Health Headlines

Sorapop/iStockBy DR. NICK NISSEN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Exercise is good for your health, but researchers are now finding that better cardiovascular fitness might save you from a trip to the hospital if you are diagnosed with COVID-19.

According a new study from Henry Ford Hospital, people with better cardiovascular fitness may be less likely to be hospitalized with the virus. This study looked at 246 patients who had undergone a heart exercise test known as a "stress test" and then stayed in touch with those patients to see which ones were later diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized.

The researchers learned that patients who had better exercise capacity during their test were less likely to get hospitalized with COVID-19 later on, suggesting that people can decrease their chances of getting severely sick with COVID-19 by improving their cardiovascular fitness.

Here are five steps you can take now to boost your fitness and boost your chances of avoiding severe illness from COVID-19 in 2021:

1. Find your "why."

Many people start and stop new fitness routines. Let's make your new fitness goals stick. Firstly, why do you want to improve your fitness? What difference will better fitness make in your life?

Next, consider which obstacles will try to get between you and your goal (feeling too tired, limited on time, etc.). Knowing your challenges ahead of time will help you feel more prepared to carry out your new goal.

2. Consider your options.

It's important to assess your current state of health before you start exercising. If you have health issues, you'll want to consult your doctor first before starting a new routine.

Afterward, consider various levels of exercise, from walking to jogging to weights or fitness classes. Choose one that is appropriate for your state of health.

3. Create a plan that you can stick to.

In fitness, consistency is key. Many start the new year with ambitious goals of waking at dawn and spending hours at the gym, but these plans often fade as work responsibilities and sleep deprivation build after the holidays.

Instead, choose a time that you can block off every day and find efficient exercise routines of 30-60 minutes duration. Start easy and ramp up slowly.

4. Remove obstacles.

Avoid your common pitfalls. Do you often plan to go to the gym after work but lose your motivation once you get home? Bring your gym bag to work so you can go directly to the gym afterward.

Do you run out of time in the morning? Prepare your morning chores ahead of time (pack lunches, choose your outfits) so you can be more efficient in the morning.

5. Make it fun.

Cardiovascular exercise is easy if it's something you enjoy. If you abhor the treadmill, consider joining a COVID-safe dance class, playing tennis, or going for brisk hikes. Consider getting outside and making your exercise a bright spot in your day.

Improving our fitness is often a top New Year's resolution, but now more than ever, this goal is of utmost importance. Use the tips above to make 2021 a healthy new year and boost your chances of avoiding severe illness from COVID-19.

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Courtesy Mitayah DonerlsonBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Kasen Donerlson is being called a "miracle baby" after surviving both COVID-19 and a liver transplant, all before his first birthday.

"It's been very, very stressful," Kasen's mom, Mitayah Donerlson, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "But his recovery right now is going so sweet and so smooth that I can’t ask for anything more."

Kasen of Syracuse, New York, was born on Jan. 14, 2020, weighing a healthy 8 pounds, according to Donerlson. He spent a few days in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) due to breathing issues and jaundice that Donerlson said doctors told her would improve as he got older.

When Kasen's health did not improve, Donerlson said she sought further evaluations for her son. Around two months after his birth, the infant was diagnosed with a severe case of biliary atresia, a condition in which bile ducts in and around the liver are scarred and blocked, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Just a few days after his diagnosis, Kasen underwent an emergency surgery to repair his bile ducts. But the surgery proved unsuccessful, according to Donerlson, who soon learned that her son would need a liver transplant.

"We had endless hospital visits and we would be there for five or seven or 10 days because of the severity of the disease and the complications that Kasen was having," said Donerlson, adding that Kasen had to be placed on a feeding tube. "He would have fevers that wouldn’t come down."

Donerlson, who also cares for her 4-year-old son and 5-year-old niece, was able to get Kasen onto the transplant waiting list at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, about a five-hour drive from the family's Syracuse home.

In November, as Kasen was waiting for a liver to become available, Donerlson said she, her significant other, her niece and Kasen all tested positive for COVID-19.

"On Nov. 21 he woke up that morning and was extremely hot. His body was like touching a stove," said Donerlson. "I just cried because I knew the hospital was going to admit us, but I didn’t know they were going to tell us that he was COVID-positive."

Kasen spent around three days in the hospital but his only complication was a fever, according to Donerlson, who, along with her family members, did not suffer any complications from COVID-19.

Just two weeks later, in early December, Donerlson got the call she had been waiting months for -- that a liver was available for Kasen.

"All I could do was cry. They were mommy tears and tears of joy. I was just so happy," said Donerlson. "I always knew he was going to get a transplant -- that was my faith -- but to finally get that call and get that message that the surgery was scheduled and to have that relief from the burden on my shoulders dropped, it felt so good."

She added: "I’m smiling from ear to ear right now because I can literally see that moment and feel that moment again."

When Kasen underwent the transplant in early January, he weighed only about 10 pounds more than his birth weight, according to Dr. George Mazariegos, chief of Pediatric Transplantation at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

"He was more the weight of a 3-month-old and that is all because of the severity of his condition," said Mazariegos, who added that Kasen received part of a liver from a young adult who died. "We were able to use the left portion of the liver which was the perfect size for a baby of Kasen’s size."

Donerlson said she noticed an immediate difference in Kasen after the nearly 10-hour transplant procedure.

"His eyes have always been greenish and yellowish, his entire life, and he woke up from surgery with clear eyes," she said. "I was overjoyed by seeing that."

After spending much of his first life sick and hospitalized, Kasen is expected to have a long, normal and healthy life with his new liver, according to Maraziegos.

He celebrated his first birthday in the hospital on Jan. 14 and is already gaining weight. He was described by Donerlson as more alert and "perkier" post-transplant.

"What I’m looking forward to is Kasen walking and talking," said Donerlson. "I’m so excited for him to get those skills and for my family to bond back together as we were before all the ups and downs and the hospital visits."

She said she is also grateful to the donor whose liver Kasen received, and to all people who volunteer to donate their organs, both living and deceased.

"They made a way for Kasen, a way for my baby, to have a second chance at life, a life that he was not promised to see," said Donerlson. "I’m just thankful for them."

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Bill Oxford/iStockBy DR. SEAN LLEWELLYN and SONY SALZMAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Two independent research groups published findings confirming what many scientists have long suspected: The U.S. has its own unique COVID-19 viral variants that are distinct from the U.K. and South African lineages making headlines in recent weeks.

On Wednesday, researchers from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center announced two distinct, newly identified variants. The next day, researchers at Southern Illinois University said they found a variant that may have emerged months ago and quickly spread across the country. The variant is likely the same or similar to one of the variants identified by the Ohio researchers.

While viruses mutate constantly, these mutations are not inherently dangerous, experts cautioned. More scientific experiments will be needed to show whether the newly identified U.S. variants are more transmissible, more deadly or if they might impact the vaccine.

And researchers predicted even more variants could be identified in the coming weeks as more scientists start looking for them.

"This should be a wakeup call that we’re not doing enough genomic surveillance," said Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist and associate research scientist at the Center of Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's School of Public Health.

"We’re going to see a lot of these papers coming out," said Rasmussen, who was not involved in either study. "Whether [the variants] are associated with increased transmissibility or not remains to be seen."

Since the emergence of new variants around the globe, there has been fear that they will cause more severe disease and deaths, be more transmissible and render the vaccines ineffective. It first started with variants identified from U.K. and then South Africa, both of which are thought to be more transmissible but not more deadly. But they're unlikely to undermine the current vaccines, according to very preliminary research.

Researchers at Southern Illinois University are calling this U.S. variant 20C-US. The variant isn't new, just newly identified. Its origin was traced back to a patient sample in Texas from May 2020. Since then, the variant seems to have swept across the country. According to Dr. Keith T. Gagnon, one of the lead researchers of the study released by Southern Illinois, 20C-US now compromises about 50% of samples in the country. It is currently widespread in the Upper Midwest, which could be why researchers at Ohio State detected a strikingly similar variant.

Dr. Daniel Jones, one of the lead authors of the study from Ohio State, told ABC News that these variants could be from the same lineage but more research on each is needed.

While some researchers, including the White House Task Force's Dr. Deborah Birx, have speculated there might be a U.S. variant circling the nation, these two studies are the first ironclad evidence of one.

Gagnon said it has taken scientists in the U.S. months to identify this variant because the U.S. is not systematically monitoring and tracking the ever-changing genetic makeup of COVID-19 samples collected from patients.

Gagnon also said it's possible the 20C-US variant is more transmissible, especially with the surge of infections in the fall and winter. The variant could have gotten lucky and gained a foothold as people were spending more time indoors and seeing family and friends for the holidays without proper social distancing and mask wearing.

With multiple vaccines now available, there is the fear that this new U.S. variant will render the vaccines ineffective. But so far there is no evidence that the mutations impact the efficacy of the vaccines.

"Here it was, underneath our noses for months," Gagnon said, meaning volunteers who were vaccinated in the large, late-stage vaccine trials were likely exposed to it and a majority were protected.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to get in the way of vaccines," Gagnon added. The researchers at Ohio State agreed with those sentiments in their press conference earlier this week.

The other variant that Ohio State researchers discovered was found in only one patient. It has similar mutations seen in the U.K. and South African variants but was not associated with travel and developed independently here in the U.S. It is unclear how much of the population has this variant and if it will be an important.

Both groups recommended to keep calm and wait for more experimental studies to determine what these variants will do.

“We’re not ready to overreact," said Peter Mohler, chief scientific officer and a co-author of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center study.

"We want to make sure we study these [variants] in the lab and get very good data” to determine if they change transmission and mortality, he added.

But researchers also warn that the longer COVID-19 is around, the more likely there will be mutations and variants. And each time we will have to determine if the variants are more transmissible or deadly.

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narvikk/iStockBy STEPHANIE RAMOS, KATIE O'BRIEN, and ARIELLE MITROPOULOS, ABC News

(WORCESTER, Ma.) -- Michael Gadbois, a first responder, was used to going the DCU Center for concerts and sporting events.

But his most recent trip there was as a COVID-19 patient.

"I never thought I would be going into the convention center on a stretcher," Gadbois told ABC News, which was given exclusive access to the UMass Memorial Medical Center's field hospital at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Since Thanksgiving, the seven-day average of daily cases in Massachusetts has increased by 176%. The number of hospitalizations is the highest since May, and on Wednesday, the state surpassed 13,000 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Just last week, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state would escalate all hospitals to Tier 4 status, the "highest level of concern," which indicates active, ongoing constraints warranting Department of Health intervention. Officials also said on Thursday that "hospital capacity limits are being stretched to their limit."

Massachusetts first opened the UMass Memorial field hospital last spring at the onset of the virus, but when patient numbers began to dwindle in May, the facility closed. When the state began to see a resurgence in cases, Baker made the decision to reopen the facility in early December.

"This was a blank empty space when we started six, seven weeks ago," said John Broach, an emergency medicine specialist at UMass Memorial Hospital and the field hospital's medical director.

Since reopening, the field hospital has treated nearly 400 patients.

"The second surge has been much worse than the first," Broach told ABC News. "It's long hours, it's not a traditional work environment and everybody's sort of adjusting to that."

Converted from an indoor arena and convention center, the complex has been transformed into a full-fledged hospital operation with respiratory devices, X-ray machines while mobile pharmacies line curtain-drawn patient rooms.

The site was built specifically to safely accommodate the beds, equipment and medical supplies required by COVID-19 patients.

The DCU Center is caring for lower acuity patients to help allow the hospital to focus more on the seriously ill, including those who may require intubation. However, the facility is staffed 24 hours a day, and if a patient's condition worsens, front-line workers can rapidly escalate the patient's care before that person is transferred to the intensive care unit.

"The morale here is high," Broach added. "We're all on the same page that we're really wanting to be here, where we are on the front lines and trying to make a difference in terms of the pandemic."

"I have nothing but nice things to say about the work they have done here," Gadbois said. The first responder, who was on track to be discharged when he spoke with ABC News, admitted that he had not necessarily been taking proper precautions to avoid contracting the virus.

"I didn't like wearing the mask, and of course that's how I got it," he added. "It's definitely a scary experience. Once you get to a certain point and it's hard to breathe -- it's real scary."

John Volungias, 74, echoed Gadbois' sentiments. "It's pretty nasty stuff," he said.

Despite taking precautions, almost all of John's immediate family of nine contracted COVID-19, including his 47-year old daughter who remained hospitalized nearby.

"I don't know how anyone could not take it seriously," Volungias said.

The facility, one of two field hospitals in the state, will remain open for as long as needed.

Kelyn Branscon, a traveling nurse from Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, who is on a local assignment, told ABC News the past several months have been difficult.

"COVID has definitely been very tough," Branscon said. "As nurses, I think we really love what we do. The most important thing to me, personally, is providing the best quality care I can for my patients. Just being able to help someone through their day. Taking care of people is really why we do what we do, so for us it's just kind of another day."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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Halfpoint/iStockBy ERIN SCHUMAKER, ABC News

(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Sky-high COVID-19 positivity rates at schools in Austin, Texas, have local health officials on edge.

In Travis County, where Austin is located, the COVID-19 testing positivity rate is 20.2% at high schools, 27.1% at middle schools, 19.8% at elementary schools and 10% at preschools.

All rates stand far higher than what the World Health Organization recommends, which is to get positivity testing thresholds below 5% for 14 days.

Part of the problem may be that schools in the area are nearly full. "Some of our superintendents reporting that some individual schools are at between 70% and 90% of occupancy," said Dr. Mark Escott, interim medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health.

"This is a recipe for disaster. It's a recipe for outbreaks in our schools," Escott said.

Escott and the Austin Independent School District are urging parents to keep their kids at home if they are able to, according to ABC News Austin affiliate KVUE.

"And in addition to the impact on our children's health, on our teachers and school staff, so is the continuity of education," Escott said. "We are going to quickly see that we are going to run out of teachers in order to provide in-person education."

At the same time, Austin is grappling with increasing hospitalizations and dwindling ICU space.

This week, the state opened the Austin Convention Center as a field hospital for less severe COVID-19 patients who need lower levels of care.

The site, which will have 25 beds, can expand to include more beds if needed, and is meant to "reduce the burden on local hospitals and help ensure that Texans diagnosed with COVID-19 receive the care they need," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement.

Texas surpassed 2 million COVID-19 infections this week, making it the only state other than California to hit that milestone, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There have been 31,277 deaths from the virus in the state since the outbreak began.

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Dean Mitchell/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Flo, a widely used period and fertility-tracking app, has reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations the company shared users' health data it had promised to keep private.

The FTC alleges that Flo disclosed health information as sensitive as a user's pregnancy to third parties -- including Google and Facebook's analytics units, and mobile analytics services AppsFlyer and Flurry -- and did not limit how the third parties could use the health data.

The app had told users that their data would only be used to help provide the app's services to them, according to the FTC.

As part of the settlement, announced Wednesday, Flo Health, the developer of the app, is prohibited from misleading users about its data-handling practices and must obtain an independent review of its privacy practices.

Flo must also "notify affected users about the disclosure of their personal information and instruct any third party that received users' health information to destroy that data," according to the FTC.

"Apps that collect, use, and share sensitive health information can provide valuable services, but consumers need to be able to trust these apps," Andrew Smith, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "We are looking closely at whether developers of health apps are keeping their promises and handling sensitive health information responsibly."

The Flo app is used by more than 100 million consumers, according to the FTC.

In addition to period and ovulation tracking, the app also offers its users health articles and insight, tools to track babies' development and connections with other women around the world, according to its website.

The app says it has 36 million monthly active users.

In its settlement with the FTC, Flo did not admit to any wrongdoing, saying in a statement, "We did not at any time share users' names, addresses, or birthdays with anyone. We do not currently, and will not, share any information about our users' health with any company unless we get their permission."

At Flo our highest priority is protecting our users’ data which is why we have cooperated fully throughout the FTC’s review of our privacy policy and procedures. See our full statement here: https://t.co/CPQadt0iUX

— Flo Period Tracker (@flotracker) January 13, 2021

"We are glad to have reached an agreement with the FTC and resolved the matter," Flo said in the statement. "We will be conducting a compliance review into our policies and procedures as requested as part of the Consent Agreement and providing the FTC with regular updates. We are committed to ensuring that the privacy of our users' personal health data is absolutely paramount."

The FTC shared tips this week for consumers using health apps.

#BREAKING: Developer of popular women’s fertility-tracking app settles FTC allegations that it misled consumers about the disclosure of their health data: https://t.co/zHWZz4Gvwz /1 pic.twitter.com/itHIjjY1aq

— FTC (@FTC) January 13, 2021

#BREAKING: Developer of popular women’s fertility-tracking app settles FTC allegations that it misled consumers about the disclosure of their health data: https://t.co/zHWZz4Gvwz /1 pic.twitter.com/itHIjjY1aq

— FTC (@FTC) January 13, 2021

When using apps like Flo, the FTC recommends users compare options on privacy, make sure the app is up to date and has settings that let you control your health information and know the risks of your personal information "getting into the wrong hands."

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simon2579/iStockBy KAYNA WHITWORTH, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Largely cut off from the rest of the world, people living in the most remote areas of the Last Frontier are getting the COVID-19 vaccine due to the ingenuity and dedication of an all-female team of health care workers.

The team of one pharmacist, one medical doctor and two nurses traveled in one day by plane, sled and snowmobile to deliver the vaccine to people across rural northern Alaska.

At one point in the day, with only a few hours of daylight and in subzero temperatures, the team of women carried the COVID-19 vaccine off an Alaskan "bush plane," and onto a sled attached to a snowmobile.

After arriving by snowmobile at their location, a local villager pulled them the rest of the way to their rural village where elders waited to be vaccinated.

"It was definitely an impactful and powerful moment to realize that we've all braved quite a bit to get there and provide care," one of the female health care workers, Meredith Dean, a 25-year-old resident pharmacist who is originally from Tennessee, told ABC News.

In order to reach elders who are totally immobile and require a home visit, Dr. Katrine Bengaard, who is leading the COVID-19 vaccine distribution from Kotzebue, 33 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and a nurse traveled by snowmobile from each village.

The nurse had to wrap the COVID-19 vaccine in a protective envelope and put it under her coat for the ride because the vaccine would freeze inside the needle in the frigid outdoor air.

"We did the best we could, we had to kind of come up with it in the moment," Bengaard told ABC News.

Bengaard and her nurse safely and successfully inoculated a 92-year-old elder, who told them stories of her parents and the 1918 Spanish flu that decimated native Alaskans.

Together, the four health care workers together traveled hundreds of miles, flying into multiple villages by plane, to deliver 65 vaccinations, a heroic feat in the conditions they faced.

"We made it work and we had a really good time together," said Bengaard. "We were all willing to crawl around trying to get into this tiny little plane. We were all willing to do what we needed to do."

The women said they will keep going out until everyone is vaccinated.

"It's just such an incredible opportunity to work with them," Dean said of her female colleagues.

The massive effort to get the vaccinations to those who need them is asking a lot of health care professionals across the state.

Alaskan state Sen. Donny Olson was vaccinated near his home in rural Golovin and took to Facebook to thank health care workers for their efforts.

"No matter the circumstances, no matter the weather, they are going out there by snow machine, by sled, by boat, by plane, whatever it takes and for their efforts, I am so grateful!" he wrote.

In Homer, Alaska, another group of nurses traveled by sea to distribute the vaccines. While the health care workers often take planes to reach remote villages, the winter weather doesn't always allow it.

Capt. Curt Jackson said he did not realize he was transporting COVID-19 vaccines as he was charting his boat through what he described as a "bumpy ride."

An Alaskan Vaccine Story Thread @annezinkmd This morning conditions on Kachemak Bay prevented planes from flying so I got the honor of bringing our hard working medical staff and the precious blue box containing the best early Christmas present I could ask for... pic.twitter.com/7w78tuVfke

— Captain of Winter Jackson (@captaincurtjack) December 17, 2020

"This woman kind of clutches this blue box a little bit more," he said of the moment he realized he was transporting the vaccine. "All of a sudden the boat starts to take this big 30-degree swing, I mean it's pounding through, so I tried to go as slow as possible."

Jackson described his emotions once the boat landed safely in Seldovia, Alaska.

"I was definitely emotionally choked up feeling like this was a moment where we kind of were starting to do something positive here," he said, adding that when he told the nurses they were his "heroes" and asked to take a photo with them, the nurses replied, "You're our hero."

Tune in to Good Morning America on Friday, Jan. 15, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., EST, to watch a live interview with the all-female team in Alaska.

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Tibrina Hobson/Getty ImagesBy HAYLEY FITZPATRICK, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Jeff Bridges shared an update on his battle with lymphoma.

The Big Lebowski actor, who announced his cancer diagnosis in October, revealed his tumor has "drastically shrunk."

In a post on his website, shared on Wednesday, the 71-year-old said he learned the positive news after he went in for a CT scan on Jan. 6 to evaluate how his "new protocol" is affecting him.

"Turns out, it's working beautifully," he wrote. "The thing has drastically shrunk."

 

Wanted to sing you guys a tune & some other stuff to check out…https://t.co/GcCI5SkF65 pic.twitter.com/ErN9e0KDRl

— Jeff Bridges (@TheJeffBridges) January 14, 2021

 

He also wrote about receiving the news that his tumor shrunk amid the riots at the U.S. Capitol.

"I come home elated with the news. I turn on the TV to find out what’s going in the world, and….well…I don’t have to tell you what’s goin’ on," he wrote. "To see our country attacking itself broke my heart. A question rose in me -- what’s an individual to do in a situation like this? My mentor, Rozzell Sykes, came to mind. His manta was 'Be Love.'"

Bridges has kept his fan base updated throughout his cancer fight. In December, he shared a photo revealing he shaved his head and was "feeling good."

 

Here’s the latest:
• Feeling good
• Shaved my head
• Got a puppy - Monty
• Had a Birthday - 71, man

For more updates, visit: https://t.co/tndalVscvs pic.twitter.com/9ryxhQbPD9

— Jeff Bridges (@TheJeffBridges) December 14, 2020

 

Lymphoma is cancer of the body's lymphatic system, which helps fight germs, according to the Mayo Clinic. Treatment for the disease varies, but may involve chemotherapy, immunotherapy medications, radiation therapy, a bone marrow transplant or some combination thereof.

When he publicly announced his diagnosis last year, he shared, "Although it is a serious disease, I feel fortunate that I have a great team of doctors and the prognosis is good."

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miroslav_1/iStockBy ERIN SCHUMAKER, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in rural America was always something of a question mark.

Rural areas face challenges, especially with distributing the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be kept at extremely low temperatures and doesn't come in orders smaller than 975 doses.

But rural America is not a monolith. Even with those hurdles, West Virginia emerged as an early success story, garnering praise for its smooth rollout, which relied on partnering with independent pharmacies to distribute vaccines, instead of with CVS and Walgreens, and help from the National Guard. West Virginia has now vaccinated 6,177 out of every 100,000 residents, which is among the best per capita vaccination rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Roughly 9.3 million Americans have received a first dose of the vaccine, according to CDC data.

At the other end of the spectrum is Texas, where last week, 40% of rural hospitals in the state still had no access to either COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals (TORCH) found.

"We’re two months into this and you have rural hospitals not receiving their shipment, which is pretty inexcusable," said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association.

That figure shrunk to 10% this week, with 16 of the state's 157 rural hospitals still waiting for doses.

"That number is improving, but to me it's still just tragic that we haven’t gotten doses to all the frontline doctors and nurses," said John Henderson, president of TORCH.

"We’ve been working diligently with TORCH, the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals, and the facilities directly to help them complete that process so they can receive vaccine," the Texas Department of State Health Services said in a statement. "Rural hospitals serve an important role in providing care in their communities, and we will allocate vaccine to them as they enroll."

Overall, Texas has vaccinated 3,373 out of every 100,000 residents, according to the CDC, which positions it near the middle of the pack compared to other states' per capita vaccination rates.

While they waited for the state, some hospitals improvised, getting doses from neighboring clinics or pharmacies, Henderson explained.

"This is a massive project. We aren’t going to do it perfectly. But we should have done better than we have," Henderson said of the state's rollout effort.

"I think when the dust settles there’s going to be enough blame to go around," he added.

While the Moderna vaccine, which was rolled out after Pfizer's, was always going to be a better fit for rural communities, Texas' rural hospitals hit snags in dealing with the state. Some hospitals ordered freezer equipment to store the Pfizer vaccine, but didn't complete the paperwork correctly to prove they had it or were missing signatures on their forms. Others were overlooked for the Pfizer vaccine because of their small staffs.

"No rural hospital has a thousand employees," Henderson said, referring to the approximate number of Pfizer doses included in each order.

Tommy Johnson is the CEO of Crockett Medical Center, a critical access hospital in Texas with about 40 employees who work with COVID-19 patients every day. Johnson and his staff are still waiting for the vaccine.

"We have to protect that work force," he said of his front-line workers. "It we don't, there's no one to take care of the people who are sick."

While a few staff members managed to get vaccinated because they work at more than one hospital, most haven't. And while Crockett's application for Moderna doses is approved, Johnson said he's still waiting to hear when those doses will actually be delivered.

"Hopefully we’ll be in the next release," he said.

The Pfizer vaccine was never a realistic option for Crockett, Texas, a town of 6,500, where the 25-bed hospital only recently reopened after being closed for more than a year.

"That freezer is very expensive," Johnson said. For $10,000 or $12,000 I can buy a lot of vaccines and medication."

Then there's the question of whether staff want the vaccine in the first place. While a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in December found that 35% of rural residents were hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Henderson thinks hesitancy among rural health care workers has diminished as more people see their coworkers getting vaccinated.

In Crockett, Johnson's staff is divided.

"I’d say we’re a 50-50 split. Half are champing at the bit to get one and half are really reserved about getting one," Johnson said.

"As soon as it's available for me I’ll take it," he added.

As hospitals waited on the state for doses, Gov. Greg Abbott was blaming hospitals for the sluggish rollout.

"A significant portion of vaccines distributed across Texas might be sitting on hospital shelves as opposed to being given to vulnerable Texans," Abbott wrote on Twitter in late December. "The state urges vaccine providers to quickly provide all shots."

Abbott's suggestion that hospitals were at fault rankled hospital leaders, Henderson said.

"They were very frustrated when the governor tweeted that vaccine sitting on hospitals shelves," he added. "They're emphatic that they're getting every vaccine into people’s arms within three or four days of receipt."

While it's still early in the distribution process, the successes and failures in getting the vaccine to rural health workers could predict how the general population rollout goes, Morgan explained.

"What we can say so far is that we’ve seen some really good examples of this working out in rural communities and some poor examples," Morgan said.

From Henderson's perspective, the coming weeks represent an additional challenge for Texas.

"I worry that if we as a state don’t catch up or rebalance, there will be rural communities that will be left behind," he said. "And therefore will have more sickness and death."

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ozdigital/iStockBy STEPHANIE EBBS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Public health experts and state officials say most Americans will need to be patient as the available supply of COVID-19 vaccines works to catch up to the demand as states start to make vaccination available to more people.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced several changes to the vaccine rollout meant to speed things up in his last briefing with Operation Warp Speed, including releasing more doses and pushing governors to expand those eligible to include everyone older than 65 and younger adults with medical conditions.

As governors decide whether to follow Azar's recommendation and make significantly more people eligible for the vaccine, they face concerns about whether the supply coming into the state will be able to keep up with the exploding demand.

Mississippi ran out of vaccine appointments on Wednesday, a day after expanding eligibility to include people 65 and older and people with pre-existing medical conditions. The department of health said it significantly altered the state's distribution plan and it saw a "monumental surge" in demand. All the state's expected vaccine doses are now committed until an expected shipment in mid-February, according to a statement.

New Jersey announced Wednesday that individuals ages 16 to 64 with medical conditions that increase their risk of severe illness from COVID-19 are eligible for the vaccine -- including smokers, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list of qualifying medical conditions. The groups now eligible are in addition to millions of residents already in line, including people over the age of 65, first responders and health care workers. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said there's an enormous imbalance between supply and demand, but he thinks it will balance out over the next six to eight weeks.

And in Arkansas, the state is set to expand vaccination to include people 70 and older, teachers and day care workers, which Secretary of Health Jose Romero said was decided before Tuesday's announcement. The state does not plan to include adults younger than 65 with health conditions, though he said that could change in a matter of weeks.

"One of the issues now is that because you've opened it up so wide, you know, we hope that there really will be, at least I hope, that there really will be a vaccine available for us," he told ABC News.

CDC Director Robert Redfield told governors this week they should try to use 85% to 90% of their available doses to help reduce the number of people being hospitalized for COVID-19.

And public health experts like Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of public health at Brown University, said it was a good move from the administration to start releasing doses held back to ensure that everybody gets their second dose to respond to the urgency of the surge in the country right now.

"We're holding way too many doses back, we're in a crisis and what people are saying, let's get those doses out to people, the production system is working. We'll get second doses to everybody as quickly as possible," Jha said on ABC News' Good Morning America.

But even as the federal government works to release more doses in the final week of the Trump administration, experts say it will take time to catch up with demand from more populous groups being added to the list of people eligible for the vaccines.

Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, said that despite public frustration about the seemingly slow pace, much of the vaccine rollout has gone according to plan and that big changes could add more challenges to the process.

"You're creating eight days of chaos, anxiety and confusion. And it's disappointing," she told ABC News.

Hannan said making the vaccine available to older Americans as soon as possible makes sense in part because it's easy to prioritize people by age. But she said including the younger adults with medical conditions is not feasible at this stage because the amount of vaccines available won't dramatically increase to keep up with demand.

"That's a really large group, and it's really difficult to prioritize that group, certainly not as easy as age. So that's really taking states and governors out of one difficult position and putting them into another difficult position," she said.

Romero is also chair of the CDC advisory committee that recommended which states should prioritize in the early phases of vaccine distribution. He said he doesn't know why the federal government decided to deviate from the stages they discussed because many states were already expanding the groups of people being vaccinated.

"The recommendations for the phases was never intended to be a bottleneck for the diffusion of a vaccine into the public. It was a guide to identify the highest risk individual, and where you would get the maximum benefit with minimal harm," he told ABC.

And Romero said state officials now face the added challenge of how to vaccinate more Americans while not neglecting front-line workers and other priority groups vulnerable to the virus who may be more difficult to reach, like workers in meatpacking plants in Arkansas.

"I do not think that the secretaries of health or chief medical officers for the states have abandoned those essential groups. They're still on our radar," he said.

Romero said he's concerned about plans to change the way vaccine doses are allocated to states to direct more doses to those administering the vaccine more quickly and with a larger population of people 65 and older. He said he already contacted the CDC earlier this week to correct the vaccination rate for Arkansas because the agency had the incorrect data file.

Hannan said she's concerned about a push to provide more doses of the vaccine to locations other than hospitals, which Azar blamed for being too centralized and delaying more vaccinations or holding on to doses. She said spreading a limited supply across more sites could create confusion or frustration if fewer doses are available at each location.

"So the question is whether we want to try to spread limited supplies of vaccine across a bunch of providers, or whether we want to give it out in clinics that can consistently vaccinate throughout over time. And, you know, to set up a system where, you know, we can prioritize seniors to make appointments for the vaccine," she said.

Azar said he wants to move up the timeline for local and national chain pharmacies to start vaccinating the public through an agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services. Representatives from CVS and Walgreens said that at this point, any vaccine they receive and who is eligible to receive them is being determined at the state and local level, but a CVS spokesperson said they would receive doses directly from the federal government when the partnership is activated.

Both CVS and Walgreens will use appointments managed through their websites or a 1-800 number -- the COVID-19 vaccine will not be available through walk-ins like a yearly flu shot. Local health departments will provide information on when the COVID-19 vaccines will be available to eligible groups at pharmacies in their area.

Even in states that have already started to expand vaccinations to more of the population, officials have had to send the difficult message that not everyone will be able to get vaccinated right away.

Florida made the vaccine available to people over 65 at the beginning of the year, leading to reports of long lines and older Americans waiting outside clinics early in the morning. As the state expands vaccinations to include businesses like Publix, Gov. Ron DeSantis urged people to be patient. He said it would be easier to get an appointment as more people get vaccinated.

"This thing is like the new iPhone times 10 in demand. The servers melt, when we do phones, the phones line melt," he said, adding that companies like Publix are able to manage appointments booked on their website more efficiently.

"As new vaccines, as they get the next shipment scheduled, they're going to schedule you for that. And if you didn't get a chance this week, you'll get a chance next week. It's going to happen," he said at a press conference on Wednesday. "We have way more demand than we have supply but this is going to happen and so just hang in there."

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kcline/iStockBy GMA TEAM, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The past year of the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that health is more important than ever, and that how we take care of our bodies goes beyond just weight loss and superficial reasons.

Eating well not only helps with sleep, stress and energy, but it can also help to reduce chronic inflammation in the body, according to Andy Mathis, a registered dietitian and the founder of Beautiful Eats and Things, a website devoted to healthy eating.

Inflammation is the body's way of protecting itself from illness, infection and injury, but too much, or long-term, inflammation can lead to diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Mathis recommended five foods to add to your diet to help reduce inflammation in the body:

1. Berries, including strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, contain flavonoids and many antioxidants that may help to reduce your risk of chronic disease, according to Mathis.

2. Broccoli is extremely nutritious and it has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, according to Mathis.

3. Fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel and sardines, contain EPA and DHA, which help reduce inflammation that might prevent development of some chronic diseases, according to Mathis.

4. Peppers, such as bell peppers and chili peppers, contain many types of antioxidants that have extremely powerful anti-inflammatory effects, according to Mathis.

5. Turmeric is a popular spice that has the antioxidant curcumin, which has been shown to reduce inflammation, according to Mathis.

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MarsBars/iStockBy SONY SALZMAN, VICTOR ORDONEZ and BOB WOODRUFF, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- With a growing number of Americans now eligible for the COVID-19 shot, many are experiencing long lines, broken websites and confusion about signing up.

The Trump administration recently urged states to start vaccinating adults older than 65, and also announced it will release all doses to the states rather than its prior strategy of reserving the second dose. The idea is that by the time people need that second dose, there will be more manufactured and already in stock.

The goal: to address the slower-than-expected rollout. So far, nearly 30 million doses have been sent to the states, but only 10 million of those first shots have been injected.

“It’s devastating. We have the greatest scientific achievement of our lifetimes in the development of this vaccine. And now all of a sudden, you know, we can't get it to people,” said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and ABC News medical contributor.

Some public health experts say the decision to release more doses will help get more vaccines out into America’s cities and towns.

“This is a good move on Secretary Azar's part,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. “I think he's responding to the Biden team, which last week said they were going to start releasing more vaccines. You know, we're holding way too many doses back.”

But other experts caution supply isn’t really the problem.

“I don't think flooding the market with a lot more vaccine is necessarily going to solve some of these problems,” said Brownstein.

Instead, Brownstein and others say the bottleneck is at the clinics, pharmacies and local health departments -- which are often understaffed and potentially underfunded -- that have been asked to embark on the nation’s largest-ever vaccination campaign.

“When you have hundreds and thousands of patients trying to get in queue and register and ensure that you have enough supply, you really hit a bottleneck,” said Danny Sanchez, vice president and general manager of Omnicell EnlivenHealth.

“It’s really the lack of information that is the primary pain point that we see across our care centers,” said Hari Prasad, CEO of Yosi Health. “In addition to that, people not knowing how to schedule or where to go to book their appointments, what information they need to carry with them. Those all add to the pain points as well, which is why we see lines that are sometimes four hours, eight hours long.”

Now, tech companies like Prasad’s Yosi Health and Sanchez’ Enliven Health are stepping in to try to help local health departments, hospitals and pharmacies try to cope with massive demand for these vaccines. But even these tech company executives admit that an online approach to booking appointments will be challenging for the nation’s elderly, or people with limited computer access.

“It's hard to imagine my 95-year-old grandmother getting on a website trying to find a link,” said Sanchez.

Throughout the early vaccine rollout, even companies that were never designed to help manage a national vaccination campaign have been stepping in to help people book and manage their appointments.

“Social tools, especially the looking at appointment arenas … like Eventbrite or Survey Monkey or companies like Google and Apple - they are all prioritizing vaccine uptake as one of their real sort of corporate efforts,” Brownstein said.

The problem now, experts say, is that there’s not one centralized tool. Instead, people hoping to get a vaccine are left navigating dozens of different websites, many of which don’t have any available appointment slots, leaving some people sitting in front of their computers, refreshing their browsers.

But for those trying to navigate the process, tech experts interviewed by ABC News recommended a few simple steps.

First, ensure you can get online. If you don’t have the internet or have trouble navigating, find a friend or relative who can help -- or call your primary care provider for guidance.

Once online, your first stop is your local public health department website. There, you should be able to see if you are eligible for the vaccine. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has nationwide recommendations for who is eligible, each state and county makes its own determination.

By visiting your city’s local public health department website, you should be able to learn whether you are eligible right now, or if you might have to wait a few weeks.

The next step is booking an appointment, which might be possible by following links on your health department’s website. But you also might have to more extensive research to find a doctor's office, website, or hotline that will help you secure that slot.

And once you manage to secure an appointment, be prepared for a possible wait.

Public health specialists said it will likely soon get easier to make those appointments, thanks to a growing number of mass vaccination centers and the delivery of more doses every day.

And technology will improve, with better features and new, centralized clearinghouses.

“We run a platform called Vaccine Finder,” said Brownstein, “which is a government resource at the federal level that will go live in the coming weeks to allow people to figure out where they can go to get back into their communities."

And Sanchez says his company hopes to soon prompt people when it’s their turn to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the incoming Biden administration has promised 100 million injections in the first 100 days in office.

“I think that there is intention to help clean up this mess in the next several weeks. And so, I would say if any of you have the ability to hang tight, try to keep doing the basic non-pharmaceutical interventions, I think we're going to see in the coming weeks, months a real change in the way that we're getting vaccines out to people,” Brownstein said.

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Paolo_Toffanin/iStockBy DR. NANCY A ANORUO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- E-cigarettes have long been touted by manufacturers as a safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes, but new research adds a dangerous twist, finding e-cigarette use can increase the risk of becoming a daily tobacco cigarette smoker.

In a four-year study published in the journal Pediatrics
, researchers at the University of San Diego found trying an e-cigarette before age 18 more than tripled the chances of becoming a daily tobacco cigarette smoker, from 3% to 10%. The study’s authors concluded rapid growth in youth e-cigarette use will lead to increased daily cigarette smoking in U.S. young adults.

The researchers further noted “the recent large increase in [youth] e-cigarette use will likely reverse the decline in cigarette smoking among USA young adults."

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said the FDA's and CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey noted youth e-cigarette use jumped from less than 5% to 30% between 2013 and 2019 -- a rise he called “incredibly rapid."

Secretary Azar said the rise, as well as evidence youth were drawn to particular e-cigarette flavors, were the onus for the FDA's 2019 priority enforcement of illegal kid-friendly e-cigarette flavor marketing.

The concerning association between e-cigarettes and increased tobacco cigarette use is not limited to youths. Multiple peer-reviewed studies have shown similar findings in adults, calling into question the idea e-cigarettes are an ideal substitute for traditional smoking.

As manufacturers continue marketing e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes, that safety remains heavily debated. This study added to the growing knowledge on e-cig safety and found a hidden danger: E-cigs may lead to cigarette addiction.

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Rallef/iStockBy GMA Team, ABC News

(ATLANTA) -- An Atlanta couple is inspiring others after losing nearly 200 pounds together.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Camille and Marlon Jones were struggling to get in shape.

“We were in denial for a very long time about how far we let ourselves go,” said Camille, who weighed 205 pounds one year ago.

It wasn’t until Marlon’s physical exam, which revealed that he was pre-diabetic and experiencing sleep apnea, that the couple realized that it was time to make a change.

They decided the best way to get fit would be to do it together.

“We’ve realized that working together as a team is going to be our biggest thing,” said Marlon, who weighed more than 470 pounds at the time.

Camille took over the nutrition side of their weight loss journey and Marlon took charge of the workouts.

By incorporating healthy foods into their diet and making the weight loss process fun with different workouts, the couple started to see visible changes, and even discovered a new love for running.

“We knew we wanted to start running, but we had no idea where to go,” Marlon said. “So we did our first run in a business parking lot. We ran for 2.3 miles around and around the parking lot.”

Camille also got creative in the kitchen, transforming some of their favorite meals by putting a healthy twist on them.

For Marlon’s personal favorite food, nachos, Camille found a way to make the dish healthier by using low-carb tortillas and ground turkey and chicken chorizo instead of fatty meats.

The Joneses credit each other for staying on track to reach their health goals. Since starting their weight loss journey, Camille has lost 40 pounds and Marlon has lost nearly 150 pounds.

Their biggest advice for others this year who are looking to focus on their health is to not doubt yourself.

“Try it before you say you can’t do it,” Camille said. “And most of the time, you’ll find out you can.”

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Aamulya/iStockBy GMA Team, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The past nearly one year of the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that health is more important now than ever, and that how we take care of our bodies goes beyond just weight loss and superficial reasons.

Eating well not only helps with sleep, stress and energy, but the foods you add to your diet can also help improve your mental health, according to Samar Kullab, a Chicago-based registered dietitian who shares healthy eating advice on TikTok.

"It’s important to understand that the foods we’re eating can directly affect our brain health by altering the brain proteins and enzymes in order to increase neural transmitters, which is the connections between the brain cells," Kullab told ABC News' Good Morning America. "Some foods can raise serotonin levels through various enzymes which can improve our mood. They also can decrease inflammation, which is known to affect both cognition and mood."

Here are five tips from Kullab on foods to add and foods to avoid to help give a boost to your mental health:

1. Add Vitamin D which helps with the production of serotonin, the key hormone that enables cells to communicate with each other and stabilizes mood, feelings and happiness, according to Kullab.

Find it in salmon, sardines, egg yolk, fortified foods (i.e. cows' milk, soy milk and oatmeal), tuna and mushrooms.

2. Add magnesium, a mineral that is crucial to the body's function, and is associated with anxiety and depression if it is deficient in the body, according to Kullab.

Find it in avocadoes, almonds, cashews, bananas, leafy greens, flax, chia and pumpkin seeds, legumes and fatty fish.

3. Add probiotics, which help increase good bacteria in the gut, also known as the "second mind," according to Kullab.

Find them in yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso and tempeh.

4. Limit foods that cause inflammation like processed foods, fried foods, soda, pastries, white flour, refined cereals, pastries and candy, as there is a link between inflammation and anxiety and depression in the brain.

5. Make your meals balanced with a mix of complex carbohydrates (like whole grain breads, quinoa, beans, oatmeal and starchy vegetables), lean proteins (like chicken, fish, eggs, meat, soybeans and nuts), healthy fats (like avocadoes, whole eggs, fatty fish, nuts, chia seeds and extra-virgin olive oil) and fruits and vegetables.

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