Michaeleen Doucleff

Updated July 21, 2021 at 5:50 PM ET

After months of data collection, scientists agree: The delta variant is the most contagious version of the coronavirus worldwide. It spreads about two to three times faster than the original version of the virus, and it's currently dominating the outbreak in the United States, responsible for more than 80% of COVID cases.

Back in the fall, Michelle Shiota noticed she wasn't feeling like herself. Her mind felt trapped. "I don't know if you've ever worn a corset, but I had this very tight, straining feeling in my mind," she says. "My mind had shrunk."

Shiota is a psychologist at Arizona State University and an expert on emotions. When the COVID-19 crisis struck, she began working from home and doing one activity, over and over again, all day long.

When it comes to raising resilient children, Jeff Nelligan knows more than a thing or two.

He has three sons, dripping with hustle and composure. One of them is a senior at West Point, another graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and the third from Williams College, where he played lacrosse. "I've raised three bad*****," Nelligan says bluntly (as he does often). "I hate to say it that way, but these kids have the ability to get over adversity, and that's resilience."

In the past 20 years, new coronaviruses have emerged from animals with remarkable regularity. In 2002, SARS-CoV jumped from civets into people. Ten years later, MERS emerged from camels. Then in 2019, SARS-CoV-2 began to spread around the world.

For many scientists, this pattern points to a disturbing trend: Coronavirus outbreaks aren't rare events and will likely occur every decade or so.

Now, scientists are reporting that they have discovered what may be the latest coronavirus to jump from animals into people. And it comes from a surprising source: dogs.

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The world is very worried about coronavirus variants.

Updated May 14, 2021 at 4:34 PM ET

Scientists in the U.K. now say that one of the variants from India, known as B.1.617.2, is highly contagious and likely more transmissible than the variant from the U.K., B.1.1.7.

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Video by Xueying Chang, Kaz Fantone, Michaeleen Doucleff and Ben de la Cruz/NPR / YouTube

When will the pandemic end? How many more COVID-19 waves will the U.S. go through?

India is in the midst of a devastating second wave of COVID-19. For the past several weeks, cases and deaths have skyrocketed. The country is recording more than a quarter million cases per day.

In movies such as Contagion, a pandemic begins in a flash. A deadly virus spills over from an animal, like a pig, into humans and then quickly triggers an outbreak.

But that's not actually what happens, says Dr. Gregory Gray at the Duke Global Health Institute. "It's not like in the movies," he says, "where this virus goes from a pig in Indonesia and causes a pandemic."

This week, the World Health Organization finally released its long-awaited report about its investigation into how and where the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Although the main conclusions were roughly what the agency had already reported to the media, deep inside the 300-page paper there are tantalizing nuggets of information about the early days of the pandemic. And these points haven't yet been widely reported.

In particular, there's some juicy new evidence about where the virus came from — and how COVID was circulating widely through Wuhan before December 2019.

Editor's note: This story was updated on Tuesday after the World Health Organization report was released.

The highly anticipated World Health Organization report on the origins of the coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic was released on Tuesday.

According to the report, data suggests that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was not the original source of the outbreak.

When the pandemic began last year, scientists went looking for the origins of the coronavirus. Right away, they made a huge discovery. It looked like the virus jumped from a bat into humans.

Now, scientists are worried that another coronavirus will strike again, from either a bat or some other animal. So they've gone hunting for potential sources — and the news is a bit concerning.

It was a simple experiment. Lucia Alcala, a psychologist, built a tiny model grocery store with aisles and different items that she could put on a family's dining room table.

She and her colleagues brought the model store to 43 family's homes along California's Central Coast. Each family had a pair of siblings, ages 6 to 10.

At a news conference this week, the World Health Organization made a surprising statement: The coronavirus could possibly be transmitted on frozen packages of food.

"We know that the virus can persist and survive in conditions that are found in these cold and frozen environments," says Peter Ben Embarek, the food scientist who led the World Health Organization team that traveled to China to investigate the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. "But we don't really understand if the virus can then transmit to humans."

Back in the spring of last year, a 45-year-old man went to the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston because of a coronavirus infection. Doctors treated him with steroids and discharged him five days later.

OK. So what in the heck is going on with all these variants? Why is everyone so worried? And how do they work?

To answer these questions, let's go back in time to January 2020, when we were all blissfully going about our lives, eating in restaurants, cramming into elevators at work and dancing at house parties on the weekends.

Back then, the coronavirus looked a bit like this (well, not really, but if it was made of Legos, it would look like this).

New coronavirus variants seem to be cropping up everywhere. There's one from the U.K., which is more contagious and already circulating in the United States. There's one from South Africa, which is forcing Moderna and Pfizer to reformulate their COVID-19 vaccines and create "booster" shots, just to make sure the vaccines maintain their efficacies.

Back in April, COVID-19 hit the city of Manaus, Brazil, extremely hard. In fact, the outbreak there was arguably the worst in the world. One study, published in the journal Science, estimated that so many people were infected that the city could have reached herd immunity — that the outbreak there slowed down because up to 76% of the population had protection against the virus.

Updated Friday Jan. 15, 7:35 p.m.

A highly contagious version of the coronavirus is rapidly spreading across the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports Friday.

A new variant of the coronavirus is sweeping through England. At the same time, the country is reporting a record-high number of COVID-19 cases – nearly 40,000 on Wednesday — as well as surges in hospitalizations and deaths. In London last week, an estimated 2% of people in private households tested positive for the coronavirus, The Independent reported.

So the big question is: Are these events connected? Is the new variant causing this surge?

A new variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in England and raising international alarms. This new variant now accounts for more than 60% of the cases in London. And scientists say the variant is likely more contagious than previous versions of the virus.

COVID-19 is now the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. for 2020. The virus has killed more than 90 people per 100,000, reports Johns Hopkins University.

But in other parts of the world, the virus hasn't been such a big problem. It's not a top killer. Some global health experts are beginning to ask whether immunizing large swaths of the population is the best use of resources for these countries.

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Health care workers first, along with residents and staff of nursing homes. Those people should receive the COVID-19 vaccine before anyone else, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

Why does a disease hit some countries or regions hard and largely spares others?

For example, the virus that causes COVID-19 has surged so strongly in North and South America. But it has been less of a problem in Africa and many parts of Asia.

This week, the world heard encouraging news about a vaccine for COVID-19.

On Monday, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and its partner BioNTech, said their experimental vaccine appears to work – and work quite well. A preliminary analysis suggests the vaccine is more than 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms.

Health officials hope to start vaccinating some Americans in a few months.

Rich countries are rapidly claiming the world's lion's share of future doses of COVID-19 vaccine, creating deep inequalities in global distribution.

Despite an international agreement to allocate the vaccine equitably around the world, billions of people in poor and middle-income countries might not be immunized until 2023 or even 2024, researchers at Duke University predict.

As wildfires raged up and down the Pacific Coast last month, families across California and Oregon lived in – and breathed in — smoky, toxic air for weeks. Many days, the region's air quality ranked among the worst in the world.

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, air travel looked like a risky endeavor. Some scientists even worried that airplanes could be sites of superspreading events. For example, in March a Vietnamese businesswoman with a sore throat and a cough boarded a flight in London. Ten hours later, she landed in Hanoi, Vietnam; she infected 15 people on the flight, including more than half of the passengers sitting with her in business class.

In case you were still procrastinating getting a flu shot this year, here's another reason to make it a priority.

There's a chance the vaccine could offer some protection against COVID-19 itself, says virologist Robert Gallo, who directs the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and is chairman of the Global Virus Network.

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