Nearly a century later, scientists Georges J.F. Köhler and César Milstein learned to engineer cells that produced many copies of a single antibody that could be used to treat disease in the 1970s. These drugs, known as monoclonal antibodies, use a concentrated, high number of identical antibodies to attack a very specific target.

The first monoclonal antibody was approved for kidney transplant rejection in the 1980s. By 2019, the Food and Drug Administration had approved 79 monoclonal antibody drugs.

"Antibodies form some of the most important medicines in the world for treating anything from cancer to autoimmune disease," said Dr. Eline Luning Prak, a professor of pathology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The drugs, sometimes referred to as "biologics," treat a diverse variety of diseases -- ranging from cancer to eczema to certain types of arthritis. Humira, the brand-name version of a drug called adalimumab, was the world's bestselling drug in 2018, bringing in $19.9 billion in sales revenue for drugmaker AbbVie.

And this past week, the biotechnology company Regeneron -- the same company that makes the drug Trump received -- won FDA approval for the first Ebola treatment, Inmazeb, a mixture of three monoclonal antibodies. These antibodies target parts of the external protein Ebola uses to attach to and infect human cells.

When it comes to COVID-19, antibody drugs -- all of which are still experimental and not yet proven to work -- block the virus's ability to attach to the body's cells and infect them. Companies like Regeneron, Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca are currently in late-stage trials.

"These antibodies have been engineered to bind to very specific sites on the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2," explained Dr. Thomas Campbell, a physician at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who is leading the Colorado site for Regeneron's COVID-19 antibody treatment trials.

"It's a way of giving you rapid protection when you're already in trouble," said Prak. The drugs are designed to protect patients already infected when there is not enough time for the body to make its own immune response.

Monoclonal antibody drugs are not the same as convalescent plasma -- another high-profile experimental COVID-19 treatment. However, the treatments are similar, with both providing a shortcut to achieving the body's natural defense to a foreign invader -- a concept called passive immunity.

Convalescent plasma is "a mixture of hundreds or thousands of different antibodies" that target multiple sites on the virus, according to Prak. Monoclonal antibody treatments have a high concentration of a single, specific antibody, making the drug more potent than convalescent plasma.

These treatments, which are used for a wide range of illnesses, are not without risk. Depending on where in the body the antibodies bind, the drugs can produce different effects. The pharmaceutical company Genentech, for example, removed efalizumab, originally approved to treat psoriasis, from the U.S. market because it was associated with a risk of fatal brain infections in 2009.

Another company, Janssen, stopped making a synthetic antibody drug in 2010 partly due to severe side effects -- some of which were potentially fatal.

Although synthetic antibodies are currently being tested as a way to prevent COVID-19, in addition to treating the disease, researchers don't yet know if this type of drug can fend off the virus. And they say that even if it works, the protection will likely only last a short time.

"If they only last several weeks to a month, then they're probably not going to be protective in six months or a year," explained Campbell.

Alternatively, vaccines teach the body to recognize foreign invaders, such as the new coronavirus, and give the body longer-lasting immunity.

But experts say monoclonal antibodies could be a "bridge" to a vaccine and work in tandem with one to control the pandemic.

"The people who are most at risk for COVID are the ones who might mount rather poor vaccine responses," said Prak. "So, it's in that population where this kind of therapy could be very useful."

Miranda Rosenberg, M.D., is a dermatology resident at the University of Miami and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 testing capacity outpacing desire to get swabbed


(NEW YORK) — As COVID-19 cases surge nationwide, so are the number of options to test for coronavirus infection.

The Trump administration says more than 120 million tests will be available in October nationwide. But far fewer Americans are actually being tested: only around 1 million per day, less than 30 million per month.

"I think people are confused. They don't know what to do, whether to get a test. I think there was messaging as well -- don't get tested unless you really need it because you're taking a test from someone else," said Fred Turner, CEO of Curative, one of the nation's top COVID testing companies. "The country now has more testing capacity."

After a slow start, a growing number of Americans every day are swirling their cheeks, tickling their throats and plunging white swabs into their nostrils in search of the virus.

Soon, experts say, it might be done easily and cheaply in the privacy of your own home.

"We are getting to the point that there might be some candidates," said Adm. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration's testing czar on the prospect of at-home COVID tests. "I think we'll get there. We're not there yet.”

For now, public health officials and lab companies need more people to give samples.

Shifting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on who should be tested and when have caused confusion, experts say, along with President Donald Trump's comment over the summer that he told top officials to "slow the testing down, please.”

Lengthy processing delays in some areas during the late summer months are also said to have compounded the impression that not everyone who wants to get tested could get tested.

"We definitely want people to be tested," said Giroir.

"If you're symptomatic you need to get tested. If you've been in close contact with a person known to have the disease, you should get tested," Gioir told ABC News Live. "We need to have many individuals tested on a routine basis who are asymptomatic with no known exposure. We call that surveillance testing."

ABC News got an exclusive look inside Curative's lab in Washington, D.C., where more than 350 lab technicians and medical experts work around the clock to process more than 40,000 tests a day.

"We have extra capacity as well. So this is all designed to have scale-up capacity to 100,000 samples per day," Turner said. The company handles nearly 10% of the nation's daily coronavirus tests.

About 40% of people infected with COVID-19 don't have symptoms, according to the CDC. Catching many of those cases through a much more aggressive testing regime could help the country return to normal activities more quickly -- especially if those tests can be done regularly at home, some experts say.

"If we give everyone the knowledge of their own status, if people know the day that they start to become transmissible that they are positive, then we can get enough people to then choose not to go to work that day, not to go to school that day, but to stay home," said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and expert on testing at Harvard University School of Public Health.

Mina has been a leading proponent of making COVID tests as routine as brushing your teeth or putting in your contact lenses. He says inexpensive paper strip tests, which are still under development, would not require a lab and would give results in minutes instead of days.

"I think that we can have these tests, have them be available for very private use, if that's what it takes, because we know that a lot of people don't want to participate in these bigger systems for various reasons," Mina told ABC News.

Companies designing at-home tests, like Massachusetts-based e25Bio, told ABC News they're able to manufacture millions of tests a day and could have them widely available immediately.

"We should probably be doing something like 20 million tests per day if we want to use these tests as a tool to stop transmission," said Mina, who estimated outbreaks could be brought under control within a month if such a testing program was started immediately.

The federal government isn't sold on the idea. The Food and Drug Administration has concerns about accuracy and sensitivity of the paper strip tests. There's also concern the tests' higher rate of false negatives could breed a false sense of security. Applications to roll out the tests remain under review.

In August, the FDA authorized the first rapid COVID test that doesn't require a lab: $5 card-shaped tests made by Abbott -- which require a medical professional to supervise -- give results in 15 minutes.

The government purchased 150 million of the Abbott card tests in September and is now shipping them to critical hotspots, nursing homes and historically Black colleges and universities, like the University of the District of Columbia, which received 7,000.

"I think these rapid test kits are going to be very, very important and a good tool for us as we start to think about bringing more and more people back onto campus," said Alex Bako, director of risk management at UDC.

A majority of Americans -- 82% in a recent Gallup poll -- said they believe widespread testing is important to returning to normal activities.

Five months ago, nearly 60% said they were worried about the lack of available COVID tests, but now just 25% have that concern, according to Gallup.

Drive-in and walk-up testing sites are ubiquitous in most major American cities and across the 38 states reporting an increase in cases, according to data from The COVID-19 Tracking Project. In Texas, Curative is rolling out mobile testing kiosks.

Health centers and pharmacies are increasingly offering tests to anyone at low or no cost, including those without a doctor's order. And airports are offering tests to passengers: Tampa International Airport in Florida became the first nationwide this month for any arriving and departing passengers.

"Sample collection in the field is the bottleneck right now, not the lab processes themselves," Turner said. The gold-standard PCR test, which is how most coronavirus samples are screened, is labor intensive and time consuming but highly accurate.

Public health experts stress that no amount of testing can completely eliminate the virus from spreading -- or provide a free pass to those who get tested.

The White House, one of the most tested corners of America, became a super-spreader site in recent weeks. "I think we all know that even the best places that have tested everyone have seen outbreaks," Giroir said.

"Testing can be helpful, but you can't rely on testing because if you're negative one day you can be positive the next day or the next day. And so, you can't rely on that as sort of your card to say it's OK to get together," said Giroir. "I wouldn't risk my family's life, my mother's life, on that."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Kansas City hospitals overwhelmed, some forced to turn away ambulances as COVID-19 cases jump

pinkomelet/iStockBy KARMA ALLEN, ABC News

(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) -- Hospitals in and around Kansas City, Missouri, are overwhelmed amid a troubling spike in COVID-19 cases that has forced some facilitates to refuse non-emergency care and others to turn away ambulances due to over-occupancy.

Average daily COVID-19 hospitalizations were up about 10% this week across the Kansas City region as the Midwest grapples with record-breaking daily infection rates and intensive care unit bed shortages, according to the Mid-America Regional Council's dashboard.

Earlier this week, the Kansas City metro area saw its highest number of new COVID-19 hospitalizations on record with the seven-day average rising to about 133. Separately, hospitals in the area reported a 28% increase in the average number of patients on ventilators, week-over-week, while daily ICU occupancy rose about 11% from last week, according to the dashboard.

All in all, total weekly hospitalizations jumped to 867, compared to 835 last week, pushing several area hospitals to refuse ambulances due to lack of beds.

Marc Larsen, operations director of Saint Luke's COVID Response Team, the second-largest care provider in the region, said Kansas City area hospitals are "bursting at the seams."

Hospitals being 'pushed to the brink'

Saint Luke's daily patient average rose to about 85 for the month of October, compared to about 63 per day in September, Larsen said. The system reported a daily patient average of only about 15 COVID-19 patients a day in May and June.

"The current trajectory and the rapid increase in infections is a big concern for me," Larsen told ABC News in an interview Friday. "And with our numbers where they are coming into influenza season, I worry that the facilities will continue to be pushed to the brink on our ability to care for each and every single one of these patients like we need to."

He added, "As a result, our emergency departments and having to leverage alternative care units in our facilities, meaning that we wind up seeing emergency department patients in our pre-anesthesia care units, recovery rooms and sometimes in waiting rooms."

Larsen, who is also an emergency care physician at the downtown Kansas City hospital, said at least eight metro hospitals and emergency departments had to temporarily stop accepting ambulances due to the high volume of patients on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We had eight facilities at one given time that were on 'diversion,' or what we call high-volume status," he said. "That doesn't mean that we don't still take the time-critical diagnoses -- we still take our stroke patients, our trauma patients and our heart attack patients -- but it does limit our ability to provide care to the remainder of ambulances."

"When we get to that volume and when we get to that capacity we're force to hold patients, because may not physically even have a bed available," he added.

Hospitals volumes were in much better shape as of Friday afternoon, but he said he "would not be surprised if this evening and throughout the weekend that we continue to see high volumes and emergency departments across the region."

He said Saint Luke's hospitals were currently experiencing volumes that they only see during peak flu season, warning the public that the situation could get a lot worse by winter.

Fears of a brutal flu 'pandemic'

"Peak flu season is always our busiest time of the year. We have a lot of sick patients and our volumes are a lot higher," Larsen said. "The volumes that we're seeing at this moment are very similar to what we see, typically, in January or February. If we're already at that level and we have this large influx of influenza patients -- as we typically do -- where will we take care of all these patients?"

Like many health officials, he urged all Americans to get a flu shot this year, even if you've never gotten one before.

"Aside from the social distancing, masking and hand hygiene, we don't have a way to prevent this, but we do have one for the other pandemic that we're looking at and that's influenza," Larsen said. "I've been encouraging all my patients to get their flu shots now because I think that's gonna really help us prevent this second surge, not of COVID patients but other patients that need the same type of resources that COVID patients need."

Alarming figures across the board

As of Friday, Missouri had reported 2,017 new confirmed cases over the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 152,571.

The state now ranks fourth nationally in reported deaths over the past seven days, and eighth in the number of new cases, according to the statewide dashboard.

Missouri also reported 17 new virus-related deaths on Friday, pushing the total number of COVID-19 fatalities to 2,459, state officials said Friday.

As of late Thursday, COVID-19 hospitalizations were up to 1,443 across the state, the highest on record. Health officials had not released Fridays data as of the time of publication.

Gov. Mike Parson recently announced that the state had submitted its plan for administering the impending COVID-19 vaccine to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an effort to be proactive about slowing the spread.

"This has been an incredible collaborative effort, and I want to thank all of the agencies and partners involved for their hard work and dedication. In the midst of an ever-changing and unprecedented situation, our team of professionals has done outstanding work to develop a detailed plan," Parson said in a statement this week after submitting the plan. "We are in a great place in the planning process and will be well-prepared to take action as soon as a vaccine becomes available."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

FDA's warning to pregnant women: Pain medication in 2nd half of pregnancy could lead to complications

Blue Planet Studio/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Pregnant women should avoid a group of over-the-counter pain relievers, including Advil and Aleve, for one month longer than previously advised, according to a new warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Those pain relievers should now be avoided by pregnant women for the last four months of pregnancy, instead of the last three, according to the FDA's new guidance.

Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) by women at the midway point of their pregnancy, around 20 weeks or later, may cause what the FDA describes as "rare but serious kidney problems" for the fetus, as well as low levels of amniotic fluid which can cause further complications.

The types of pain relievers that pregnant women should avoid in the second half of their pregnancy include medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac and celecoxib, according to the FDA.

The agency said it plans to update the labels of over-the-counter pain relievers to indicate that pregnant women should avoid using them during the last four months of pregnancy.

"In obstetrics, we have known that there should be caution when using these medications in pregnancy for decades," said Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a board-certified OBGYN and ABC News chief medical correspondent. "This is really an FDA awareness alert for pregnant women themselves and other healthcare professionals."

One of the most common calls that obstetricians and midwives get from pregnant patients is whether or not it is safe to use a pain reliever for pain or fever relief, according to Ashton.

"Acetaminophen, Tylenol [are] generally safe," she said. "Other than that you absolutely want to check with your obstetrician or midwife."

Ashton also noted that obstetricians like herself do sometimes use NSAIDs on women in their second and third trimesters to help treat preterm labor.

"It's all about weighing the benefits versus the risks and using it under medical supervision," she explained.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

The last COVID-free counties in America

Johns Hopkins and The U.S. CensusBy ERIN SCHUMAKER and MARK NICHOLS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Americans watched as the novel coronavirus swept through the country this year, eyes glued to colorful maps tracking the virus like a storm as it blasted through New York, spread through meatpacking plants in the Midwest and ravaged schools and nursing homes in the South and West.

The virus' presence became ubiquitous in the United States. In mid-May, 231 of the nation's 3,143 counties had reported no cases of COVID-19. By mid-October, only six U.S. counties reported being COVID-free. This week, as the virus rages toward a third peak, with new infections concentrated in the Midwest and upwards of 50,000 cases a day nationwide, that number shrunk to four.

The four counties in the United States that haven't reported a single COVID-19 case have some commonalities. They're sparsely populated and geographically isolated. They're solidly middle-class. In two counties, tourism has ground to a sudden halt because of the pandemic. But testing in areas without strong health infrastructure can complicate the picture, experts warn. You can't report COVID-19 cases if you don't test for them, and rural America has historically lacked access to health resources available in more populated areas.

"Is it that they don’t have access?" asked Dr. Jorge Caballero, a clinical instructor at Stanford Medicine, who built a national testing directory that the federal government uses as part of its COVID-19 response effort. "Or are they so remote that they essentially serve as their own version of the NBA bubble?"

Rural and isolated areas are the opposite of a monolith. America's last COVID-free counties span the oil fields of Texas, high desert towns in Nevada, a popular Alaskan port city and a Hawaiian peninsula where historically, patients with leprosy were forced to live in isolation.

Experts warn against extrapolating too much from a tiny sample, in which geography, population density, luck, and even the way in which the United States counts infections, likely play big parts in their lack of coronavirus cases.

In conversations with ABC News, local officials had their own theories. Geography and a sparse population were a starting point. They learned lessons from cities with early outbreaks. Having a small population allowed the community to protect the most vulnerable. But they don't feel invincible, most said. On the contrary, they're testing and preparing. Whether they've been careful, lucky or divinely blessed, the virus is coming, they say.

Loving, Texas: 'Two people with the flu is an epidemic.'

Mozelle Carr, a county clerk who grew up in the tiny West Texas enclave, pointed to Loving's geography as a driving factor behind the county's zero COVID cases.

It's a land of wide-open skies and few people. Until an oil boom that picked up about a decade ago, Carr said, there was nothing, not even telephones lines, to obscure the sunset.

"We're one of the least-populated counties in the United States," Carr said.

Among the 100 or so people who live in the community, only a handful are older adults, a demographic that's especially susceptible to severe COVID-19 complications.

"We have one couple that's 89 and 93," Carr said. "They wear masks in town when they come to get their mail."

Residents aren't scared, but they're cautious, according to Carr, detailing the social distancing plan she has in place for the impending election. Two people will be allowed into the polling place at a time and there is a mail-in ballot option. Residents can honk their car horn twice for curbside voting.

"We don’t anticipate any lines ever," she said.

Loving's one restaurant is open, but the courthouse has been closed to the public since the pandemic started. Oil field workers, many of whom drive in from surrounding counties and nearby New Mexico, have tested positive in a clinic run by the oil field, but aren't counted in Loving's COVID-19 tally.

"They just send them home," Carr said of the oil field workers.

Not counting the oil worker infections is a relic of the Trump administration's decision not to count COVID-19 cases from cruise ships in states' COVID-19 tallies, explained Caballero.

In a small population, a single COVID case can have an outsized effect. As a county judge once quipped to a Texas Monthly reporter, if two people in Loving have the flu, "that's an epidemic."

With such a small denominator, Caballero said, all it takes is one family to test positive for the entire county to look like a hot zone on a national map. Being categorized as a red zone can affect community policies, like whether schools open in person or operate remotely.

Whoever is elected in November should take into account that the needs of a rural county are not the same as a metropolitan area, Caballero added.

"We live in a patchwork country that is heterogeneous and a lot of rural communities have their own dynamics," he said.

Skagway Municipality, Alaska: 'You're trying to curse us.'

"You’re trying to curse us," Brad Ryan, the city manager, told ABC News when asked about Skagway's zero COVID-19 cases.

While the 1,000-person community nestled in the Alaskan panhandle has so far avoided the virus, it's not escaped COVID-19's economic consequences. Before the pandemic, the picturesque port town was a cruise ship destination, with one million visitors passing through each summer. Pre-pandemic summers felt like a festival during the day that emptied out at night when cruise ships departed, Ryan explained.

"Our economy is completely gone," without the cruises, he said. And while residents enjoyed having the town to themselves for a summer, the economic reality is setting in.

"People are scared and worried because they’ve lost their jobs," Ryan said. "Rightfully so."

Skagway is about as cut off from the outside world as it gets. The Canadian border, just a few miles north of Skagway, is closed to travel because of the virus. Skagway isn't easy to drive to and the police and fire chiefs monitor people coming in on flights and on the ferry, Ryan explained.

Skagway is also doing a significant level amount of COVID testing for a rural area. As of mid-October, Skagway had conducted more than 700 tests at its three public COVID-19 testing sites, a number which doesn't include additional testing conducted by private providers. Alaska does not report COVID-19 infections from geographic units with fewer than 1,000 residents for privacy reasons, instead grouping small neighboring communities together for COVID tracking, the health department told ABC News.

"We test a pretty high proportion of contractors and people who come to town to work for any reason," Ryan said. "I don't know that we did anything extravagant, but certainly we're a little more in control than the state."

Kalawao County, Hawaii: 'I realized just how vulnerable our patients are.'

A century after Kalawao County was founded to keep Hansen's disease, also known as leprosy, from spreading in Hawaii, the secluded community on Hawaii's most inaccessible island is among the only places in the United States that COVID-19 hasn't infiltrated.

In 1865, the Kingdom of Hawaii passed a law forcing patients with Hansen's disease into an isolated settlement on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Located on a peninsula, the Kalaupapa settlement is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on three sides, with towering 1,600-foot sea cliffs blocking access to the rest of the island. In 1969, Hawaii abolished the isolation laws that had imprisoned Kalaupapa patients and promised them lifelong health care, social services and the option to stay on at the settlement if they chose to.

Of the 8,000 patients who came to Kalaupapa during its 100 years of operation, only 12 remain, according to Dr. Glenn Wasserman, chief of communicable disease at the state health department.

"The average age is 86 and they have numerous medical conditions," Wasserman said of the remaining patients.

Because their age and underlying conditions make patients especially vulnerable to COVID-19 complications, the settlement has strict policies in place to protect them. Patients and staff aren't allowed visitors and if they leave the settlement and return, they're required to quarantine. Staff temperatures are monitored and social distancing and mask wearing are enforced.

Wasserman said he watched closely as COVID-19 spread through a nursing home in Washington State in February.

"It definitely caught my attention. We closed down within a week," he said. "I realized just how vulnerable our patients are."

Still, he wished it was possible to do more COVID testing. So far, only three tests have been conducted, which Wasserman ordered after learning individuals had interacted with the outside community. All three tests were negative.

He's trying to get a rapid test at the settlement to allow for quicker checks if an exposure happens and to reduce instances in which staff have to quarantine. In the meantime, he's not letting his guard down or celebrating prematurely.

"There are no COVID cases now, but that doesn’t mean there won't be cases a week from now or in the future, despite all of our vigilance," he said.

"We have to be prepared for getting cases of COVID-19 and in the meantime do our best to prevent any infections," he added. "It only takes one person coming in who is infected."

Esmeralda County, Nevada: 'It's kind of easy to social distance.'

Sheriff Ken Elgan isn't shy about why he thinks Esmeralda County is one of the last places in the country without COVID-19.

"Everybody is complying to maintain a COVID-19-free county," he said, referring to wearing masks, social distancing and limiting gatherings. "The citizens of Esmeralda County have done an awesome job of keeping COVID out of here. What else could you attribute it to?"

The county, he explained, is split between three communities, with gold and lithium mining to the east and farming to the west, spread out across the mountainous high desert.

"When you have less than 1,000 people on 3,600 square miles, it's kind of easy to social distance," Elgan said.

Health care access in such a remote area is typically a harder prerogative. There's no hospital or health clinic in the county. Instead, at Elgan's request the state sent in the National Guard to test county residents in early August. Twelve people showed up for tests, he said, and everyone was negative.

Unlike Skagway or Kalawao counties, the pandemic hasn't cut off Esmeralda from tourism.

"U.S. 95 is a major artery that runs through our county seat," Elgan said. "We do have people who stop for the historical aspects of it."

Elgan credits the community he's spent two decades serving, but he's not ruling out luck's role altogether.

"Take all the precaution and hope for the best," he said. "We have to go on living."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Could schools be COVID-19 super-spreader sites? Experts still aren't sure

Burak Sür/iStockBy SOPHIE TATUM, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Schools have received a lot of attention during the pandemic, but without a rigorous national effort to collect more and better data it's too early to tell whether in-person schooling is significantly contributing to COVID-19 transmissions, according to experts and education advocates.

Some districts, states and educational groups are striving to be as transparent as possible, while others are lagging far behind -- so it can't yet be determined whether a classroom or playground could become a super-spreader site.

"It could be that maybe it's just not as bad as people said," Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar told ABC News. "But it could also be that we're just not accurately reporting this information."

Without a concerted effort to test children in Florida, it's been difficult to tell so far, he added.

Brown University economist Emily Oster partnered with the data analytics company Qualtrics and groups representing school leaders -- principals and superintendents -- to try and build a reliable COVID-19 database using reports from schools.

In a story for The Atlantic, Oster, in examining data from the last two weeks of September that included almost 200,000 children in 47 states, wrote that students showed an infection rate of 0.13% and staff saw a rate of 0.24%.

"That's about 1.3 infections over two weeks in a school of 1,000 kids, or 2.2 infections over two weeks in a group of 1,000 staff," Oster wrote.

"We are starting to get an evidence-based picture of how school reopenings and remote learning are going (those photos of hallways don’t count), and the evidence is pointing in one direction. Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19," Oster added.

Oster told ABC News that the findings show "there are a bunch of schools here that are opening safely," adding that almost all of those surveyed have mask mandates and "probably more than half" have something else in place like social distancing protocols.

At an Infectious Disease Society of America media briefing earlier this week, Wendy Armstrong, a professor at the Emory University School of Medicine, specifically addressed the dataset's findings, calling it "encouraging" and a "valiant effort." But she added that the "data are limited to those schools that choose to enroll and record these data. So, we know that this is a somewhat biased sample."

"It is encouraging, there's no doubt about that, but again there's, I think, significant bias in the results," Armstrong added. "Schools that choose to report are often those not only that are tracking carefully -- have mitigation strategies and plans -- but probably have better outcomes."

Armstrong said without a broad national surveillance effort -- more schools, more systems, more robust data -- that "we can't know for sure" even though so far "we have not seen a massive super-spreading event that has been obvious in the school systems."

Oster acknowledged current data sets may be a bit biased, but she added that the data she's working to collect still shows that opening schools safely is possible.

But schools that can't take reasonable precautions are still a concern, said John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News medical contributor.

"Many schools, especially with those kinds of resources or protocols, have been able to do so effectively, and at low risks to kids," Brownstein said. "But, clearly, there are many schools that there are a lot more concerns about -- not being able to open because they can't have the proper protocols, the proper ventilation or the concerns that teachers have about their own safety. So, it's definitely complicated."

Widespread testing in schools could offer additional insight, some experts told ABC News.

"First and foremost," said Spar, the education association president in Florida, "we are not doing massive testing for COVID in our schools. And so, because we're not doing extensive COVID testing, it's hard to say whether or not our schools are super-spreader events."

Teachers or staff members could have the virus but not be showing symptoms, Spar added.

Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, shared a similar sentiment with ABC News, adding that many large urban districts have only been reopened for a few weeks.

"Most of the school kids in Texas have not been on campus yet, and so we don't know what might happen if we get a large number of students and parents who decide, all of a sudden, they want their kids to be taught in school," Robison said. "We don't know what might happen then. There may be an explosion of cases. We hope not."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Drug overdose deaths rose during the 1st months of 2020: CDC

BackyardProduction/iStockBy ERIN SCHUMAKER, ABC News

(ATLANTA) -- While news coverage of United States' opioid epidemic has taken a backseat to the coronavirus this year, new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forecast a grim year for fatal overdoses.

During the first three months of 2020, drug overdose deaths rose 10%, according to preliminary estimates released by the CDC on Wednesday.

Compared to the same period last year, when there were 16,682 overdose deaths, 19,416 Americans died of drug overdoses between January and March of 2020.

In total, the CDC estimates that there will be more than 75,500 fatal overdoses by the end of the year.

White men between the ages of 25 and 64 were more likely to die of drug overdoses than other demographics.

The data are considered preliminary because drug overdose deaths often require lengthy investigations.

When fatal overdoses occur, coroners and medical examiners may initially label death certificates "pending investigation" or "unknown" for the cause of death, according to the agency, and preliminary counts often underestimate the actual number of deaths.

Still, the early data does not paint a full picture of how the pandemic will affect drug overdose fatalities. For many Americans, the pandemic is synonymous with social isolation, financial stress and job loss, medical concerns or deaths among family and friends.

Americans have increasingly reported feeling depressed and anxious since the pandemic began, both of which can be risk factors for substance use.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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