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Health

Hundreds of hospitals on Atlantic and Gulf Coasts at risk of flooding as Ian hits Florida

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(NEW YORK) -- Hundreds of hospitals along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are at risk of flooding from hurricanes a new study finds, as Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida Wednesday as a Category 4 storm.

The study, published Thursday, found that even lower category storms carry a serious risk to medical centers along the coasts.

Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine and nonprofit research institute PSE Healthy Energy looked at 682 hospitals in 78 metropolitan areas within 10 miles from the coast.

This covers an area where 85 million people -- or roughly one in four Americans --- live. Researchers found that in 25 of the 78 metro areas, at least half of the hospitals are at risk of flooding from a Category 2 hurricane.

Additionally, because of the rise in sea levels caused by climate change, hospitals are at a 22% higher risk of flooding.

Dr. Aaron Bernstein, senior author of the study and interim director of the Harvard Chan Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment, told ABC News that this is the first study to examine what would happen to health care systems if they got hit by a hurricane.

"I [looked at the] literature and found that there was no literature on what hurricanes would systematically do to access to health care on the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts," he said. "There were papers showing the aftermath, so we have these studies after Katrina, after Sandy, after Harvey and those are very informative about what's at stake here."

He went on, "But no one had looked prospectively and said, 'OK, at a systems level, how do hurricanes matter to the ability of hospitals to be functional and deliver care at a time when people may need them more than usual?'"

Five of the 10 metro areas -- Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Cape Coral-Fort Myers, North Port-Sarasota, Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, and Jacksonville -- will be tested by Ian.

The Sarasota area has the most hospitals at risk of flooding followed by the Fort Myers area.

Photos have been posted on social media of hospitals, such as Tampa General Hospital, preparing for storm surges from Hurricane Ian by building a flood barrier.

The other five metro areas include Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, New York-Newark-Jersey City, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, New Orleans-Metairie and Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington.

Additionally, the study found that even if hospitals themselves were not flooded, the roads around them may be, which could restrict or prevent access to care.

In 18 of the metro areas examined, at least half of all roads within one mile of hospitals were at risk of flooding due to a Category 2 hurricane.

"I think what our study underscores, and past experience does as well, is that while you could have a fully-functioning hospital in one part of a city, if you can't get there because the roads are underwater, it's not that helpful," Bernstein said. "So, we need to think more systematically in our response to hurricanes. It requires a coordinated response in metro areas about knowing where beds are, knowing where staff is available, where supplies can be accessed, knowing where transportation is safe."

Bernstein said the study gives an idea of which cities have hospitals that need to prepare against life-threatening flooding before it's too late.

"Most hospitals have done very little [to prepare for hurricanes] because they don't have the resources, which is understandable," Bernstein said. "Health care is on the ropes after COVID. So you can imagine the idea of building protections against flooding is not necessarily top on the priority list."

He continued, "With the risks of climate change, and hurricanes in particular, so grossly apparent, I don't think anyone wants to look back and say, 'Well, we let these people die.' I think we need to use the knowledge we can glean, to take informed steps that balance costs with outcomes."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Hidden Epidemic: Schools, parents, police scramble as US fentanyl crisis worsens

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Twenty-year-old Charlie told ABC News' Nightline that he's lucky to be alive after he nearly became one of the thousands of people across the country who lost their lives to fentanyl.

The Southern California college student, who asked not to reveal his real name, was at a party in August when he thought he was taking a party drug, but it turned out to be the synthetic opioid. A friend was able to get help and quickly administered Narcan, a medicine used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, saving his life.

"Thank God that I was surrounded with the people that were there. Thank God my friends were there and thank God that I have smart friends," Charlie told Nightline.

Charlie's story is becoming all too common in America as parents, school officials and parents are scrambling to get ahead of the epidemic and prevent more deaths.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fentanyl was the leading cause of the record number of drug poisonings and overdose deaths in the country last year. More than 71,000 overdose deaths were linked to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the CDC.

Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have been on high alert, not only monitoring calls of overdoses but also stopping the flow of the drug into communities.

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced it seized an estimated 10 million fentanyl-laced pills and 82 pounds of fentanyl powder motor crews across all 50 states.

"That is enough to kill 36 million Americans," Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters Tuesday.

Anne Milgram, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator, told reporters Tuesday that two Mexican cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (JNGC), "are responsible for virtually all of the fentanyl and they currently dominate the worldwide fentanyl distribution and supply chain."

Another hurdle for authorities is brightly colored "rainbow fentanyl" pills that are the same as regular fentanyl but that could be mistaken for candy. They have been seized in at least 20 states since February, according to federal investigators.

Milgram added that agents are seeing fentanyl-laced pills disguised as regular drugs like OxyContin and Percocet.

Laura Brinker and Matt White, of San Diego, told Nightline that their 17-year-old son Connor White died last year from fentanyl poisoning when he thought he was taking Percocet.

"It was not a dozen pills in a bag. It was one pill…that was taken," Brinker told Nightline.

Brinker and her husband called for more awareness and education about the crisis.

"There's got to be other means and other ways that we're educating our children and in a very, very serious way, not just don't do drugs," she said.

Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, told Nightline that the crisis is getting worse in his schools.

"I cannot quantify it but I can tell it's much bigger, much more disturbing than what's reported," he said of the fentanyl crisis in Los Angeles schools.

Two weeks, ago 15-year-old Melanie Ramos was found dead on the floor of the girls bathroom after school hours from a fentanyl overdose. A 15-year-old boy, who is being investigated for allegedly selling her synthetic opioid, was arrested in connection with her death.

Days after Ramos' death, Carvalho announced that Narcan would be available at all K through 12 schools, and nurses and other staff will be trained on administering the drug.

"It's a sad new reality but consider the alternative. I think the presence of Narcan in our schools is a life-saving necessity at this point," he said.

In addition to the schools, non-profit groups have been hard at work spreading education on the dangers of fentanyl and providing tools to help prevent overdoses.

Madeline Hilliard, the founder of Team Awareness Combating Overdose (TACO), said her organization is also providing free test strips that can indicate if a drug is fentanyl in disguise. She said while there is some perception that the strips encourage more drug use, they save lives.

"What we see is when people use fentanyl test strips...they're now aware that fentanyl is a risk," Hilliard told Nightline.

Charlie, who is helping TACO with their awareness, said he too is urging young people to be cautious.

"It's inevitable that college students are going to come across these drugs. It's just becoming more and more integrated into drugs across the country," he said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New study confirms that COVID-19 vaccines can temporarily affect menstruation

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(NEW YORK) -- When COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, some women reported changes in the timing and length of their menstrual cycles after getting vaccinated.

Now, nearly two years later, a global study has confirmed that COVID-19 vaccination can lead to temporary changes in cycle length for some people.

The study, published in the medical journal BMJ, looked at nearly 20,000 women around the world who self-reported their menstrual cycle through Natural Cycles, an FDA-cleared birth control app.

Study participants who were vaccinated reported, on average, a nearly one-day day increase in the length of their menstrual cycle length after receiving their first COVID vaccine shot, and a half-day increase after receiving their second dose.

Participants who received both vaccine doses in a single menstrual cycle had a nearly four-day increase in cycle length

The study found, like other research has also shown, that the changes to cycle length are only temporary and do not have any long-term effects.

Earlier this year, a smaller study of around 4,000 women found similar results, reporting that a normal menstrual cycle returned within one or two months after getting vaccinated.

The two studies were launched thanks in part to the persistence of women who spoke out on social media and documented their side effects in an online database created by two researchers.

Several months later, in August 2021, the National Institutes of Health announced it was committing $1.6 million in funding to launch studies on the subject at five universities across the country.

Dr. Alison Edelman, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicines, told ABC News earlier this year the research is important because it can help affirm women's anecdotal experiences and let them know what to expect after getting vaccinated.

"On a personal level, any noticeable change to a person’s cycle -- whether it be related to vaccination or other environmental stressors -- can indeed feel significant," said Edelman, a lead researcher on the two studies released so far. "As a clinician, I can help provide them with information about what to expect with vaccination, which might include a slight variation in their cycle length and have them prepared for this possibility so that they do not need to worry."

Menstrual changes are controlled by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, along with the ovaries, which use hormones as signals. These hormone signals can be disrupted when the body goes through changes that occur with an infection and even a vaccine.

Getting vaccinated produces a strong immune system response in the days following the shot, which may cause temporary changes to menstrual cycles. Studies have also documented temporary menstrual cycle changes among women who get COVID-19 infections.

Temporary changes to the menstrual cycle should not be a concern for women, experts say. Changes lasting "three months consecutively, or more" are when health care providers typically make investigation or treatment plans, Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OBGYN and chief medical officer at Verywell Health, told ABC News last year.

Edelman and other experts say the findings that COVID vaccination can temporarily affect menstrual cycles do not mean the vaccine impacts current or future fertility.

In February, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said there was "no evidence" that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 impairs fertility.

ABC News' Sony Salzman and Youri Benadjaoud contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New guidance released on diagnosing, treating long COVID symptoms

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(WASHINGTON) -- Citing concerns about the lingering and sometimes debilitating long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the body -- and observed inequities amongst minority patients suffering disproportionately from the virus -- medical experts on “long COVID” issued the first guidance of its kind to diagnose and treat the mysterious illness.

Experts at the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation said they hope the guidance will help other doctors leverage their experience with patients to help address and mitigate their symptoms.

The guidance is indicative of widespread concern among medical experts that even months after resolving the initial infection, COVID is still causing serious health concerns amongst many Americans. At least 9 million long COVID patients are grappling with a range of symptoms, but experts said that number could be as high as 28 million people.

"When we recognized that long COVID, this new problem was developing due to the pandemic, we really felt an obligation to come forth and try to address it as best as we could," Dr. Steven Flanagan, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation president-elect said at a reporter roundtable Tuesday ahead of the guidance release. "We recognized two years ago, this is a problem."

A priority in addressing long COVID is to "recognize, assess and treat" the symptoms across a wide range of medical disciplines, including cardiovascular and pulmonary to neurologic, cognitive and gastrointestinal care, experts said.

Dr. Alba Azola, the lead author of the autonomic dysfunction guidance statement and member of the Johns Hopkins Post-Acute COVID-19 Team, said the medical community will need to tailor individual rehab protocols for each patient's unique needs.

"As the pandemic has continued, more people of all ages have contracted COVID-19, and the number of children potentially impacted by long COVID has also increased," Dr. Amanda Morrow, of Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Pediatric Post-COVID-19 Rehabilitation Clinic and lead author of the pediatric statement, said at the Tuesday media briefing.

The most common long COVID symptoms children experience are fatigue and attention problems, ongoing fever, headaches, sleep issues, and new mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Older, female children may be at an increased risk of developing long COVID, Morrow said.

Symptoms, management and rehabilitation for long COVID differ for children and adults, the experts said. Moreover, parsing out a long COVID diagnosis from other potential medical problems is not easy, since long COVID can involve so many of the body's systems.

"Parents, caregivers, teachers and coaches are the frontline in observing changes and children that may be related to long COVID," Morrow said.

"Children generally have fewer preexisting conditions than adults, so long COVID symptoms should be considered relative to the prior acute COVID illness," Morrow said. "Young children and children with disabilities may have difficulty describing their symptoms, so it's really important to try to tease that out during the medical interview."

ABC News asked how the new guidance will ensure marginalized communities get the attention they need. Making information about long COVID more accessible is a first step, the experts said, but it can't be the last.

"The Academy has been concerned about health equity, and we certainly want everybody to have access to the care that they need," Flanagan said. Though there is currently legislation aimed at supporting resources in underserved communities, "there is more to be done, and we are not there yet."

"This is a real significant issue," Azola said. "I think it's just the preponderance of Caucasian females in our cohorts of patients that are being treated at long COVID clinics is a reflection of the limited patient access to medical care in the United States, directly."

"We know that there are people out there, probably debilitated, suffering from long COVID symptoms, that are not even aware about long COVID, or that there's actually something that can be done to help them," Azola said.

ABC News' Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Unvaccinated are 14 times more likely to get monkeypox, data from eligible shot recipients shows

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(WASHINGTON) -- New -- though limited -- data released on Wednesday morning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who haven't been vaccinated against monkeypox were 14 times more likely to get infected than vaccinated people.

The data is drawn from people who were eligible for a monkeypox vaccine in their states, which mostly includes men who have sex with men or people who have multiple sexual partners. The numbers provide the first sense of real-world effectiveness on the JYNNEOS vaccine, the leading inoculation against monkeypox.

"These new data provide us with a level of cautious optimism that the vaccine is working as intended," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing on monkeypox on Wednesday.

Dr. Demetre Daskalaskis, the monkeypox deputy response coordinator for the White House, urged people to share the "early good news."

"This knowledge is power -- and allows people to make more informed decisions about their health and build confidence in this important two dose vaccine," he said.

Real-world data on the JYNNEOS vaccine, initially designed to fight smallpox, has been limited since the start of the current outbreak

The Food and Drug Administration, the CDC and National Institutes of Health have -- largely at the behest of advocates in the LGBTQ community -- launched many studies on the JYNNEOS vaccine's safety and effectiveness since the outbreak began in May.

And though the new data is promising, Walensky also emphasized that it's just a glimpse. There are still outstanding questions about the full breadth of JYNNEOS' protection.

For example, the new efficacy rate of the vaccine was based on data gathered two weeks after the first vaccine, not after a full course of two shots, 28 days apart.

The CDC has yet to release data on efficacy after full vaccination, even though two shots is the consensus recommendation among federal public health officials.

"These early findings and similar results from studies in other countries suggest that even one dose of the monkeypox vaccine offers at least some initial protection against infection. That said, we know from laboratory studies that immune protection is highest two weeks after the second dose of vaccine," Walensky said on Wednesday.

"And it is for that reason that we continue, even in light of these promising data, to strongly recommend people receive two doses of JYNNEOS vaccine spaced out 28 days apart to ensure durable, lasting immune protection against monkeypox," she said.

More studies on efficacy after two shots are underway, Walensky said.

The CDC also has yet to differentiate the efficacy data between injection methods, which would provide further clarity on any potential differences between the new approach, where a smaller dose is injected just under the skin, and the original approach, where the injection was deeper.

It's also not clear how much of a role behavioral changes might be playing in the data on the vaccine's effectiveness.

If vaccinated people are reducing their sexual partners or chances for skin-to-skin contact, that could decrease their monkeypox infection rates, too.

Walensky pledged that more data is coming but that CDC is working to provide all the data it has in real time as soon as it is available -- a lesson learned from COVID-19.

"[The] CDC will continue to evaluate how these vaccines are working in the current outbreak through a portfolio of vaccine effectiveness projects that will help us understand the level of protection provided and how long that protection lasts. And we will continue to deliver these data to you as soon as we have them," Walensky said.

The CDC is also expanding eligibility for monkeypox vaccines to include more at-risk Americans -- though the JYNNEOS vaccine is still not recommended for the general population.

The expansion now includes gay or bisexual men who have had one partner in the last six months or received a new diagnosis of one or more sexually transmitted diseases in the last six months. It also includes sex workers.

Though many states and jurisdictions have already expanded eligibility, the CDC's latest move puts it in closer alignment with local guidance.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Katie Couric reveals breast cancer diagnosis

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Katie Couric is speaking out after being diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer.

The 65-year-old journalist revealed in a personal essay on her website that she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, and has since undergone surgery and radiation to treat the disease.

Couric, a mother of two, said she underwent what she thought would be a routine mammogram in June, after unknowingly missing her annual screening for two years during the coronavirus pandemic.

After a follow-up biopsy on her left breast, Couric said she received a call from her doctor with the diagnosis.

"I felt sick and the room started to spin," Couric wrote. "I was in the middle of an open office, so I walked to a corner and spoke quietly, my mouth unable to keep up with the questions swirling in my head."

Since the diagnosis in June, Couric said she has undergone a lumpectomy and several weeks of radiation to treat what her doctors diagnosed as stage 1A breast cancer.

She said the lumpectomy revealed a 2.5-centimeter tumor.

"I was warned that I may be fatigued and my skin may turn a little pink. Yesterday was my final round," Couric wrote, describing radiation, in an essay published on Sept. 28. "My left breast does look like I’ve been sunbathing topless, but other than that, I’ve felt fine."

Couric, who lost her husband, sister and mother-in-law to other types of cancer, said she felt grateful for all the advancements made in breast cancer research over the last several decades.

"I can’t tell you how many times during this experience I thanked God that it was 2022. And how many times I silently thanked all the dedicated scientists who have been working their asses off to develop better ways to analyze and treat breast cancer," she wrote. "But to reap the benefits of modern medicine, we need to stay on top of our screenings, advocate for ourselves, and make sure everyone has access to the diagnostic tools that could very well save their life."

Couric shared her diagnosis on the eve of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is held annually in the month of October.

Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Around 42,000 women die from breast cancer each year, with Black women having a higher rate of death from the disease than other populations, according to the CDC.

Some women show no symptoms of breast cancer at all, according to the CDC, while others may experience symptoms including thickening or swelling of the breast, detection of a lump in the breast or armpit, redness and pain or a change in the size or shape of the breast.

Women ages 40 to 44 should have access to annual breast cancer screening with mammograms, while women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year, according to federal guidelines.

Starting at age 55, women should switch to mammograms every two years or continue annual screenings, according to the CDC.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many doctors saw a drop in cancer screenings due to limited non-essential, in-person visits and patients opting to put off routine examinations -- including annual cancer screenings -- to curb risky face-to-face interactions.

The number of screenings and mammograms given to people in the U.S. fell by as much as 80% during the pandemic, according to research published last year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What's behind dramatic drop in monkeypox cases in the US

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(NEW YORK) -- After weeks of rising cases, the monkeypox outbreak appears to be significantly slowing down in the United States.

As of Sept. 21, the latest date for which data is available, the seven-day case average was 197, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is a 50% drop from the seven-day rolling average of 394 recorded one month ago, the data shows.

Similar situations are occurring in cities across the U.S. In New York City -- the epicenter of the outbreak -- the seven-day average of infections has declined by 85.7% over the course of a month from 35 to five, as of Sept. 23, according to data from the city's Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.

Additionally, in Los Angeles, the seven-day average has fallen by 80.5% from 36 to seven, as of Sept. 26, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health data shows.

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABC News there are two reasons why monkeypox infections are trending downward.

One reason is that at-risk people have changed their behaviors.

The outbreak has primarily been concentrated in men who have sex with men, a group that includes people who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender and nonbinary, although health officials have said anyone -- regardless of sexual orientation -- is at risk if they have direct contact with an infected patient.

Schaffner said those at risk have been inundated with information about how to reduce their risk and have followed doctors' advice.

"There's been a terrific amount of public health education that's gone out and it's gone out particularly to the MSM community and the LBGTQ community that's been primarily affected," he said. "So, you have a target population, they've been literally flooded, in some instances, with information about monkeypox, and what you as an individual can do to protect yourself against becoming infected."

Schaffner added, "And so a lot of the communication I think, has been successful. And here's the inferential part, I think people may have altered some of their behaviors, to reduce their risk."

joint survey from the CDC, Emory University and Johns Hopkins University found about one-half of gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men reduced their number of sexual partners, one-time anonymous partners, and reduced use of dating apps.

The second reason for the decline is vaccinations, Schaffner said.

As of Sept. 20, more than 684,000 JYNNEOS vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S., CDC data shows. As of the week ending Sept. 10, the number of second doses administered are more than the number of first doses, meaning people are returning to receive full protection.

Last month, to increase the number of doses available, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a new strategy to inject the vaccine intradermally, just below the first layer of skin, rather than subcutaneously, or under all the layers of skin -- allowing one vial of vaccine to be administered as five separate doses rather than a single dose.

"We had data that told us it would be as effective and that appears also to be working," Schaffner said. "[There's been] acceptance of the vaccine by people in the target population and we've developed the capacity to get it out, make it available easily without stigma."

However, Schaffner said the battle is not over yet and there should be a sustained effort on the part of public health officials, clinicians and community leaders to keep spreading information on the seriousness of monkeypox and how to reduce risk as well as how to get vaccinated.

"This will require sustained attention for some time," he said. "It's wonderful that things look as though they're plateauing and declining, but we have to keep attention on wherever this disease is, and we have to keep our public health and communications efforts out there."

"It's not 'mission accomplished.' We have to keep being careful and take advantage of the vaccine," Schaffner added.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Mom speaks out after daughter dies from suspected fentanyl overdose

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(WITCHITA FALLS, TX) -- A Texas mom is speaking out after her daughter died earlier this month following a suspected opioid overdose. Experts involved in the case believe that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, might be to blame.

Silvia Martinez of Wichita Falls, Texas, told "Good Morning America" that she wanted to share what happened to her eldest daughter Alizé Martinez to potentially save other children and prevent other families from experiencing what she and her family are going through.

Silvia Martinez said that on the morning of Sept. 17 -- which she described as the "worst day" of her life -- she found her daughter stiff and lifeless in bed.

"I just screamed. I was in so much shock. It just didn't feel real because I was like, 'Not my daughter, not my baby,' " she recalled. "God knew I couldn't live without my kids. I couldn't believe it."

She said that although she had not yet received an official report, the medical examiner said they suspect the death of Alizé Martinez was possibly the result of a fentanyl overdose.

Alizé Martinez, the eldest of Silvia Martinez's five children, was 19 and about to re-enroll in cosmetology school. Silvia Martinez said her daughter had a "super goofy personality" and was "always happy" but had been "struggling" with addiction, something she had been trying to help her through.

"I didn't know this until it was further down the line but when she first tried [opioids], she did it as a party favor, because her friends were doing it," Silvia Martinez told "GMA."

"She thought she was taking a prescription drug that gets prescribed to people from doctors. so to her, that her friends were doing it, well, it comes from a doctor so you know, should be OK on that and not knowing that it was laced with fentanyl," Martinez continued.

Experts warn that people should never take medication that is not specifically prescribed to them and should always precisely follow prescription instructions provided by their doctor.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is anywhere from 50 to 100 times more potent than the narcotics heroin and morphine. Synthetic opioid-related overdose deaths have increased 56% from 2019 through 2020, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the public health agency estimates that more than 150 people die from synthetic opioids each day. Naloxone is a medication that can reverse the effects of opioids, and can help someone who has overdosed on opioids.

Alizé Martinez's funeral was held on Sept. 22, according to her mother, and the police department in Wichita Falls, a city in northern Texas, is currently investigating her death.

A spokesperson for the Wichita Falls Police Department confirmed in an email to "GMA" that officials were indeed investigating "three suspected fentanyl related fatal overdoses," including that of "a 19-year-old female" whom they identified as Alizé Martinez.

The spokesperson also noted police had "made three arrests for the charge of Murder ... for illegally distributing Fentanyl which caused the death of an individual."

Silvia Martinez hopes that despite her family's tragedy, she can raise more awareness about the dangers of street drugs, including opioids and specifically fentanyl.

"The most shocking part was how available it is," she said. "A lot of these pills are looking like candy. And now we don't even want to take our kids trick or treating this year … because we are terrified that our kids are going to get something like that in one of their bags."

"As parents, we need to talk to our children about this drug, about how it's going around everywhere," she added.

Silvia Martinez's message to other parents, meanwhile, is to speak up if they suspect their kids are taking drugs.

"Don't be ashamed. Don't be embarrassed. Speak out," she said. "Let other people hear your voices because we need to be the voices for our children."

"We need to get the drugs off the street," she added. "We need more resources for our children who are struggling with this. We need all the voices we can: every mother, every father, anybody who struggles with this fentanyl addiction. We need more voices. We need to make a change for our kids. I don't want to see any more lives gone due to this."

If someone you know is experiencing signs or symptoms of an overdose, call 911 or immediately present to the nearest emergency department. The national poison control hotline is available for questions 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you can call the SAMHSA help line at 1-800-662-HELP. SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID cases not dramatically rising with schools back in session, but experts say testing is down

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(NEW YORK) -- Most children in the United States have returned to school for the year as districts aim to bring kids back to a setting that resembles the pre-pandemic normal.

Masks are now optional in most classrooms and, last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was no longer recommending schools use test-to-stay, which allowed students who were close contacts of those who tested positive for COVID-19 to continue to attend in-person classes if they remained asymptomatic and continued to test negative.

Dr. Greta Massetti, chief of the field epidemiology and prevention branch at the CDC, told reporters at the time that because unvaccinated and vaccinated people were no longer being advised to quarantine, test-to-stay was no longer necessary.

Cases and hospitalizations do not appear to be dramatically rising and adults have the highest rate of weekly cases per 100,000, per CDC data.

But experts said testing data is not robust as it was during the last two school years, making it difficult to compare current data to previous seasons.

"There's good reason to be cautiously optimistic," Dr. Jim Versalovic, pathologist in chief at Texas Children's Hospital, told ABC News. "It's important to point out that we have seen over the past several weeks a steady decline in COVID positivity and in COVID hospitalizations at Texas Children's."

He continued, "There's more at-home testing available and we don't have all the testing data, but we have enough data now to say confidently that positivity is down for COVID less than 5% in our latest rolling seven-day average and we also are now at single-digit hospitalizations, which is a big deal."

Adults still make up most COVID-19 cases

According to CDC data, weekly cases per 100,000 are higher in every adult age group compared to children. Children aged 5-11 have the lowest rate at 15.6 per 100,000 compared to those aged 75 and older at 41.6 per 100,000 with the highest rate.

What's more, the weekly case rate has massively declined since the summer. Just two months earlier, the case rate among 5 to 11-year-olds was 114.6 per 100,000.

Versalovic and other experts point out there are several reasons why there is not a major increase of COVID-19 cases seen among children during the new school year.

This includes less community spread in general; schools having better filtering of air; children being able to play outside, which is less risky for spread, before it gets cold; and vaccination.

Currently, 60.7% of 12-to-17-year-oids are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. This is in comparison with 47.7% fully vaccinated at the same time last year.

Meanwhile, 31.4% of 5-to-11-year-olds are fully vaccinated. While uptake in this age group has severely lagged older children, it's a substantial increase from 0.4% this time last year.

"That was not the case a year ago," Versalovic said. "One year ago, we were still trying to get vaccines to school-aged children. We've now had those vaccines available since last November and we've had boosters available throughout the summer."

However, he said that vaccination rates, particularly among younger children have been lower than he'd like to see. Only 1.2% of children under age 2 and 2.3% of children aged 2 to 4 are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

"We cannot be complacent about it." he said. "Vaccination rates have not been strong as we hoped. That gives us some pause as we look ahead to the winter."

Testing is down from last year

Test is down because testing has dropped dramatically in health care settings and in schools, experts said. Schools are also no longer running test-to-stay programs, so cases could be circulating undetected. Additionally, many people do no report positive at-home tests to health officials.

"There are some important caveats," Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor, told ABC News. "We know that overall testing, test volume is down. Incentives for testing have changed, we've seen that reduction in test-to-stay programs."

"There is an argument to make that this could potentially be a calm before the storm as we approach colder months, more indoor activities, drier conditions that facilitate better transmission of respiratory viruses," he added.

Low rates of testing could be hiding potential surges in classrooms or underreporting asymptomatic cases.

Brownstein said there is cause for optimism because a new variant has yet to emerge -- the omicron variant and its subvariants have remained dominant for almost a year compared to 2021 when the dominant variant changed every few months.

"There's a lot of room for optimism, even in the face of a surge, because of the availability of vaccines and treatments," he said. "That being said, we've been surprised at every turn of the pandemic. And so, it absolutely makes sense for us to remain vigilant and utilize the best possible data to drive decisions."

Experts stressed the importance of children getting vaccinated, especially in case COVID-19 infections do surge in the late fall and winter.

"The No. 1 tool that we have to prevent disease are vaccines," Versalovic said. "These vaccines are safe and effective and, if anything, they've proven to be even more safe and effective than we ever could have imagined over the past year."

Brownstein added that certain children, such as those who are immunocompromised or live with a family member at high risk of severe disease, may want to consider other prevention measures such as masking.

"Even if masks or testing isn't required, these are tools that can still be used as needed, depending on your sort of risk tolerance and the risk of family members," he said. "Generally, we are at a good point right now where transmission is lower and we're not facing the threat of a new highly transmissible variant, but we have to remember that we have to be flexible as we continue this school year."

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Amid nationwide abortion debate, American Cancer Society warns fertility preservation for cancer patients could be at risk in the future

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(NEW YORK) -- More than 32,000 young patients newly diagnosed with cancer now live in states that have imposed or have impending abortion restrictions, according to a new study published Monday in The Lancet Oncology.

Because many life-saving cancer treatments harm future fertility, many teens and young adults with cancer decide to freeze eggs, sperm or embryos in the hope of having a family later in life.

Now, in the wake of the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the American Cancer Society is warning that their fertility preservation options could be at risk in the future.

Possible ramifications for cancer patients could include potential restrictions on gene testing, storage and disposal of embryos, even those created in the laboratory, according to researchers from the American Cancer Society.

For now, these concerns are hypothetical. Recent legislation has focused primarily on restricting abortion, and laws regarding embryos or other fertility preservation methods are not explicit, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research organization.

However, Guttmacher and other abortion-rights advocates have raised it as a possibility in the future. And they argue that some state legislation refers to protecting an "unborn child" without clearly defining whether that might include an embryo. That could make it difficult for health care providers to know when they've run afoul of the law, they say.

Researchers at the American Cancer Society studied more than 120,000 young patients between the ages of 15 and 44 who were diagnosed with cancer in 2018, finding that more than 68% needed fertility preservation.

Of those, more than 32,000 patients -- including over 20,000 women -- were from the 22 states where abortion bans exist or are expected to be implemented, the study found. Texas, Ohio and Georgia were the states with the largest number of newly diagnosed young cancer patients whose fertility preservation care could be compromised.

"Ongoing monitoring of the health effects of the Supreme Court decision on cancer patients and their families is warranted," said Xuesong Han, Ph.D., the lead study author, scientific director and health services researcher at the American Cancer Society.

The anti-abortion group Charlotte Lozier Institute called the American Cancer Society's warning misleading.

"A plain reading of state pro-life laws shows this study is nothing more than scaremongering, which is a huge disservice to the medical community and American women," the institute's Tara Sander Lee, Ph.D., said

Researchers found that patients from 22 states with abortion restrictions were more likely to be living in non-metropolitan areas, belonging to the poorest counties, and were of white or Black ethnicities, compared to the patients from 28 states where abortion remained legal.

"We have not yet begun to see exactly how the Dobbs ruling impacts fertility; however, it is clear that there will be a monumental impact," said Dr. Eleonora Teplinsky, head of breast medical oncology at Valley Health System and a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Fertility preservation, though possible in a less restrictive state, will create new barriers and could widen geographic and socioeconomic disparities, according to the study.

"Traveling to another state to get fertility care will put undue burden especially on the most vulnerable of these patients -- medical, financial and psychological," said Dr. Sunita Nasta, professor of clinical medicine at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, adding that "compromised access to care leads to worse outcomes."

"The treatment of aggressive cancers is usually urgent. Fertility preservation needs to be accomplished within a few days to weeks. If these procedures are limited by these bans, patients will face the burden of losing their fertility or delaying therapy," Nasta said.

"Many patients make treatment decisions based on fertility concerns. If fertility preservation is further endangered as we suspect it will be, we likely will begin to see even more patients choosing not to go on life-saving cancer therapy," Teplinsky said.

"The ability to protect their choices with appropriate fertility care gives these patients the freedom to be aggressive about choosing therapy for the best outcomes rather than what may affect their future fertility," Nasta added.

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After his brother died by suicide, this teacher changed how he talks to students about mental health

Courtesy of Nick Orr

(NEW YORK) -- Every day at the start of his classes, Nick Orr, a high school science teacher in Nevada, said he checks in with his students about their mental health.

It's a practice Orr said he began doing after his own brother Anthony died by suicide shortly after graduating high school in 2020.

Orr said Anthony's death came as a shock and made him realize his brother may have never felt there was a safe space to talk about his mental health.

"I didn't think there was anything going on," Orr told "Good Morning America." "We had a wonderful relationship, but this is just something he never told anyone about, he never spoke about, he never asked for help and unfortunately, it was something that ultimately got the best of him."

Anthony's death came at the same time the school district where he attended high school experienced a wave of student deaths due to suicide, according to Orr.

He said the firsthand experience of seeing teenagers struggling with their mental health changed the way he approached it in his classroom.

"How much do we really want to put an emphasis on academic content standards and this rigor when these kids are so obviously hurting and struggling," said Orr. "We can ask them to think about earth science for 80 minutes straight, but we know that that's not going to happen."

He continued, "There are going to be issues that promote emotional reactions for these kids and teaching them how to deal with their feelings as well as how to process their feelings. That's how we set them up to be successful in their life."

In Orr's classroom, he began asking his students to confidentially give him a thumbs up or thumbs down sign at the start of class to let him know how they're feeling.

He started holding what he calls "social-emotional conferences" with students as follow-ups. Orr also started helping students with their physical health as a way to improve their mental health, taking on classroom challenges to drink more water, get more sleep and eat breakfast daily, something he has his first period students do together as a class each morning.

Orr said he works hard to make sure each student knows that they matter and that help is available.

"My kids know that if they ever need me, I am a trusted adult that they can come to and that I'm here to help however I can," said Orr. "I tell the kids that they all matter, that we don't all have to dance to the same beat or do the same job or go down the same path, but we do all need to look out for each other and respect each other."

Orr said that connecting with each student and looking out for their mental health is "no easy task" given all the other responsibilities he and other teachers have, but it is one he is committed to as a way to honor his brother.

He said both he and his parents talk openly about Anthony and mental health so that no other family has to suffer a similar loss.

"As suicide survivors, we don’t want anyone else to experience the pain that we’ve lived through and live through to this day," said Orr. "It can be terrifying to ask for help, but so is what could happen if we don't get help. Very few things are as permanent as suicide."

Growing concerns over teens and suicide

Across the country, the suicide rate among young people has been on the rise, increasing nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Data shows that in the U.S., suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people, and, more specifically, the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 14.

In 2021, during the coronavirus pandemic, there was an almost 51% rise in emergency department visits related to suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17, compared to the same time period in 2019, according to data released last year by the CDC.

Amid the pandemic, youth mental health was declared a "national emergency" by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy issued a 53-page advisory warning of a growing mental health crisis among young people, writing, "The challenges today's generation of young people face are unprecedented and uniquely hard to navigate."

Dr. Jenna Glover, a licensed psychologist and director of psychology training at Children's Hospital of Colorado, said she has seen firsthand the mental health struggles among teens.

"In large part that's just due to having increased pressures in our society and more access to information and connections to other people, which isn't always a helpful thing," said Glover. "I think we also have seen a small amount of that increase come just because we are identifying the problems so more people are more aware, but certainly kids are dealing with more stress and pressure relative to previous generations."

Glover said teens today are connected online which means they face more stressors like bullying and the pressure to succeed as well as full access to information on societal struggles like wars, the pandemic and climate change.

"They're experiencing a lot more stress than many of us did growing up," said Glover, who said in her home state, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24.

The high rate of mental health struggles among her peers in Colorado is what prompted Aimee Resnick, 17, of Centennial, Colorado, to advocate for a now-state law that requires student ID cards to feature the state's free, 24/7 mental health hotline.

It was that hotline that Aimee said saved her life when she called it for help at age 13 while struggling with suicide idealization.

Aimee said like many teens, she felt the pressures of school, including bullying, and said she suffered from an eating disorder.

Through the hotline, Aimee said she was able to get immediate help and was able to continue on with mental health services that gave her tools to cope.

"We need this information out here so that young people know who to call," she said of her motivation to increase access to the mental health hotline.

According to Glover, teens could be at a higher risk of death by suicide relative to adults because their brains are still developing.

"I have a colleague who says teenagers are like Ferraris, where the engine and the gas pedal are put in but not the brakes," she said. "They are experiencing a full range of emotions that they've never experienced before but they don't have the same cognitive abilities to control those emotions that adults do."

Glover said the part of the brain that manages emotions and inhibits strong behaviors is not fully developed until around age 25.

"It's easy as parents to think, 'Why can't you mange this? It's not that big of a deal,' but they literally can't see the world the same way that we can because we have a different part of our brain developed," she said. "They’re going to experience stronger emotions without that brake pedal built in and then, in addition, they're experiencing a lot more stress than many of us did growing up."

Gabriella Betance, now 22, of Lakewood, Colorado, said she had no idea how to handle the big emotions she felt as a teenager, a struggle that led to two hospitalizations after suicide attempts.

"When you start struggling with these big feelings, the first people you are going to talk to are going to be your peers and you’re all kids and don't know how to handle it," she said. "The two times that it was a serious, life-threatening moment, I was lucky enough to get the help that I needed."

She continued, "But I feel like if we had the tools, if we had the conversations regularly about mental health, like check-ins and safe words, that I wouldn't have felt the need to act in such a drastic way."

How parents, teachers can help

One of the most important things that adults can do to support teens with their mental health is to have open and honest conversations, according to Glover.

She said parents in particular should not be afraid to talk directly about suicide with their child.

"It's important for us to state it and say it because when we don't, kids are worried that it's not OK that they're thinking that or feeling that, and it's a fairly normal human reaction to have," said Glover, adding that parents can open the conversation by asking their child if anything has been worrying or overwhelming them and then ask directly if the child has had any thoughts of killing or hurting themselves.

"Don't worry that that is going to plant an idea," she said of asking directly about suicidal thoughts. "If they're not having those thoughts, they can just tell you no. But if they are, they will experience a huge amount of relief that you asked directly so they can get that outside of themselves and talk about their problems and usually when kids are able to talk about their problems, they are able to start seeing solutions."

Glover said checking in and asking your teenager those questions every few months is important, even if a child is not showing symptoms of mental health struggles.

Just as Orr works with his students to make sure they are eating and sleeping well, Glover said access to good nutrition and getting consistent and good quality sleep can greatly improve mental health for teens in particular.

She said social connection is another important factor for preventing teen suicide and that includes both connections with their peers and with dependable adults.

"If a child can just develop one positive relationship with an adult outside of a parent in your life, that is a huge protective factor," said Glover. "Getting kids involved in extracurriculars, having them have relationships in community, in church, with neighbors, all of those are going to serve as protective factors."

For teens in need of help, pediatricians, school counselors and school psychologists are easily accessible resources for help, according to Glover.

She also recommends that parents program mental health help lines into their phones so they are easily accessible, saying, "When you are in a crisis, you don't want to have to be Googling what to do. You want to have it immediately available."

Glover also encourages parents of teens who struggle with mental health to practice calling a help line together, even if the child is not in crisis in the moment.

"You can absolutely do that and just say, 'We're just practicing calling in case we ever need to. We want to know what this is like,'" said Glover. "That practice might make it more likely that your child can use that in a moment when they are in crisis."

If you are experiencing any thoughts about wanting to hurt yourself or anyone else, any thoughts of suicide, or any mental health crisis, please call or text 988. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org or dial the current toll free number 800-273-8255 [TALK].

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


4.4 million Americans have received an updated bivalent COVID-19 booster

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(NEW YORK) -- At least 4.4 million Americans have received an updated bivalent COVID-19 booster since the shots were rolled out at the beginning of September, newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

Nationally, a total of 109 million Americans have received their first booster dose — representing less than 50% of those who have been fully vaccinated. Just over a third — 35% — of the total U.S. population over the age of 5 has received their first booster.

In recent months, vaccination and booster uptake have slowed significantly, with fewer Americans willing to get their shots as pandemic and vaccination fatigue set in.

Following the federal green light of the new COVID-19 booster shots, data shows there was a significant uptick in the number of Americans getting vaccinated.

On average, approximately 390,000 shots are going into arms each day across the country.

On Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky became the latest American to get the new bivalent COVID-19 booster shot.

Walensky urged others to join her in getting the vaccine, stressing that it is important to get vaccinated now, ahead of the fall and winter, in order to prevent severe disease.

"I'm here getting my updated fall vaccine because I think it's critically important to do," Walensky told ABC News. "We are really encouraging everybody to roll up their sleeves and get this updated bivalent vaccine."

On Thursday, Moderna also announced that it has submitted an emergency use authorization request to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the use of the company's omicron-targeting bivalent COVID-19 vaccine in children and adolescents.

The company has completed submission of its EUA requests in adolescents ages 12 to 17 years old as well as in children ages 6 to 11 years old.

The application for the youngest Americans, ages 6 months to under 6, is expected to be completed later this year, according to the company.

At this time, children over the age of 12 are eligible to receive Pfizer's bivalent booster and adult Americans can receive an updated booster at least two months after their last shot.

Pfizer is expected to submit a request to add authorization for children ages 5 to 11 to its offerings of bivalent boosters by the end of month.

The FDA could authorize the updated booster shots for people as young as 5 in the coming weeks and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may recommend them for the younger age groups shortly after.

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Should masks return in fall and winter to prevent a COVID surge?

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(NEW YORK) -- As the United States heads into the fall and winter, questions are arising about whether the return of masks is needed to stem a potential COVID-19 surge.

Evidence has shown COVID cases and hospitalizations tend to rise during the colder months when people congregate indoors. Some health officials warn the virus could surge again in December and January.

Currently, cases and hospitalizations are on the decline in the U.S. after having peaked in late July, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those who are vaccinated and boosted are at much lower risk of falling severely ill and dying from COVID-19. CDC data shows unvaccinated Americans have a five times higher risk of dying compared to those who've received just a primary series and a seven times higher risk of dying compared to those who also received at least one booster dose.

Experts told ABC News that while vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19, some people may need to consider masking to protect themselves in case infections rise.

"My recommendation to people would be to mask when in indoor crowded spaces," Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, told ABC News. "I've spent a great deal of time with patients who have COVID and have not contracted the infection from what I can tell, both from antibody testing and from a lack of syndrome."

Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, told ABC News that masks have helped reduce COVID transmission in health care settings.

"I've worked in a respiratory infection clinic with COVID patients at the height of their contagiousness and they're breathing in my face, and I haven't gotten COVID from patients," she said. "I really do believe that PPE works, that masks work."

However, experts admitted it will be hard to convince Americans to wear masks again after so many cities and states have done away with mandates.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver remain the three biggest cities in the U.S. where masks are still required on public transit. In most cities, only health care environments still require mask mandates.

Ray said he believes a surge, similar to those caused by the delta and the omicron variants, would be the only thing drum up support of mandates.

"I think that people are really tired of this pandemic and there is, culturally, very little appetite for mandates, for masking," Ray said. "And so, it's a steep climb to tell people unless there's a particular context in which it's important, like a health care setting when there are many vulnerable people."

He added, "If we were to come into a highly disruptive surge, then the appetite for a mandate might change, because people realize that a bunch of essential services are being disrupted. If hospitals got stressed by the surge, then I think we might see mandates returned."

Doron said that although she supports masking, she doesn't believe that cities and counties should reinstate mask mandates because many people take them off indoors for prolonged periods of time anyway, increasing the risk of transmission.

"In the community, we had mask mandates where you wear masks unless you're eating or drinking and if you've ever traveled in an airport or on an airplane, where there when there was a mask mandate, you know that, you know, people are pretty much eating and drinking the entire time," Doron said. "And so, it just doesn't have the ability to do what it's meant to do."

In the absence of mask mandates, the experts said people may need to assess their individual risk level and decide if wearing a mask will help protect themselves and those around them.

"You to weigh your own susceptibility, your own tolerance for the risk of the long-term complications, which are still somewhat unknown and the risks that you might pose to people you care for either professionally or personally at home," Ray said. "Now, some people may decide -- and this is the judgment part -- that they just don't care that they don't think that this is a big deal, and that they'll just get infected and that they're likely not to be hospitalized."

Dr. Thomas Murray, an associate professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, said assessing the risk level also applies to kids in school, where many mask mandates have been lifted.

"Children who have higher risk, like asthma, might be an example of that," Murray said. "What we're really trying to balance is having kids enjoy a normal in-person school experience with the risks that go with congregating in classes when we have lots of respiratory viruses circulating."

He said if schools don't reimplement masking, other strategies "become critically important" for children, such as screening, testing and keeping them home if they have symptoms.

However, not all masks are created equally. For those who plan to keep wearing masks or choose to start wearing them again heading into the colder months, the experts recommend wearing a high-quality mask.

"I think that single-layer cloth masks really don't provide much protection," Ray said.

Doron said if you cannot get a N95 or KN95, or cannot wear one for long periods of time, a surgical mask will provide protection.

"The surgical mask does provide protection, especially if it fits you well," she said. "And then there are ways to make it fit better, ways to fold it or and tuck it and tie the strap for your ears."

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LACDPH to give all K-12 schools naloxone amid opioid overdose increase: District

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(LOS ANGELES) -- A medicine used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose from drugs such as fentanyl will be available at all K-12 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the coming weeks, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced on Thursday.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will provide doses of naloxone to the district for free, Los Angeles Unified said in a press release.

"Naloxone is a crucial response for individuals experiencing overdose from substances like fentanyl, and temporarily reverses the effects of an overdose in emergency scenarios," the district said. "As stated by the National Institutes of Health, naloxone is a safe, highly effective medicine used to reverse overdoses and save lives. Administered as a nasal spray, naloxone is an antidote to medications known as 'opioids.'"

"We have an urgent crisis on our hands," Carvalho said in a statement. "Research shows that the availability of naloxone along with overdose education is effective at decreasing overdoses and death -- and will save lives. We will do everything in our power to ensure that not another student in our community is a victim to the growing opioid epidemic. Keeping students safe and healthy remains our highest priority."

The announcement comes after several overdoses suspected in the last month, with one juvenile dying at Bernstein High School in Hollywood, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

"According to LACDPH, fentanyl- and methamphetamine-related overdose deaths have increased in Los Angeles County, even prior to the pandemic, and continue to rise at an alarming rate," Los Angeles Unified said. "There has been a growing trend of illicit drugs and contaminated pills containing fentanyl and other life-threatening substances that have entered Los Angeles."

On Sept. 13, a parent had found their missing stepdaughter experiencing a possible overdose at the high school, police said.

The victim alerted the parent that a friend was possibly experiencing an overdose in the women's bathroom, according to the LAPD. The parent administered aid to the victim as directed by 911, but she was unresponsive, police said.

"The Los Angeles Fire Department responded to the scene and determined the victim deceased at scene," the LAPD said.

The other victim was transported to a hospital and is in stable condition, police said.

"Investigators believe that the victims purchased what they believed was Percocet pills from Lexington Park," the LAPD said.

Authorities also responded to calls last week of two additional overdoses in the area of the park, according to police.

The victims are believed to have been students at Bernstein High School and other local high schools, the LAPD said.

Carvalho said the overdoses are "disproportionately impacting" particular communities.

The school district also announced the Make a Choice Campaign, which is designed to educate parents and guardians about the dangers of fentanyl, as well as peer-to-peer counseling.

"Knowledge is lifesaving," Carvalho said during a press conference Thursday.

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Nearly 225,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the start of 2022 despite viral declines, data shows

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(NEW YORK) -- Although the daily death rates have ticked down slightly from August, updated federal data shows that the U.S. is still losing hundreds of Americans to COVID-19 every day, and 225,000 people in the U.S. have been lost to the virus since the start of 2022.

On average, more than 350 American deaths related to COVID-19 are still reported each day, and over the last seven days, the U.S. has reported nearly 2,500 deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, totals remain much lower than during prior COVID-19 surges, such as in January 2021, when an average of 3,500 people were reported lost to the virus on a daily basis.

The reaching of yet another grim milestone follows President Joe Biden's remarks on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday, during which he said "the pandemic is over."

"We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lot of work on it. It's -- but the pandemic is over," Biden said.

Earlier this week, public health experts pushed back on the president's assertion, telling ABC News that that pandemic is not over yet, and that Biden's comments may be somewhat premature.

In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky was reluctant to directly agree with the president's assertion that "the pandemic is over," but with hospitalization and case rates falling, and vaccines and treatments available, she said that "we're in a different place."

"I think if we look at the big picture, things are very different," she said. "We're in a different place. Schools are open and businesses are open. We have a lot of population immunity out there right now."

However, Walensky said that even though there are currently fewer people dying from the virus on a daily basis in the U.S., hundreds of Americans are still dying of COVID-19 every day -- a fatality rate that remains too high.

"Three hundred fifty deaths a day is still too many as far as I'm concerned, but we're in a very different place," Walensky added.

As the U.S. heads into the fall, wastewater levels in some parts of the country have indicated a slight upturn in the percentage of COVID-19 virus in samplings. Even so, the daily average of new infections continues to hover around 55,000 cases.

However, dozens of states have moved to shutter public testing sites, with more at-home COVID-19 tests now available. Most Americans are not reporting their results to officials, and thus, experts suggest that infection totals are likely significantly undercounted.

COVID-19 testing levels have also plummeted to their lowest point since the onset of the pandemic, with approximately 350,000 tests reported each day, compared to more than 2.5 million tests reported daily at the nation's peak in January of this year.

In recent weeks, virus-related hospitalizations have continued to fall -- with 30,000 virus-positive Americans receiving care in the U.S., down from about 33,000 patients in the hospital last week, according to data collected by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The number of virus-positive Americans -- 4,100 -- currently entering the hospital each day is down by 6.8% in the last week.

Overall, the total remains significantly lower than at the nation's peak this past January, when there were more than 160,000 patients hospitalized with the virus.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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