Yuki Noguchi

Caswell County, where William Crumpton works, runs along the northern edge of North Carolina and is a rural landscape of mostly former tobacco farms and the occasional fast-food restaurant.

"There are wide areas where cellphone signals are just nonexistent," Crumpton says. "Things like satellite radio are even a challenge."

Struggle is nothing new to Foxx Whitford.

He grew up desperately poor in Fairfield, Calif., losing a beloved brother to epilepsy and getting evicted from his home as a child. As a teenager, he joined the Marines to help put himself through college and he completed a harrowing tour in Afghanistan. All of that hardship, he says, prepared him for one of his biggest life challenges: getting into and through nursing school during a pandemic.

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New Yorker Charlie Freyre's sinuses had been bothering him for weeks last winter, during a COVID-19 surge in the city. It was before vaccines became widely available.

"I was just trying to stay in my apartment as much as possible," Freyre says, so checking in with his doctor via an online appointment "just seemed like a more convenient option. And you know, it was very straightforward and very easy."

The desperate and frantic pace of hospital work in 2020 in New York, the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic at the time, was more chaotic than anything intensive care nurse Matthew Crecelius had ever seen. "It was like watching a bomb go off in slow motion," he says.

It is official: The pandemic's effect on America's waistline has been rough.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed 16 states now have obesity rates of 35% or higher. That's an increase of four states — Delaware, Iowa, Ohio and Texas — in just a year.

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As she does ahead of every school year, Karen Schwind and the team of school nurses she manages in the New Braunfels Independent School District in central Texas spent a lot of time checking every student's immunization records against the state's database.

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When a promising new drug to treat obesity was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale in the U.S. last month, it was the first such treatment to gain approval since 2014.

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By kindergarten, Kayla Northam's body had become a battleground. She and her mother fought daily over what she should eat and how much.

It was a message reinforced by her pediatrician: "He'd be telling us, 'She's overweight. You've got to get her to diet,' " Northam recalls from age 5 or 6. "I remember these conversations. But I was just always hungry. It was just never enough."

Marcus Robinson wanted to follow the older brother he idolizes into military life. He also needed the Army benefits to help pay for college. "I had to do it because I didn't want my parents to worry about paying for school," the 18-year-old says.

But last year — midway through his senior year of high school — Robinson tipped the scales at 240 pounds, making him too heavy to qualify under the U.S. Army's fitness standards.

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Barber shop owner Angela Miller always hears about clients' family dysfunctions and financial struggles, but that's especially been the case during the pandemic.

"You hear everything," she says. Lost jobs. Lost family. She says she can very much relate.

"My business had to shut down for about four months, and I wasn't really financially prepared for that," says Miller, who says she normally pays bills ahead of time.

Frankie Shaw had diabetes by age 22, had a stroke at 35, and for the past five years has been on dialysis. It's a a grueling treatment regimen that requires either multiple visits to a clinic each week or hours a day, multiple days a week on a home machine.

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.

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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.

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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.

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COVID infections are spreading really fast in college towns. So if you have a kid who's coming home for the holidays, how do you keep yourself safe? NPR's Yuki Noguchi has been talking to epidemiologists about how to minimize risk.

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.

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