Yuki Noguchi

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The pandemic-bubble versions of the NCAA basketball tournament kick off this week. Men's teams are in Indianapolis, while women's teams are in San Antonio.

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Players and coaches have been posting photos of their new tournament homes to social media, and for some, looking closely, it's become clear that the men's facilities are much nicer.

For many years, Jessica Duenas led what she calls a double life. She was the first in her immigrant family to go to college. In 2019, she won Kentucky's Teacher of the Year award. That same year, Duenas typically downed nearly a liter of liquor every night.

By the time she was 34, she was diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, a serious inflammation of her liver that doctors warned could could soon lead to irreversible scarring and even death if she didn't didn't stop drinking, and quickly.

Updated at 2:12 p.m. ET

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, left his home on Saturday to receive his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and promote vaccination against the coronavirus, in what was his first public appearance in over a year.

The 85-year-old scrapped plans to receive the injection at home, opting instead to travel to a clinic in Dharamsala, India, where he's lived since fleeing China after a failed uprising in 1959.

Early in the pandemic, San Diego County recognized its COVID-19 relief efforts needed to reach its large Latino population, and set up a task force in June to lay out plans — well ahead of when vaccines became available.

Peter Sulewski spent nearly four years roving through Baltimore's homeless shelters and saw the toll it takes on health — even without the added threat of COVID-19.

The cold snap late last year hit El Paso at the exact wrong time; new COVID-19 patients were streaming into hospitals, many needing high flows of oxygen to breathe. That abrupt, massive draw on the gas created myriad problems: It froze the hospital's pipes and the vaporizers on oxygen tanks, restricting the flow by as much as 70%.

So local companies built pop-up tents with new oxygen pipes in hospital parking lots. That wasn't the only hurdle; tubes, flow meters, nasal cannulas and portable cylinders needed to make the gas breathable were also in short supply.

A year ago, hundreds of desperate consumers were emailing Mike Bowen's Texas medical supply factory every day, looking to buy N95 medical respirator masks that can filter viruses: "Scared Americans and moms and old people and people saying, 'Help me,' " Bowen recalls.

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

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When police killed George Floyd outside a Minneapolis corner store, it reminded the world that racism can become lethal. But just a few miles away, on the north side of the city, racial inequality plays out in a more ordinary yet still harmful way: A lack of fresh food.

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

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Sandy Kretschmer imagines her son Henry returning home from college, dropping his bags and then giving her a big hug. But she knows the reality of this homecoming may be a lot different.

"I'll probably have a mask on, and he'll have a mask on when I hug him," she says.

Henry plans to take a COVID-19 test a few days before he leaves Iowa State University where he's a junior, and he'll self-quarantine until he heads home to Chicago.

North Minneapolis, one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in Minnesota, was already dealing with high coronavirus infection and death rates when George Floyd was killed by police outside a corner store just 3 miles away.

Cynthia Maclin cannot get out of bed most days.

Chronic lung disease leaves her short of breath and ended her 45-year career as a medical administrator. COVID-19 cases are on the rise in her hometown of Chicago, and Maclin has already lost eight friends and family members to the virus, including the father of her two daughters. For the first time, this month, she's also unable to pay rent.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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For most of her 34 years, Stephanie Parker didn't recognize she had an eating disorder.

At age 6, she recalls, she stopped eating and drinking at school — behavior that won her mother's praise. "It could have started sooner; I just don't have the memory," says Parker. In middle school, she ate abnormally large quantities, then starved herself again in the years after.

There are already federal and state laws on the books requiring insurance companies to cover mental health treatments, just as it does medical treatments and procedures such as chemotherapy or a cesarean section.

Alexea Gaffney battles health issues every day on multiple fronts. As an infectious disease doctor in Stony Brook, N.Y., she treats patients who have COVID-19. And two years ago, at age 37, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.

As a result, the physician and single mom, who is also home-schooling her 8-year-old daughter these days, is still under medical treatment for the cancer. And that makes her more vulnerable to the virus.

Blake Blackmon and his fiancée, Jessica Cournoyer, recently welcomed their second child, a cherubic-cheeked good sleeper name Beau. He entered the world last month after a quick labor, arriving almost before nurses were ready.

"As soon as the first push happened, she said, "No, no, no, stop, stop, stop! Baby's already crowning," Blackmon recalls a nurse telling Cournoyer. A team of nurses rushed in.

Audrey just turned 18 and relishes crossing into adulthood: She voted for the first time this year, graduated high school and is college-bound next month. The honors student typically wakes up "a bundle of nerves," she says, which had fueled her work volunteering, playing varsity sports and leading student government.

But for years, she also struggled with anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder — all of which drove her to work harder.

Two decades of life experience made a mental-health activist of Kai Koerber. When he was 16 and a student at a Parkland, Fla., high school, a gunman killed 17 people, including one his friends.

"I really did suffer a domestic terrorist attack, and that's not something that happens to you every day," Koerber says.

Fewer patients in recent months have been showing up for drug and alcohol treatment at REACH Health Services in Baltimore. But Dr. Yngvild Olsen, the medical director there, suspects it's not for good reasons: Some have likely relapsed or delayed drug and alcohol addiction treatment, while others likely fear infection and have stayed home.

During lockdown, Kiesha Preston has heard from many people facing physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse that the violence against them is escalating without reprieve.

Last June, days after her 40th birthday, Silver felt a lump in her left breast that turned out to be a tumor that had spread to her lung and liver.

For eight months, she underwent chemotherapy that reduced the masses to operable size. But last month, Silver's oncologist explained a mastectomy would also require an additional procedure to take skin off her back, known as a "flap" to cover the wound.

As the country went into quarantine in March, many of Joseph DeSanto's opioid-addicted patients in Orange County, Calif., told him their supply was drying up because drug dealers in the area were worried about a border shutdown and were retreating to their hometowns in Mexico.

"So we lost a lot of our larger dealers that supplied the smaller dealers," says DeSanto, an addiction specialist.

Mental health specialists are working now to bolster the resilience of Americans who are suffering from feelings of despair — in hopes of preventing increases in suicides among people who are under increased pressure during the coronavirus pandemic.

Time is of the essence, public health researchers say. Experience with past natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, shows that a rise in suicide often happens in the months after the immediate physical dangers of the disaster have passed.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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"Let's see – it's not that bad; 37 degrees," Candace Grenier says, reading the thermometer outside a window of her Anchorage home.

When the temperature gets above freezing, it's a good day. Not just because it feels better, but it's also good for the electric bill and because Grenier can no longer justify paying $50 to $70 to get her driveway plowed.

The dental practice where she has worked for two decades shut down in mid-March, just before her son, Ryeder, also lost his job at an auto body shop.

Normally, Laura Mayer helps the most acutely suicidal callers find the nearest hospital emergency room. But in a pandemic, that has become a crisis counselor's advice of last resort.

"It's a difficult decision because we do know that by sending them into an overburdened health care system, they may or may not get the treatment that they need," says Mayer, who is director of PRS CrisisLink in Oakton, Va., which also takes calls for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. "The resources may or may not be there, and we're exposing them to the illness."

DJ Haddad's virtual beer pong event for employees is the stuff of legend, drawing in 50 of his employees and lasting an epic seven hours.

Keeping up employee morale during a worldwide pandemic is a challenge, he says. Haddad is keenly aware of that as CEO of Haddad & Partners, an advertising company in Fairfield, Conn. "Everybody's on edge, like, 'Are our clients going to start slowing down or are they going to start pulling projects?' "

Dyan Navejar supports eight people on a weekly wage of $480. She's the only one in her family who's still able to work.

That's because she can do it from home, answering customer calls as a call center operator in Lexington, Ky. Her husband lost his job as a dishwasher at a restaurant.

Navejar's pay isn't nearly enough to both make rent and also feed five children and one grandchild, all living in one house. So they sometimes eat variations of the same things, like hot dogs, to try to conserve their cash.

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