Michaeleen Doucleff

A few weeks ago, South Africa was in an enviable state. After several massive COVID-19 surges, including one fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, the country's daily cases had plummeted and were in a lull.

Each week, we answer frequently asked questions about life during the coronavirus crisis. If you have a question you'd like us to consider for a future post, email us at goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject line: "Weekly Coronavirus Questions." See an archive of our FAQs here.

Scientists have evidence that SARS-CoV-2 spreads explosively in white-tailed deer and that the virus is widespread in this deer population across the United States.

Researchers say the findings are quite concerning and could have vast implications for the long-term course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19, first emerged, there have been several signs that white-tailed deer would be highly susceptible to the virus — and that many of these animals were catching it across the country.

Early in 2017, a team of medical personnel, including doctors, nurses and volunteers, returned home to Florida after volunteering at a clinic in Haiti. Soon after their return, 20 members of the team began to feel a bit under the weather.

"They had a slight fever and didn't feel 100% right," says virologist John Lednicky at the University of Florida. "But they weren't very sick."

Back in the 1980s, scientists in the U.K. performed an experiment that — at first glance — sounds unethical. "Volunteers came into the lab, and someone squirted virus up their nose," says computational biologist Jennie Lavine.

The researchers took a liquid packed with coronavirus particles and intentionally tried to make 15 volunteers sick.

Oh no. Not again.

Just when COVID surge in the U.S. has begun to decline, another coronavirus variant has immediately cropped up. This time in the U.K.

Known in the media as "delta-plus," this mutant is raising some concern because over the past few weeks, it's begun to spread in several parts of Britain. It now accounts for about 6% of all cases in the U.K.

Last week, a panel of scientists and doctors met to discuss the Pfizer booster vaccine. Specifically, the goal was to advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about who needs a third shot.

The agency ultimately recommended anyone age 65 and over should get one as well as people who live in long-term care facilities or people ages 50 to 64, who have underlying health conditions.

But several panelists felt there was a more urgent matter at hand than Pfizer boosters.

For the past several weeks, Dr. Boghuma Titanji has been swamped with questions about COVID-19 vaccine boosters. Even the experts seem confused, she says.

"I'm even getting questions from my colleagues, who are doctors, asking me, 'What should I do?' " says the infectious disease specialist at Emory University.

Some scientists have called it "superhuman immunity" or "bulletproof." But immunologist Shane Crotty prefers "hybrid immunity."

"Overall, hybrid immunity to SARS-CoV-2 appears to be impressively potent," Crotty wrote in commentary in Science back in June.

No matter what you call it, this type of immunity offers much-needed good news in what seems like an endless array of bad news regarding COVID-19.

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All around the world, there seem to be signs that immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19, doesn't last very long after you're vaccinated.

Israel is now having one of the world's worst COVID-19 surges about five months after vaccinating a majority of its population. And in the U.S., health officials are recommending a booster shot eight months after the original vaccine course.

Admitting this makes me feel like a bad mom, but it's the truth: I don't enjoy "kid-friendly" places. At birthday parties, zoos and play areas, I'm either completely bored or utterly overstimulated. The noise, the lights, the chaos! After an hour or two, I'd leave, say, the children's science museum exhausted, on edge and feeling like a small piece of my soul had died back at the snack bar after spending $10 on a slice of cheese pizza.

In a leaked report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a surprising claim about the delta variant of the coronavirus: It "is as transmissible as: - Chicken Pox," the agency wrote in a slideshow presentation leaked to The Washington Post on July 26.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Back in May, a group of scientists — many at the top of the virology field — shifted the debate about the origins of COVID-19. They published a letter in the journal Science saying the lab-leak theory needs to be taken more seriously by the scientific community.

Updated July 21, 2021 at 5:50 PM ET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The world is very worried about coronavirus variants.

Updated May 14, 2021 at 4:34 PM ET

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

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

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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