Selena Simmons-Duffin

When Yariel turned five in November, he had a pandemic birthday party, like most school-aged kids these days. It was a karaoke party at home with family and one neighbor, and a cake decorated with Roblox action figures.

"It was a Dominican cake," his mom Yaritza Martinez explains — a layer cake covered in meringue icing. She also put up balloons and silver streamers and a big Roblox banner.

A new statewide mask mandate in California took effect Wednesday. At a moment when health authorities are warning of the fast spread of the highly infectious omicron variant, states with mask mandates — just nine according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — are outliers.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's Dr. Francis Collins' last few weeks as director of the National Institutes of Health after 12 years, serving under three presidents.

Collins made his name doing the kind of biomedical research NIH is famous for, especially running The Human Genome Project, which fully sequenced the human genetic code. The focus on biomedicine and cures has helped him grow the agency's budget to over $40 billion a year and win allies in both political parties.

With the first case of omicron confirmed in California and more cases expected across the U.S., public health officials who know the difference between good and bad crisis communication say they can't afford to be quiet and wait

COVID-19 shots for kids are on their way, but Dr. Ibukunoluwa Kalu, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Duke University, says that some parents she has talked with aren't sure how they feel about that.

If you're buying health insurance outside a job-based plan, you're in luck this fall.

Updated October 29, 2021 at 6:10 PM ET

Updated Nov. 2, 8:10 p.m. ET

Children as young as 5 will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. within the next several days.

While some parents aren't sure how they feel about this, others are waiting eagerly for a chance to protect their children from COVID-19.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

For older people and people with disabilities, solving everyday practical problems can be the difference between being able to live at home or being forced to move to an institution. Sometimes people need help getting dressed or making meals. Sometimes they need help managing medications or shopping for groceries.

Erica Cuellar's dad wasn't worried, even if she was.

It was still the early days of the coronavirus pandemic — March 2020 — and Cuellar and her husband were becoming anxious about whether they could afford the $1,200 rent for their house in Houston. She'd lost her job as a home health aide for a boy with autism, and the news made it sound like most businesses were about to shut down, which would likely mean her husband would be getting fewer hours at the pipe yard where he works — or maybe even be laid off.

Americans have fallen way behind.

The rent's overdue and evictions are looming. Two-thirds of parents say their kids have fallen behind in school. And one in five households say someone in the home has been unable to get medical care for a serious condition.

These are some of the main takeaways from a new national poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

If you have a baby at home or are expecting one in the next few months, you might be on edge for all sorts of reasons, but particularly because of COVID-19. The delta variant of the coronavirus has turned nearly every community in the country into a bright red hot spot of viral infection. Babies can't get vaccinated against COVID-19 yet — and the youngest age included in current vaccine clinical studies is 6 months old.

Updated September 3, 2021 at 3:14 PM ET

The Texas abortion law that went into effect this week reads: "A physician may not knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child."

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