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Masks are a flashpoint amid the coronavirus pandemic. Here's what science says about them.

Yuricazac / iStockBy Dr. Ayodola Adigun, Dr. Alexis E. Carrington, Dr. Stephanie E. Farber, Dr. Jessica Johnson and Sony Salzman

(NEW YORK) -- Masks have become a symbol of the coronavirus pandemic -- at first largely foreign to Americans, then treated skeptically by officials looking to preserve protection for health workers and then embraced by a public desperate to stem the overwhelming tide of the virus in northeastern cities.

Since then, they have become a political flashpoint, a source of defiance and confusion, all while a debate raged about what type to wear and their effectiveness.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other government officials discouraged Americans from wearing masks, saying they were unlikely to help stop the spread of the virus, according to the best evidence at the time.

But as evidence accumulated, the CDC made an abrupt about-face on April 3, encouraging all Americans to don face coverings to slow transmission of the virus, which was largely believed to be spread through respiratory droplets.

Meanwhile, across the world, scientists were frantically marshaling resources to set up a wide range of studies to examine the issue. Some set up dummies in their laboratories, mimicking coughing or sneezing using spray canisters and capturing the distance these droplets were able to fly.

Others embarked on massive population-scale studies, trying desperately to discern whether masking policies were likely to stop the spread of the virus within communities.

By June, the World Health Organization (WHO) weighed in, agreeing with the CDC that people should wear masks -- especially when other preventative measures, like standing 6 feet away from other people -- are not possible.

Now, more than six months into this global pandemic, experts say enough evidence has been amassed to conclude that masks are critical in mitigating COVID-19 spread.

“It is a simple, inexpensive measure that can have a significant impact in reducing the spread of the virus, ” said Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease physician at South Shore Health in Massachusetts. “We have to remember if we don't take these measures there will be more cases and more deaths.”

But what kind of mask is best? Experts agree that most people should not be using N-95 masks, which protect both the wearer and others from viral particles, are still in short supply and should be reserved for medical professionals. And they acknowledge that masks are not the only solution. Staying at least 6 feet away from other people when possible and washing your hands frequently are other important ways of stopping the spread of COVID-19, they said.

“The masks are not a cure for COVID-19,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It is a simple intervention that can be used to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Why masks probably help others
Accumulating scientific evidence points to two potential benefits of wearing a mask or homemade face covering. First, it might prevent you from spreading respiratory droplets to others if you are the one who is infected. Second, it might prevent some of the viral particles from getting into your mouth and nose -- a point that has been much murkier from scientists and public health officials.

This first potential benefit has become impossible to ignore as we have come to understand the phenomenon of “silent spreaders,” with some studies estimating that more than 40% of people may be carriers of the virus without knowing it or feeling any symptoms, according to a review published in Annals of Internal Medicine this June.

“There are many people that are out there that have mild symptoms that may not even know they are infected that may be spreading the virus. A facial covering can help prevent that from happening,” said Wildes.

The CDC has weighed in on this topic, saying that existing science supports the idea that masks can help protect the people around you, should you be infected. Right now, the agency stops short of saying that the mask itself can definitely protect you from getting infected, although research is ongoing.

Most of the good data we have on masks has looked at their effectiveness in health care settings, like hospitals and clinics. One of the strongest studies comes from the scientific journal The Lancet this June, which compiled multiple studies from both healthcare and community settings to find that wearing a mask may bring the risk of transmission of coronaviruses from 17% to 3%.

A study in Nature Medicine in April showed that masks reduce the amount of seasonal coronavirus as well as other respiratory viral particles in droplets or aerosols from exhaled breaths, however it did not study patients with COVID-19 directly. Another study in the Journal of Health Affairs in June, found that infection was 2% lower in places where mask mandates were enforced, though other factors could have contributed to this difference.

And multiple studies have found that the thicker the mask, the better. A thin, loose-fitting mask is less likely to protect the people around you compared to a multilayer mask (ideally 12-16 layers) that covers your nose and your mouth.

And why they may help you
While less conclusive, growing evidence suggests masks might also protect you, the wearer. This theory relies on the idea that while a mask might not protect you from inhaling small particles of virus through the gaps in the mask, it is likely to prevent you from inhaling massive quantities of viral particles, compared to if you were wearing no mask at all.

“Though not conferring absolute protection, wearing a mask is does provide the wearer some level of protection which should provide reinforcement for those that aren’t willing to take an altruistic public health approach” said John Brownstein, a Harvard Medical School professor and ABC News contributor.

And experts think that inhaling a little bit of virus is better than inhaling a lot of virus, because a lower viral load could mean you’re less likely to get seriously sick.

“This theory is really based on evidence that we have from almost every virus, whether it’s spread in a respirator way, gastrointestinally, sexually, that if you get a large innocuous of virus, you get more ill,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, director of UCSF-Gladstone Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).

“If you get less of a dose, you get less sick. And if you use masks you get less of a dose,” Gandhi said. “I really do believe that population masking will lead to more mild disease. It’s the biggest argument to [wear a] mask.”

Even as evidence supporting mask use continues to accumulate, many Americans have become weary of wearing them as the pandemic drags on. Others remain skeptical of mask policies because of the government’s early messaging that masks wouldn’t help.

“We have to be humble about our assumptions,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, during an online Q&A on Monday. “It’s not that we were wrong and then we changed our mind, it’s that we keep learning.”

Existing scientific data tells us it’s likely masks could save lives. And doctors say at the very least, they don’t hurt.

“I can understand the frustration some individuals are experiencing about the need to wear the mask at all times,” said Wildes. “But in the midst of a pandemic with more than 2.5 million cases in the US and more than 127,000 deaths with no cure or vaccine yet, we have to take all measures we can to slow the spread of the virus.”

Ayodola Adigun, M.D., M.S., is an attending in pediatric and adult psychiatry and a former fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry at Yale University. Alexis E. Carrington, M.D. is currently completing her internal medicine preliminary year at Elmhurst Hospital in New York City. Stephanie Farber, M.D. is a plastic surgeon from Pittsburgh, PA. Jessica Johnson, M.D. is a senior resident in emergency medicine at Stanford University. Sony Salzman is coordinating producer of the ABC News Medical Unit.


Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How four states are battling coronavirus with very different outcomes

Myriam Borzee/iStockBy SOO RIN KIM, OLIVIA RUBIN, ALI DUKAKIS and LAURA ROMERO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- In New York, the original epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, there are signs of life returning to normal as the caseload and fatality rates have been driven down to levels not seen since early spring.

By contrast, the virus is raging in several states in the South and West, propelling the United States to record numbers of daily cases and setting the nation on edge about as leaders there debate, and in some cases, move to stem the tide.

There is also everything in between -- states that have still seen relatively little virus transmission and are bracing for an outbreak.

So why have some states been successful in their fight while others have not?

ABC News analyzed the current status and reopening process of four states that emerged with different outcomes following their shutdowns -- Florida, Texas, Ohio and Connecticut.

Texas and Florida are both seeing worrisome coronavirus outbreaks across their states as many residents ignored or abandoned social distancing practices and masking. Both are seeing increases across the board in the rate of positivity (the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive), hospitalizations and deaths, and have each set new records for daily cases just this past weekend.

On Tuesday, Texas saw 6,533 hospitalizations across the state -- the most yet -- and Florida reported 9,585 new cases.

In Ohio, cases and hospitalizations have been increasing over the past couple weeks but at a slower rate than in Texas and Florida, and deaths have continued to drop. It’s complicated to make a direct comparison among states because of the difference in the way cases are reported, but in Ohio, cases have increased by about 100% in the past couple of weeks, while in Texas, cases have increased by about 150%. In Florida, cases have increased by nearly 250% during the same period.

Connecticut, by contrast, seems to have a handle on its outbreak -- the state has seen a decline in all three categories for well over two months now, according to ABC News’ analysis of state-released data.

The situation these states find themselves in may be in part a reflection of their leaders’ decisions about shutting down and reopening throughout the pandemic as well as the degree of urgency the public saw in the health crisis early on, experts said. Leaders in Ohio and Connecticut have both placed a heavy emphasis on science and data to proceed with reopening cautiously, and appear to be benefitting from those decisions. Texas and Florida officials, in contrast, put economic concerns first and allowed lax social distancing and minimal face-covering requirements for the public during the crucial first few weeks of reopening, and are now suffering the consequences of an accelerated reopening, according to experts.

Texas

Texas was aggressive -- and early -- in reopening the state’s economy. Over the last several weeks, the state has emerged as a top hotspot for COVID-19, reaching record highs in daily positive rates and hospitalizations due to the deadly virus, as well as a rising number of fatalities over the last several weeks.

The state's Republican governor, Greg Abbott, was the recipient of both praise and criticism in appearing to prioritize the state’s economic comeback over stricter social distancing measures infectious disease experts urged were key to assure that reopening did not spark a wave of COVID-19 infections.

Abbott issued a stay-at-home order on April 2, and let it expire April 30. The governor was among the first to begin a phased reopening of any state May 1, and by the start of June nearly all businesses were permitted to be open by at least 50%. Within a few short weeks, massive swaths of businesses in the state were back open for business: tanning salons, gyms, parks, beaches, bodies of water, pools, barbershops and salons.

The governor has also continued to avoid mandating masks be worn in the state, calling such a move intrusive to individual freedoms, but has been increasingly -- and more fervently -- recommending face masks, a simple measure that many health officials say is life-saving.

The month of June has presented significant pitfalls and losses for the state -- with COVID-19 hospitalizations rising 36% since Memorial Day. Over the weekend, Houston stopped reporting hospitalization data. In a press conference last Monday, Abbott said, “COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in the state of Texas, and it must be corralled.”

Last Thursday, Abbott hit the “pause” button on the state’s reopening and ended the performance of elective surgeries in the state’s largest counties.

In recent weeks, as positive cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 began to surge significantly farther past Texas’ previous peaks, there has been a discernible change in tone and tenor of the governor’s remarks enforcing the importance of mask-wearing, admonishing younger people for not being more careful and, in general, warning residents of the Lone Star State to stay home.

While the governor laid out several tactics aimed at reducing the virus’ spread in Texas without leading to a shutdown of the newly reopened state economy, he said health and financial well-being don't have to be a choice.

“We can have both," he said last week. "We can protect lives while also restoring livelihoods. Together, we will keep Texans safe and we will keep our state open for business."

On Friday, Abbott ordered Texas bars to close again and restaurants to reduce to 50% occupancy as the coronavirus outbreak in the state spreads. Additionally, the governor halted river-rafting trips and outdoor events of more than 100 people without local authorities’ approval. The previous limitation was for such gatherings of more than 500 people.

Bars were forced to close by midday Friday. The restaurant capacity slashing took effect Monday.

Then on Monday, Abbott said shuttering the state's economy again completely would only be used as a last resort.

In many of Texas' largest cities, local officials have directed their ire at Abbott.

"There have been a lot of inconsistent or conflicting messages that have happened," Dr. Umair Shah, the executive director of the Harris County Public Health Department in Texas, recently told ABC News.

Ohio

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, was one of the first in the nation to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. He, alongside state health director Dr. Amy Acton, was the first to close schools and bars in the country, and shortly after, ordered a statewide stay-at-home order on March 22. By early April, DeWine declared the state had hit a “home run” in flattening the curve and preventing the state from becoming a major hotspot in the country.

While the state did have issues without outbreaks in nursing homes and prisons, in the two months since the state first began reopening on May 1, hospitalizations of the virus have declined and just saw their first increase last week, according to a release from the Ohio Department of Health. The daily number of new cases and hospitalizations are now increasing, according to an ABC News analysis, but fatalities in the state are also falling.

During an interview with ABC News last week, DeWine acknowledged the state is “starting to see some spikes in the southwest we’re concerned about,” but overall said the state is in “pretty good shape.”

Mike Abrams, the president and CEO of the Ohio Hospital Association, agreed. He said that while hospitalizations are increasing, the rate appears to be manageable, he said.

Hospitals are doing “fine” in terms of capacity, Abrams said. Ohio built out three temporary hospitals in convention centers and other spaces early on in the pandemic in case the system was to be overwhelmed, but never ended up using them -- and Abrams does predict they will need to in the future. A database created early on in coordination with the governor helped to track every hospital’s capacity, supplies and PPE, Abrams added.

DeWine said he was grateful he made the decision to cancel large events and shut down the state early on.

“It certainly was the right decision,” DeWine stated. “If it, you know, people question us at the time -- it looked a little premature or a lot premature-- I think two people at a time, but it was certainly in hindsight the right decision.”

DeWine’s own behavior may have played a role as well. While he did not mandate masks in the state, DeWine has been unequivocal about their importance and wears his own mask to briefings, only taking them off when at the podium. He also took a coronavirus test at a press briefing, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did, a move he told ABC News was meant to “encourage” people to do the same.

Still, DeWine’s heavy emphasis on leading by science has not always been popular. His administration has faced backlash from citizens as they proceeded cautiously. Former state health director Dr. Amy Acton-- who gained national attention and praise for leading Ohio’s response to the outbreak-- stepped down in June after months of anti-shutdown protests, lawsuits and harassment to become DeWine’s chief health advisor.

"Well my message to people who were upset with Dr. Acton, or health director, is they should direct their ire to me, they should protest at my house, they should protest me,” DeWine said, defending his former health director. “And they have, but you know, they should leave her alone.”

After announcing her resignation during a press conference, Acton said it was a “deep honor” to have served in Ohio.

“I am here, I am more determined than ever to advance the health and well being of Ohioans, and to serve on behalf of the governor,” Acton said.

Still, some worrisome trends in cases and hospitals have begun to emerge in parts of the state in recent weeks -- after weeks of gradual decline, daily new cases have doubled in the past couple weeks and hospitalizations are slowly climbing back up as well -- leaving questions about how the governor will be able to handle them the second time around.

Connecticut

One of the hardest-hit states early on in the pandemic, Connecticut, was reporting more than 2,000 new cases and 200 new deaths a day at its peak in the third week of April. There were about 2,000 COVID patients hospitalized at that time.

About a month and a half into its reopening, on Monday, the state reported just 59 new cases and four deaths. And only 99 COVID patients were currently hospitalized.

Health experts noted the obvious difference in size of Connecticut and Texas, but emphasized the significance of a robust collaboration of the state government, local officials and health systems across the state, coupled with diligent participation from the public. They also say Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, was very cautious about reopening, making sure all metrics were met before people went out again.

Importantly, by the time Lamont’s stay-at-home order expired on May 20 to kick off Phase 1 of reopening, cases, deaths and hospitalization had been on a steady decline for nearly a month.

Bars -- which have been cited as problem areas in other states -- have yet to open. They are were finally expected to open next month as part of the third phase of reopening, though the governor on Monday said he’s reconsidering opening up bars as cases in other states surge.

Lamont’s executive order mandating social distancing and face covering statewide implemented in April, is also still in effect. Dr. Victor Morris, assistant chief medical officer at Bridgeport Hospital of the Yale New Haven Health System, said the public’s close adherence to the order has also played a big role in slowing down the spread of the virus.

“When I'm indoors at a store or a grocery store, Dunkin' Donuts, or wherever I might go, everybody has a mask,” Morris said.

“I think coming out of it now, a difference is that we lived it -- people in Connecticut saw how bad it was,” Morris added.

At Bridgeport Hospital, which was one of the busiest hospitals near the New York City border, which at its peak had 226 COVID patients hospitalized, 66 of them in intensive care and 44 of them on ventilators, now has a total of 16 COVID patients, Morris said. Just five of them are in ICU and two are on ventilators.

Across Yale New Haven, COVID hospitalization has come down to 43 from 760 at its peak. Yale New Haven in total has discharged about 3,000 COVID patients so far, Yale New Haven’s chief medical officer Dr. Tom Balcezak said.

Balcezak said while he feels the state is at a very stable and comfortable level right now, he’s “absolutely” worried about a second resurgence, saying the numbers across the country are “pretty terrifying.”

He said he’s also worried about more people starting to go out and have larger gatherings in their private yards and homes in the summer, but added he believes the state has built a robust infrastructure and adequate guidelines that the public has been following well.

“This is a disease for which there is no cure,” Balcezak said. “There is no medical, meaning vaccination, prevention, and once you get it, our only therapies ... are our supportive therapies. The number one weapon we have to fight this disease is our classic good old fashioned public health measures, and the public needs to know and pay attention to that.”

Florida

Florida, on the other hand, has seen an explosion of coronavirus cases since reopening the economy, and Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has faced significant criticisms for his handling of the pandemic since the outbreak began.

As of Tuesday, Florida’s health department has reported a total of 152,434 positive cases and 3,505 deaths.

DeSantis, reluctantly issued a statewide stay-at-home order on April 1 and opened back up on May 4, with a total of 36,897 coronavirus cases statewide and reporting less than 1,000 cases per day. Florida slowly began to reopen with restaurants and retailers allowed to operate with limited capacity. That same month, even though the state saw increases larger than 1,000 in a single day three times, DeSantis announced the state would enter “full phase one” of reopening.

But nearly two months later, the state has seen a record-setting pace of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations over the last few weeks. The explosion of cases amid the reopening has resulted in counties and cities rolling back on reopening plans and implementing stricter facial covering requirements.

After the state crushed its record for new coronavirus cases, reporting 9,585 new daily infections over the weekend, city officials announced the closure of several beaches and county-owned parks across the state for the Fourth of July weekend.

“I can foresee a Fourth of July where you have throngs of people on the beach, very difficult to keep social distancing, people getting together, especially young people getting together,” said Miami-Dade Mayor, Carlos Gimenez at a conference on Friday. “We now see this virus is prevalent in this age group and we want to keep this down.”

Miami-Dade, along with Broward and Palm Beach counties, is still in Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan. The rest of the state has been in phase 2 since June 5.

Following the surge of cases last week, DeSantis imposed new restrictions, ordering bars in the state to stop serving alcohol.

But DeSantis said he has no plans to issue a statewide mask requirement at this time, despite the recent surge in coronavirus cases, leaving it up to local leaders to decide on mask mandates and penalties.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties issued facial covering requirements since early April, requiring people to wear masks when visiting essential businesses.

Most other counties began implementing mask requirements just last week, as the state had been reporting increases in coronavirus cases.

Florida’s elected officials have also said residents aged 18-44 are responsible for the state’s recent spike in cases. That group is going out more and socializing at a greater rate, DeSantis said Sunday. According to DeSantis, the median age of positive COVID-19 cases in March was 65 years old but in the past few weeks, it had dropped to 35.

"What we've seen, particularly over the last week, is a real explosion in new cases amongst our younger demographics," DeSantis said in a news conference in Orlando earlier this week.

Dr. Todd Husty, Seminole County’s medical director, who has seen an explosion of cases in the county in central Florida, believes younger people not following CDC guidelines are to blame.

“Since Memorial Day, we have seen the impact of other large social gatherings, people crowded shoulder to shoulder with no facial covering and no social distancing," said Husty. “Sometimes younger people think they’re invincible but they have to face the reality that they’re not immune. I think state officials really have to think about continuing to reopen because what we are seeing is very alarming.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


The pain management revolution

BackyardProduction/iStockBy DR. STEPHANIE E. FARBER, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- In a country plagued by the opioid crisis, the race is on to find novel solutions for managing pain. One in five Americans experience some sort of chronic pain.

Opioids are powerful painkillers prescribed by a doctor. Because they are highly addictive, prescription opioids have led to a nationwide epidemic killing 128 people each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To avoid the potential dangers of opioids, many doctors and patients are now turning to medication called "neuromodulators," some of which are also used to treat depression. These medications, which include gabapentin, pregabalin and duloxetine, affect the way the nervous system perceives pain rather than targeting pain directly.

Though effective for some, they're not the right treatment for everyone.

"What happens with not just medications but with almost all of our treatments for pain [is that] about 30 to 40% of people improve with any one treatment," said Dr. Ajay D. Wasan, a professor and vice chair at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

While a growing number of scientists are studying alternatives to opioids, finding a single pill that alleviates all pain is unlikely. Instead, researchers and doctors believe that medicine is on the cusp of a revolution in the way providers treat pain. They predict that pain management will shift toward customizing treatment for each individual patient rather than prescribing one type of drug as a cure-all.

Wasan said he is optimistic about the future, with several new pain treatments in the pipeline which could broaden options for the one in five Americans experiencing chronic pain.

His hope is that with additional research and therapy combinations, "maybe 50 to 60% of patients may respond to a particular treatment."

"As a prescriber you want an array of options," said Dr. Rebecca Baker, director of a major federal government research effort called HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) which focuses on alternative ways to help patients cope with pain.

"There are lots of different pain conditions and they each need to be treated differently," Baker said. "Right now, we don't have a lot of options."

HEAL, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, has identified several drugs with the potential to treat opioid addiction or to serve as opioid alternatives, as well as multiple non-drug therapies to help people manage pain.

"The goal of the NIH HEAL initiative is to provide scientific solutions to the national crisis of opioid misuse, overdose and addiction," Baker said.

Since its founding in 2018, HEAL contributes $500 million dollars annually to over 400 research projects.

Baker says the NIH has invested in a wide range of promising pain treatments. Specifically, scientists are studying a type of medicine called antibody therapy that binds to, and therefore blocks, the body's pain signals.

There are other medications designed to target each part of the nervous system, from its genetic material to the electrical signals that travel throughout the body and to the brain, registering pain as a sensation.

Meanwhile, some companies are taking a different approach, attempting to develop medical-grade versions of one of the oldest painkillers in history -- cannabis.

The hope is that cannabinoids will be effective but not addictive for patients dealing with chronic pain, according to Greg Gorgas, CEO of Artelo Biosciences, a research-stage cannabis company. But cannabinoids and other pharmaceutical options have yet to be proven in clinical trials, and they may only be one part of the solution.

Baker also says there is promising research into new medical devices that treat pain, including an ultrasound that stimulates the body's nervous system to disrupt pain transmission. But according to Baker, pain research extends far beyond drugs and medical devices.

Scientists are also studying mindful meditation, behavioral therapy, physical exercise and group rehabilitation for managing pain.

"We need better understanding of the biologic and genetic basis of these differences and embedding of these in our research and development plans," Gorgas said.

Someday soon, Baker said, "pain [will be] treated like other health conditions . . . so that means looking at the whole person and having a number of options to offer to individuals with pain and then working with them to find the treatment approach that works best for them."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Northwell Health opens Long Island’s first transgender health care center

kittiyaporn1027/iStockBy DR. DANIELLE WEITZER and SONY SALZMAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Despite growing mainstream recognition in popular culture and media, transgender people in the United States still face widespread discrimination in the doctor's office, with a 2015 survey finding that over one-third have been harassed or refused medical care.

In the pursuit of living authentically, transgender people -- those whose sense of gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth -- often seek medical care that recognizes their discomfort and helps them embark on transition.

In recent years, more medical centers specifically focusing on transgender patients have cropped up across the country. The most recent among them is Northwell Health's Center for Transgender Care, a first-of-its-kind medical center in Long Island, which opened Monday.

"Opening allows us to provide outstanding health care to transgender, gender nonconforming and nonbinary individuals," medical director Dr. David Rosenthal said at a press conference. "The center is highly committed to individual personal health and providing overall equity in health care."

The center forms a collaboration of over 40 doctors in various specialties, including plastic surgery, mental health, endocrinology, internal medicine, primary care and fertility, among many others.

"Sometimes people do not come for transitional issues," said Rosenthal. "Transgender people deserve the same type of health care that we see with every other person in health care."

As such, the center also treats regular medical problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The center has already treated many transgender patients successfully.

Byron Nicholas, who is currently being treated at the center, said that being able to seek inclusive medical care near his home has been transformative. From the start, Nicholas has lived a life of feeling trapped in his body.

"My mother questioned me about my sexual orientation, my sexual gender, my preference," Nicholas said at a press conference. "She knew deep inside that I wanted to be a male, but I kept away from revealing the whole truth from her for years."

Once he joined the military, it became especially difficult to hide his gender identity under the policy of "don't ask, don't tell."

"From birth to the military, I was still living this double life," he said.

After the military, he moved to Long Island -- where he finally felt ready to pursue his transition. But medical centers catering to transgender patients tended to be clustered in major metropolitan areas rather than suburban areas, so Nicholas found himself commuting long distances to seek medical care.

"Prior to the center opening, there was no other center for us to go to, we had to travel to and from Manhattan," he said.

Now, Northwell Health's Center for Transgender Care allows him to seek treatment closer to home.

"I appreciated not having to take the long drive to the city," he said. "I love coming here where you have everything over one roof."

Nicholas added that the center is very personal in delivering health care and also provides education for families of LGBTQ people.

"There are transgender reps that check in with you daily or weekly or just to check in with you in general to make sure everything is going well," he said.

Rosenthal said that this is one of the key components in the evolution of the center: "These are individuals that take care of our patients, connect and work with them."

"Regardless of your age, make sure you can talk to family and other people, tell your story and have a support system. Transitioning does not have a beginning, middle and end -- it's a journey. The key thing is that we are here to support people through that journey," Rosenthal said.

The center focuses on allowing its patients to safely embark on a journey toward living a better life by becoming their authentic self without bias, judgment or discrimination.

For Nicholas, this part was crucial.

"You need to be true to yourself," he said. "It does not matter how people will view you, people will view you no matter who and what you are. You want to go somewhere where you feel accepted."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Early trial results keep Pfizer vaccine development on track for possible 2020 distribution

narvikk/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) -- As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S. and abroad, new hope may be emerging in the race to develop a vaccine.

Pfizer, one of a handful of companies racing to develop a vaccine, reported promising new data Wednesday from its early stages of trials.

Phil Dormitzer, a vaccine developer at Pfizer, spoke to ABC News about the new data from the company's vaccine, which he called "tremendously exciting," and shared more about a potential release timeline and the vaccine's efficacy.

"What we're presenting today is preliminary interim data from the United States trial for the first of those vaccine candidates," he said in an interview with "World News Tonight." "Our first vaccine candidate is eliciting antibody levels to neutralize the virus that is equivalent to or better than what you see in people who have had COVID-19."

"It's been a tremendous amount of work and there's now a lot of pride to see the results start to come forward," he added. "The potential is there to actually change a lot of people's lives."

"In this program, we're going fast. But that does not mean that we're cutting corners or having any lowering of the safety standards," he explained, adding that Pfizer is doing what is necessary to make sure the vaccine candidates are safe.

"If this is successful and is rolled out in the scale that we hope it is, we could prevent a tremendous amount of harm from occurring," he said about the possible vaccine for the virus that has killed over 512,000 people worldwide. "This is very much in line with the overall mission of Pfizer and the vaccine's division, where this is not the only major pathogen against which we either have or are developing vaccines. But it's hard to imagine another pathogen that has been as disruptive to society that is causing as much fear today as this virus is."

While the manufacturer has not given a specific release date, Dormitzer assured ABC News Pfizer is "currently on track" to meet the goal of producing 100 million doses by the end of the year and another 1.2 billion doses in 2021.

"The goal that we've set is to distribute millions of vaccine doses in 2020 and executing on that, of course, means everything has to go well," he said. "We need the regulatory approval to do so. But that is our plan."

As the trials continue, Dormitzer said they are also "tracking the evolution of the virus closely" to mitigate any possibilities of mutation that could potentially decrease the impact of the vaccine.

"You do see some mutation in the virus, but fortunately we've not seen any indication of mutations that would decrease the efficacy of the vaccine," he said.

As the company continues its work on the possible vaccine, Dormitzer said "there's no question" that demand will outmatch initial production if the vaccine hits the market.

"When an effective vaccine is first available, there will be more demand than there is supply, so we're doing a lot to, at this point, ramp up our ability to produce," he said.

Later this month, the pharmaceutical company, which is developing the vaccine alongside German partner BioNTech, will test 30,000 more volunteers in the next phase of trials.

The World Health Organization recently announced that 17 potential vaccines are in human trials with 132 in preclinical phases.

According to the WHO, AstraZeneca, which is supporting Oxford University's vaccine trials, CanSino in China, and U.S.-based Moderna are among the front-runners with promising lab results.

Oxford's vaccine is reportedly the farthest along as it is currently in phase 3 of trials and has enlisted over 10,000 volunteers. The early results found the trial to be safe and effective in emergency doses and could be ready for development by October.

The Chinese military has been greenlighted to use a vaccine developed by its research teams and CanSino Biologics.

The American biotech company Moderna is set to begin its third phase of human trials later this month with 30,000 volunteers. If the trials are a success, Moderna said it hopes to have doses ready by early 2021.

The National Institutes of Health, which backs Moderna's vaccine, said it estimates the company's success at 80% to 90%.

And while the progress in development at the trials looks promising, some experts warn that success in developing the vaccine itself isn't the only hurdle.

"Developing safe and effective vaccines isn't the only challenge. We need to have enough supply and potentially hundreds of millions of Americans to get vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity," Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health and an ABC News medical contributor, said.

The key, according to some doctors, is for companies to test large numbers of people both old and young during the trial phase to prove the efficacy and safety of any vaccine.

"If we sort of cut corners on those things, I don't think we'll create the confidence people need," Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told ABC News. 'We have to do it right."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How air purifiers and cleaners may help keep you safer indoors from COVID-19

deyangeorgiev / iStockBy Eden David, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As states begin to adjust to a new normal and people start spending more time indoors, experts and local officials are starting to consider the role air filtration and ventilation may play in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in indoor spaces.

Most recently, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all large malls in New York will have to install “air filtration systems that can filter out the COVID virus” before reopening.

This requirement comes as infectious disease experts start more aggressively studying the ways in which the virus can spread through inhaling small particles that could hang around in the air for hours -- otherwise known as aerosolized particles.

"As we are understanding more about this virus there is consensus that aerosolized transmission plays an important role in the transmission of the virus," said Dr. Rajat Mittal, professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, who is studying the dynamics of COVID-19 particles and mask efficacy.

Every time we breathe or open our mouth to speak we can exhale or inhale particles that may contain infectious viruses.

“You don’t have to be coughing or doing anything vigorous for these droplets to come out of your mouth, and if you have the infection in your mouth, those particles can carry the virus," said Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom, Assistant professor in UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “They hang out in the air and someone coming after you just has to breathe the air to get the infection."

This risk of infection through these small particles is especially high in small enclosed spaces like offices, and restaurants, where the air is not being circulated as often and many people are spending prolonged, direct contact with one another. Experts agree that efficient ventilation may likely be an important part in safely resuming indoor activities.

“Obviously cleaning surfaces is still important but cleaning the air that recirculates through buildings is now a huge focus,” according to Nancy McClellan, an industrial hygiene specialist.

Effective ventilation can clean the air through recirculation while filtering out small, potentially infectious particles. Experts are also evaluating special technologies that can disinfect incoming viral particles, like UV light.

"There are some really fascinating technologies out there but they do not get established quickly or cheaply and the research putting them into place isn’t there yet," said Dr. David Krause, a certified industrial hygienist, who is the owner of Healthcare Consulting and Contracting (HC3) and currently leading the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s initiative to develop recommendations on engineering controls in non-health care work spaces.

Experts agree that the most practical method as of right now for small business and homeowners is high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems. HEPA filters, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, can theoretically remove at least 99.97% of particles as small as .3 microns.

“That is potentially good because almost all the droplets that are going to be carrying viruses are all within that range,” said Mittal.

The performance of a filter is characterized by its Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values, otherwise known as MERV rating. On the MERV rating scale, HEPA filters are rated anywhere between 17-19.

“The higher the MERV rating the more efficient and effective that filter is,” said Krause.

McClellan explained, “I think Cuomo is making a fair assumption that large malls have well-developed and hopefully well-maintained heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that are typically capable of upgrades such as improved filtration capacities that MERV filtration offers."

Most HVACs found in homes or small workplaces, however, cannot accommodate these fine HEPA filters, since they do not have motors that can produce a strong enough pressure to pull air and push it through a HEPA filter. Krause said some HVACs may be able to accommodate a filter with a MERV rating of up to 13 but that still would not achieve the necessary number of air changes per hour that would effectively reduce the viral particles in the air.

He said the three most practical steps small businesses and homeowners can take to upgrade the effectiveness of their ventilation system is to install the highest efficiency filter their HVAC system can handle, increase the amount of outside air circulating through their HVAC system and buy in-room air cleaners and purifiers with HEPA rated filters that will increase the overall amount of air exchanges.

Effective infection control in small business or homes requires a 6 to 10 air exchange rate per hour, explained Krause. He said that this can be calculated for a given space's ventilation setup using the available tools online developed by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM).

The United States Environmental Protection Agency also recommends running your "system fan for longer times, or continuously, as HVAC systems filter the air only when the fan is running. Many systems can be set to run the fan even when no heating or cooling is taking place."

Experts say opening a window might also be a simple yet effective solution.

“Natural ventilation doesn’t require any advanced technology or any significant change to building codes,” said Mittal.

Although these forms of interventions are promising and experts are actively working on publishing clearer guidelines for smaller businesses, many questions still remain around the virus' transmissibility that make it difficult to quantify just how effective these air control measures may actually be.

According to Dr. John Richards, president of Air Control Techniques, “The selection of the most appropriate type of control system depends on accurate data concerning the droplet size range containing the virus.”

Mittal also raised concerns that maintenance teams must also develop safety measures for replacing HEPA filters, since used filters will collect viruses and could become infectious.

More importantly, experts still don't know how much exposure to the virus a person needs in order to be infected, otherwise known as the minimum infectious dose.

“I wish we knew more about the infectious dose. That would help us in understanding what’s going on when people stand close to each other,” said Dr. Lisa Brosseau, an aerosol specialist and research consultant at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota .

Moreover, some experts theorize that small virus containing particles in the air may be more dangerous and more easily produce an infection.

“It could be that smaller droplets are more dangerous because they deposit deeper in the lungs, which is less protective to infection,” said Mittal.

To make matters even more complicated, your age, preexisting health conditions and immune system strength may also affect what minimum dose of virus is necessary to cause infection.

Experts also want to understand how long the virus stays infectious in the air and over what distances.

"We need to be able to culture the virus from airborne particles in the room," said Dionne-Odom. "Those studies are yet to be definitive to prove that these viral particles are capable of human infection."

Krause, however, said that even though these questions persist, “it should not stop us from implementing these air controls because they are available off the shelf.” He said that knowing the infectious dose is critical in quantifying the precise risk reduction but that “historically engineering controls are always effective and achieve significant reduction as has been proven in high risk hospital settings.

Ventilation may emerge as an important tool in reducing spread of COVID-19 indoors, but Krause cautioned that it should be “part of the overall new contract we have as a society.”

Crowded indoors spaces and prolonged close contact with people can still be risky even with enhanced ventilation because the virus containing particles can reach you before they have a chance to be filtered.

“You cannot ignore cleaning and hygiene and cannot overcrowd places,” warned Krause. “Engineering controls should be layered on top of distancing, minimizing occupancy of indoor environments, personal conduct and personal behaviors inside and outside the workplace.”

Eden David, who studied neuroscience at Columbia University and is matriculating to Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai later this year, is a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


60% of all COVID-19 cases reported in last month: WHO

chayakorn lotongkum / iStockBy Catherine Thorbecke, ABC News

(GENEVA) -- The World Health Organization announced on Wednesday that 60% of all COVID-19 cases globally have been reported in the last month.

"For the past week, the number of new cases has exceeded 160,000 on every single day," WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference in Geneva.

The recent increase in worldwide cases comes some six months since the first novel coronavirus cases were reported in China. As the pandemic spirals, the U.S. has become worst-affected nation, with more than 2.6 million diagnosed cases and at least 127,485 deaths.

So far, more than 10.3 million cases and more than 506,000 deaths have been reported to the WHO. Of those, 60% were over the past month, the director general said.

The update from the WHO comes as the U.S. is reporting around 45,000 new cases a day. Two countries once considered epicenters of the pandemic, Italy and Spain, were reporting around 10,000 and 6,500 new cases per day at their respective peaks.

"We will never get tired of saying that the best way out of this pandemic is to take a comprehensive approach," Tedros said.

He added that new rises in cases are to be expected as nations start to ease restrictions, but he remained optimistic that one of the lessons so far from the pandemic is that no matter what situation a country is in "it's never too late" to turn things around.

The WHO also said it's working to verify the exact nature of U.S. contracts for purchasing COVID-19 drug candidate Remdesivir, amid reports the country is "hoarding" it.

"Obviously, there many people around the world who are very sick with this disease, and we want to make sure that everybody has access to the necessary lifesaving interventions," WHO Emergencies Chief Dr. Mike Ryan said.

Ryan added that the WHO will continue to engage with technical counterparts in the U.S., saying, "We're very grateful for their collaboration."

ABC News' Emily Shapiro contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Scientists test which face covering style best protects against the coronavirus

Rike_/iStockBy IVAN PEREIRA, EVA PILGRIM and NICK COULSON, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Face coverings for COVID-19 protection come in all shapes, sizes, materials and colors.

From bandanas and DIY masks made from handkerchiefs to custom-made cotton masks with your favorite sports team emboldened on the front, health experts say those coverings are crucial for preventing the spread of coronavirus.

But not all face coverings are created equal, according to research from Florida Atlantic University.

Scientists put four common variations of face coverings -- a bandana, a handkerchief mask, an over-the-counter cone style mask and a two-layer quilting cotton mask -- under tests to see which ones blocked droplets. The quilting cotton masks turned out to be the covering that blocked the most droplets, according to the study.

“We are basically looking at two main characteristics for the masks. The first was the type of fabric that we used and the second was the construction of the mask,” Sid Verma, an assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University who was part of the study, told Good Morning America.

Researchers used a mannequin that simulated coughs and sneezes by spraying particles into the air from its mouth. The scientists said particles traveled eight feet from the mannequin's mouth when it had no face covering.

When the mannequin’s face was covered by a bandana, droplets traveled more than three feet, according to the study. The handkerchief covering made droplets travel more than a foot away from the mannequin’s mouth while the cone-shaped mask allowed particles to travel eight inches away from the mouth, researchers said.

The quilting cotton mask allowed droplets to travel two-and-a-half inches from the mannequin’s mouth, the study said.

“Even the bandana fabric will be able to stop the largest droplet sizes,” Verma said. “So if you use a better fabric, it will be more effective.”

Several cities across the country have mandated facial coverings for anyone traveling outside of their household as the number of coronavirus cases has risen in several parts of the country.

Verma warned that people should also adhere to social distancing in addition to face coverings to protect themselves thoroughly from the virus.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Quest, LabCorp warn of coronavirus testing delays as demand surges amid outbreaks

narvikk/iStockBy ALI DUKAKIS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As COVID-19 test positivity rates resurged in recent weeks, private test providers have made efforts to sound the alarm that the rising demand for testing may outpace their ability to process the new influx without accumulating a backlog.

The development is eerily reminiscent of initial coronavirus testing failures in the U.S. when the pandemic first hit earlier this year.

Despite massive increases in the ability to process COVID-19 tests across the country in recent months, in the last week, two of the top commercial testing labs -- Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp -- both said their testing capacity is under strain amid coronavirus outbreaks that hit predominantly southern and western states hardest.

In a statement last week, Quest Diagnostics said that while the company had the capacity to perform about 770,000 COVID-19 tests a week, "Despite the rapid expansion of our testing capacity, demand for testing has been growing faster. Orders for our molecular diagnostic services grew by approximately 50% over the past three weeks"

By Monday, Quest's message became more dire, with the company saying in a statement, "Demand for COVID-19 molecular diagnostic testing reaches unprecedented levels, extending turnaround times."

"We have continued to experience surging demand for these services, with recent daily orders outpacing capacity. As a result, while our average turnaround time continues to be 1 day for priority 1 patients, it is now 3-5 days for all other populations," Quest said. Priority 1 patients include hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings and symptomatic health care workers.

The commercial lab is ramping up its testing capacity with the goal of being able to process 150,000 molecular diagnostic tests a day. This week, Quest expects to ramp up our capacity to reach 115,000 of these tests a day.

"While we have the supplies to meet our current capacity target, we continue to work with our industry partners on platforms, reagent test kits and other supplies to ramp to our target capacity of 150,000 tests a day," the commercial lab added.

Quest Diagnostics has performed and reported results of approximately 5.75 million COVID-19 molecular diagnostic tests and approximately 2.20 million COVID-19 antibody tests.

As for LabCorp, the other top commercial lab company processing COVID-19 tests, the turnaround for processing tests will be delayed due to increasing demands in the supply chain, the company said in a statement issued over the weekend and updated Tuesday.

"In recent weeks, we have seen a steady increase in demand for molecular testing and we are doing everything we can to continue delivering results in a timely manner while continually increasing testing capacity," LabCorp said in the statement, adding the new update on Tuesday that "with the recent increase in demand, results on average may take 1-2 days longer."

The commercial lab added, "LabCorp also continues developing innovations in COVID-19 testing to increase capacity, eliminate supply constraints, and increase access and convenience for specific markets and populations."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pediatricians 'strongly advocate' kids return to in-person learning this fall

monkeybusinessimages/iStockBy GENEVIEVE SHAW BROWN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- In news that is sure to be music to some parents' ears and worrisome to others, the American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a clear stand on the issue of in-person school come September.

In a statement posted to its website, the AAP wrote that it "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school."

The AAP stressed the importance of school in children's lives.

"Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits," the APP said. "Beyond supporting the educational development of children and adolescents, schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity."

The stance came as part of a list of recommendations for safe re-entry to schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the six recommendations were:

  • School policies must be flexible and nimble in responding to new information and administrators must be willing to refine approaches when specific policies are not working.
  • Special considerations and accommodations to account for the diversity of youth should be made, especially for our vulnerable populations, including those who are medically fragile, live in poverty, have developmental challenges, or have special health care needs or disabilities, with the goal of safe return to school.
  • Policies should be practical, feasible and appropriate for child and adolescent's developmental stage.

Dr. Susan Coffin, an attending physician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Pediatric Infectious Disease, agreed.

"I do think it is very important that students get back to school for social, psychological as well as intellectual development," she told Good Morning America.

The AAP recognized differing needs for students when it comes to school re-entry. For example, while it may not work for younger children to wear face coverings, older kids are recommended to do so. Physical distancing, special education and bussing are all addressed.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


The controversial water safety technique that could save a baby from drowning

Krysta MeyerBy GENEVIEVE SHAW BROWN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- When Krysta Meyer posted a video of her 8-month-old's swimming lesson to Tik Tok, she had no idea a decades-old technique taught to her son would draw worldwide attention.

"I'm getting messages from overseas, from everywhere," the Colorado-based Meyer, a mom of two, told ABC News' Good Morning America.

And while the majority of messages were supportive and expressing awe as the baby surfaced from underwater, rolling onto his back to save himself from drowning, there was plenty of criticism too.

The criticism, said the owner of Little Fins Swim School, in Colorado Springs, where Meyer's sons, Oliver and Jace, take lessons, primarily is based in a misunderstanding.

"They're focused on Oliver being thrown into the pool," Lauri Armstrong said. "But that's something they work up to. That's not the first day."

Oliver had been taking lessons for two months when the video was shot. His mom said the progression from day one to the video was a slow one.

"First, they get comfortable in the water, then comfortable lying on their back, then lying on their backs with one hand, then keeping their chin up," she said. "There's a lot that happens before they are thrown in the water."

The method, called Infant Survival Swim, aims to teach children as young as 6 months to survive if the unimaginable happens and they find themselves alone in water.

Armstrong was quick to point out the program is in no way intended to take the place of multiple other levels of water safety, the most important of which is having a designated adult watching a child at all times. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, drowning is a leading cause of injury-related death in children.

It was three stories in one day that led Meyer to continue on with lessons with her older son, Jace, even when it got hard.

"He was 13 months when he started and had separation anxiety," she said. "He cried constantly. It was miserable, and I hated being there [for swim lessons]. But the day we were going to stop the lessons I heard about two near-drownings and one actual drowning. So we stuck with it and eventually it got so much better."

Jace, now 3, is very comfortable in the water, his mom said.

"It's been so much easier with Oliver," Meyer said, because he started when younger.

Though the videos of babies able to save themselves are impressive, the effectiveness of the method is still in question. The AAP wrote on its website: "Children over age 1 may be at a lower risk of drowning if they have had some formal swimming instruction. However, there is no evidence that swimming lessons or water survival skills courses can prevent drowning in babies younger than 1 year of age."

But for Meyer, the lessons are well worth it.

"Drowning used to be my biggest fear [for my children]. Now it's not," she told GMA.

At Little Fins, babies and children are considered able to save themselves when they can float on their back independently for five minutes. Five minutes, Armstrong said, indicates a child could, in an emergency situation, float for as long as it takes to be found by an adult. Oliver, so far, can float for three minutes.

The instructor in the video, Jill Armstrong, said once he can float for five minutes, the next step for Oliver and all kids at the same level is to get themselves to a wall or side of the pool and then eventually pull themselves out.

No matter the method, Armstrong said, drowning prevention is the goal.

"If our method is not a good fit, that's fine, it's not for every family," she said. "No matter what water safety method you choose, that's a good thing."

There are many additional water safety tips on the AAP website.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


This 89-year-old Nebraska man has donated his platelets over 700 times

P_Wei/iStockBy SHANNON MCLELLAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- An 89-year-old Nebraska man is a regular at his local Red Cross, where he has donated his platelets over 700 times.

Sherman Hirsch was approached by someone at the Red Cross in the early 1990s who told him about donating blood and platelets and he decided to give it a try.

“I decided this is something I can do to help out other people and I’ve been always been blessed with good health,” Hirsch said. “It’s easy to do and it doesn’t cost me anything.”

After his first time donating, Hirsch began going in twice a month after school when he worked as a teacher. When he retired in 1995, he started going in every other Monday morning to donate his platelets, which is the maximum amount the Red Cross allows.

Hirsch decided to donate platelets rather than blood because the platelet process is more time consuming. Hirsch spends up to three hours at the Red Cross each time he donates.

“It doesn’t take nearly as long to donate blood as it does the platelets,” Hirsch said. “A lot of people just simply don’t have the time to take three hours out of their day. I’m retired so I have plenty of time.”

According to the Red Cross, “Platelets are tiny cells in your blood that form clots and stop bleeding. For millions of Americans, they are essential to surviving and fighting cancer, chronic diseases, and traumatic injuries. Every 15 seconds someone needs platelets. Platelets must be used within five days and new donors are needed every day.”

Since his first visit, Hirsch has donated his blood platelets over 700 times. He jokes that he and staff at his local Red Cross are “definitely on a first name basis.”

“I’ve always had good health and I just thought I needed to pay back and help other people that have health problems,” Hirsch said. “It’s become part of my life.”

For anyone interested in donating their platelets, Hirsch has a message.

“I’d certainly encourage anyone to do it,” Hirsch said. “If you don’t have a lot of time you can at least go in every eight weeks and donate blood.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


I wore a mask during 38 hours of labor. You can wear one too

Julia Kite-Laidlaw had to wear a face mask when she gave birth to her twins Daphne and Francis in New York City on May 12, 2020. Courtesy Julia Kite-LaidlawBy Katie Kindelan via GMA

(NEW YORK) -- Women who gave birth during the coronavirus pandemic have had to do so while wearing face masks.

Now, as more officials and places of business are mandating face masks, and as more people are fighting back against wearing them, moms are speaking out. If we can wear face masks during childbirth, they argue, it should not be an issue for people to wear one to the grocery store or to a restaurant.

"If I can wear a mask through 38 hours of labor, a C-section and recovery . . . you can do it for an hour while running to the grocery store and/or other errands," Jai Kershner, a radio host on Beaver 100.3 and Q108 in Clarksville, Tennessee, wrote on Twitter last week.

Kershner, who has asthma, delivered her first child, a son named Mak, on June 18. She said both she and her husband wore face masks from the time they entered the hospital to the time they were discharged, a total of about five days.

"I got home [from the hospital] and I just kept seeing people complaining about it like, 'If you are not comfortable being around people who don’t wear masks, then don’t go out,'" she said. "It’s just like you don’t wear a mask for yourself, you wear a mask to protect each other. Right now in society we need to be loving on each other in every way, shape and form possible."

"A mask is an inconvenience. It is not the end of the world," Kershner added. "People who complain about going to the grocery store, you can wear a mask for 20 or 30 minutes. That’s fine. It’s not a big deal."

Julia Kite-Laidlaw had a similar reaction to the anti-masks protests she saw after giving birth to twins Daphne and Francis in New York City in May.

She said she wore a face mask during an emergency C-section on May 12. She also wore a hospital-issued mask during the next four days she spent in the hospital and also the following two weeks she spent visiting her newborns in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU).

"If I can go through all of this with my kids, the birth and the two weeks in neo-natal intensive care unit and not be horribly inconvenienced by just putting a piece of fabric over my face, surely other people can do it to pop out to the supermarket for an hour," Kite-Laidlaw said. "There’s so much we don’t know about coronavirus, if you could save a life by just putting a mask on, why wouldn’t you?"

Kite-Laidlaw added that she did not even think of her mask while giving birth, instead focusing on the health of her children. She said she was also willing to do whatever it took to help protect health care workers and fellow patients, including getting a COVID-19 test while suffering contractions and waiting to see her newborns for nine hours until the test results for both her and her husband came back negative.

"I just thought the doctors and nurses here have been through hell. I’ll do anything they want me to," she said. "No one is making these requirements because they want people to be uncomfortable. They’re doing it because we’re in the middle of a pandemic nobody here has been through before."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people in the U.S. "wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain," according to its website.

In the U.S., 18 states require masks in public, while 32 have no such mandate.

New research shows that wearing a mask may not only help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but may protect the health of the mask wearer as well.

Like Kite-Laidlaw and Kershner, other women who have given birth during the pandemic have also taken to Twitter to encourage people to wear masks, as they did during childbirth.

"It’s kind of like arguing about putting on a seat belt in a car. It’s the smallest thing that could have such a massive life or death impact," Kite-Laidlaw said about the debate over masks. "If I could do it in the most stressful time of my life, then a completely healthy person doing everyday tasks can do it too."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


FBI warns of fraudulent COVID-19 antibody tests

Kameleon007/iStockBy LUKE BARR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning of fraudulent COVID-19 antibody tests.

While real tests indicate whether or not an individual was previously infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, the FBI warns the false tests are not only a method for scammers to give out fraudulent results but also to steal personal information from people who take the fake tests.

Scammers, according to the FBI, are also looking for insurance and Medicare information, "which can be used in future medical insurance or identity theft schemes."

The FBI urges the public to be aware of "claims of FDA approval for antibody testing that cannot be verified, advertisements for antibody testing through social media platforms, email, telephone calls, online, or from unsolicited/unknown sources, and marketers offering 'free' COVID-19 antibody tests or providing incentives for undergoing testing."

Officials urge checking the Food and Drug Administration website, consulting with a primary care physician, using a known laboratory or health care provider, among other recommendations.

This is not the first coronavirus scam officials have sounded the alarm on.

Last week, the Department of Justice warned of fake COVID-19 mask exemption cards.

The cards say in part "I am exempt from any ordinance requiring face mask usage in public. Wearing a face mask posses [sp] a mental and or physical risk to me. Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) I’m not required to disclose my condition to you."

The warning, which first came from the United States Attorney’s office in the Middle District of North Carolina, pointed to spelling and other errors. The U.S. Attorney's Office suggested the message could come in the form of cards, flyers or postings.

"Do not be fooled by the chicanery and misappropriation of the DOJ eagle," said U.S. Attorney G.T. Martin in a release. "These cards do not carry the force of law. The ‘Freedom to Breathe Agency,’ or ‘FTBA,’ is not a government agency."

Homeland Security Investigations, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, is also cracking down on COVID-19 scams.

It says has seized over 885 fraudulent COVID-19 tests, prohibited drugs and counterfeit masks. In May, it partnered with private businesses to protect the American public from COVID-19 fraud.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Face masks vs. face shields: What should we be wearing?

Supersmario/iStockBy BECKY WORLEY and ANGELINE JANE BERNABE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As Americans “mask up” to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a new trend is emerging with more people wearing clear, plastic face shields instead of cloth masks.

The face shields, which are made for industrial settings, are typically used by hospital staff, who use them in conjunction with surgical or N-95 masks.

“I think face shields are a great option,” Dr. Michael Edmond, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Iowa Health Care, told ABC News' Good Morning America. “One great advantage this time of the year is that they aren’t as hot as a face mask is. For most people, it feels easier to breathe when you have on a face shield, you don’t get the fogging that you get with a mask if you’re a person like me who wears glasses and they’re easy to clean.”

According to a study done in 2014 found in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, called the “Efficacy of Face Shields Against Cough Aerosol Droplets From a Cough Simulator,” a simulation showed that wearing a plastic face shield reduced the inhalation of droplets from a cough by 96%, significantly protecting the wearer.

The study also showed that “face shields can substantially reduce the short-term exposure of health care workers to large infectious” particles. However, the researchers in the study pointed out that face shields “cannot be used as a substitute for respiratory protection when it is needed.”

Both Edmond and Dr. Colleen Kraft, an infectious disease doctor at Emory University, cite the need for more research into the efficacy of face shields in the prevention of COVID-19 transmission. The primary issue: it is not known if face shields protect others from the spray of respiratory particles if the wearer of the face shield is sick.

"We don’t have all the data that we need. Really what you would like is a study that head-to-head compares face masks to face shields and those studies aren’t yet available,” Edmond said.

“You should be wearing a mask when you’re in public, in any area," Kraft said. "If you prefer to wear a face shield, you should be wearing a face shield but you should be covering your nose and mouth.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended that the sides of the wearer’s face are wrapped and extend below the chin if they choose to wear a face mask, but they do not recommend the use of face shields for normal everyday activities or as a substitute for cloth face coverings.

“It is not known if face shields provide any benefit as a source control to protect others from the spray of respiratory particles,” the CDC highlighted on their website.

The CDC has not recommended the use of face shields in lieu of face coverings. Some states have listed face shields as an alternative to cloth masks, such as Oregon, where the state’s Health Authority has listed face shields as an option for face coverings when in public.

And in Seattle, King County’s public health department says “transparent face shields aren’t a direct substitute for face coverings because they don’t protect others. Droplets released when someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks can be dispersed through the sides and bottom of the shield.”

While guidance on the use of face shields isn’t clear and no studies have been done yet that compares face masks to face shields, officials across the country are urging people to cover their face, especially as cases in the United States climb to more than two million.

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