Nurith Aizenman | New Hampshire Public Radio

Nurith Aizenman

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What are the biggest drivers of human suffering?

Every year an international team of researchers aims to answer that question by assembling a mammoth data set called the "Global Burden of Disease." It has become the go-to source for tracking and ranking the impact of virtually every disease or condition that is killing, sickening or otherwise disabling people in virtually every country on the planet.

The coronavirus pandemic has now killed at least 1 million people worldwide. That's according to a tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University. This sobering milestone was reached just nine months after the first reported fatality in China last January. And public health experts believe the actual toll – the recorded deaths plus the unrecorded deaths – is much higher.

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Every year, Stephen Lim and his colleagues at the University of Washington compile and analyze health data from every country on the planet to come up with a sort of global report card.

Year after year, one of the biggest success stories has been the vaccination of children.

"We've really seen this steady progress in increasing the fraction of children who are receiving ... in particular, the basic vaccines — diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis," Lim says.

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New estimates released this week suggest the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic will reach even greater levels of awfulness before 2020 is over: A prominent forecasting team projects that between now and Jan. 1, the virus will kill an additional 1.9 million people worldwide, pushing the total death toll by year's end to above 2.8 million.

It's one of the cheapest ways to help kids in extremely poor countries: Twice a year, give them a 50-cent pill to kill off nasty intestinal parasites. Now, a landmark study finds the benefits carry over long into adulthood — and the impact is massive. But dig deeper and the issue quickly becomes more complicated — and controversial.

To understand why, it helps to start at the beginning, when newly minted economist — and future Nobel prize winner — Michael Kremer says he stumbled into this study by lucky happenstance.

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By Dec. 1, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could reach nearly 300,000. That's the grim new projection from researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — one of the more prominent teams modeling the pandemic. The new forecast, released Thursday, projects that between now and December, 137,000 people will die on top of the roughly 160,000 who have died so far.

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The coronavirus outbreak has entered a new phase in this country. That's what Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force is saying now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

For weeks the U.S. coronavirus pandemic has largely been driven by spiraling outbreaks in the South and West. But some forecasters say Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states could soon be in deep trouble again, too.

The warning comes from researchers at the PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, which has built a model to provide four-week forecasts for every U.S. county. NPR spoke to David Rubin, PolicyLab's director, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Here are five takeaways:

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The American conversation around masks and COVID-19 has taken a dizzying turn. For months, wearing masks has been politicized as a sign of liberal leanings. But in recent days, ever more governors — many of them Republican — have moved to mandate masks. This week President Trump — arguably the nation's most visible mask un-enthusiast — started referring to wearing them as "patriotic."

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Over the last month more than 1,000 current and former staffers with the aid group Doctors Without Borders have signed a letter with an explosive accusation: The vaunted organization, they say, is built on a mindset of "white supremacy" that perpetuates "racism by our staff, in our policies, in our hiring practices, in our workplace culture, and through the imposition of dehumanising 'humanitarian' programmes by a privileged,

Across the United States the coronavirus is once again on the march. On Wednesday alone there were nearly 50,000 new cases — a record. The case counts for each state suggest the disease is mainly spreading in a band stretching from Florida across much of the southernmost states and westward to California, with Idaho and Iowa also in trouble.

But when you use tools to drill down to more local data, the picture gets more complicated — and even more concerning. Here are five takeaways:

It may be time for a statewide lockdown in Arizona and Florida

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Just weeks after parts of the U.S. began reopening, coronavirus infections are on the upswing in several states, including Arizona, Utah, Texas and Florida. Dramatic increases in daily case counts have given rise to some unsettling questions: Is the U.S. at the start of a second wave? Have states reopened too soon? And have the recent widespread demonstrations against racial injustice inadvertently added fuel to the fire?

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In an open letter to a top Trump Administration official, 77 Nobel prize-winning American scientists say they are "gravely concerned" about the recent abrupt cancellation of a federal grant to a U.S. non-profit that was researching coronaviruses in China.

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More than 82,000 people in the United States have died of COVID-19 as of Tuesday. How many more lives will be lost? Scientists have built dozens of computational models to answer that question. But the profusion of forecasts poses a challenge: The models use such a wide range of methodologies, formats and time frames that it's hard to get even a ballpark sense of what the future has in store.

Updated on May 5 at 3:02 p.m. ET to include additional White House reactions.

On Monday the New York Times published what appeared to be an explosive finding: an internal document from the Trump Administration that forecast many more coming deaths from the coronavirus than the president has predicted publicly.

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Updated on May 1 at 10:50 a.m. ET

The U.S. government has suddenly terminated funding for a years-long research project in China that many experts say is vital to preventing the next major coronavirus outbreak.

Updated April 28, 5:00 p.m. ET

Across the U.S., state leaders are grappling with the challenging decision of when to relax the social distancing restrictions that have helped keep COVID-19 in check.

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Meanwhile, a number of governors are saying they will base their decisions on science and data. But what exactly is the data they will be looking at? NPR global health correspondent Nurith Aizenman is here to talk about exactly what that data is.

Hey, Nurith.

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