Selena Simmons-Duffin

Imagine waking up, brushing your teeth, and quickly swabbing your nose to test for the coronavirus — whether you feel sick or not.

While everyone's hopes are trained on COVID-19 vaccines to lead the way out of the pandemic, public health experts say that other public health tools are still crucial for stopping the virus.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Updated April 6, 2021 at 4:17 PM ET

Eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine has rapidly expanded in recent weeks. In the vast majority of states, all adults are now eligible to get vaccinated. And President Biden is urging the remaining states to open up eligibility by April 19. But how are you supposed to sign up?

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Updated 2:20 p.m. ET

The Trump administration is making several big changes to its COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy, officials announced Tuesday, in a bid to jump-start the rollout and get more Americans vaccinated quickly.

The first change is to call on states to expand immediately the pool of people eligible to receive vaccines to those 65 and older, and those with underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

This time last year, the world was heading into a pandemic that would upend everything and cost 1.9 million lives — and counting. The promise of the new year is that vaccines are finally here and offer a way out.

It's an incredibly difficult time to be a contact tracer in the United States. Just imagine having to call up a stranger a few days before Christmas to tell them they've been exposed to COVID-19 and need to quarantine for 14 days.

For public health workers tasked with making contact tracing calls, "these are very challenging conversations at any time, but the longer the pandemic continues, especially around the holidays, it's difficult to ask folks to quarantine," says Lindsey Mauldin, who oversees Pennsylvania's contact tracing program.

An important federal advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added its vote of support for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

In an emergency meeting Saturday, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend the first COVID-19 vaccine for use for people 16 or older in the U.S, expressing hope that the vaccine would help curb the spread of the disease that has killed more than 295,000 people in the U.S.

More than 1,000 hospitals across the United States are "critically" short on staff, according to numbers released this week by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Those hospitals, which span all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, represent about 18% of all hospitals that report their staffing status to HHS. And that number is expected to grow: 21% of all hospitals reporting say they anticipate having critical staffing shortages in the next week.

Updated 11:55 a.m. ET

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

As of Jan. 20, 2021 — Inauguration Day — the federal government is about to get much more involved in health care and the COVID-19 pandemic response. Exactly how much more involved, now that Joe Biden is president-elect, depends on whether Republicans keep control of the Senate. And that likely won't be determined until early January, when Georgia's two Senate run-off races are held.

As coronavirus cases rise swiftly around the country, surpassing both the spring and summer surges, health officials brace for a coming wave of hospitalizations and deaths. Knowing which hospitals in which communities are reaching capacity could be key to an effective response to the growing crisis. That information is gathered by the federal government — but not shared openly with the public.

President Trump has tried to get rid of the Affordable Care Act since the first day of his presidency, but there's one part of Obamacare that he wants to preserve.

"We will always protect patients with preexisting conditions — always," Trump told a campaign crowd on Sunday in Londonderry, N.H. It's a message he has shared repeatedly in the final days and weeks before the presidential election.

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

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