Rebecca Hersher

Rebecca Hersher is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.

Hersher was part of the NPR team that won a Peabody award for coverage of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and produced a story from Liberia that won an Edward R. Murrow award for use of sound. She was a finalist for the 2017 Daniel Schorr prize; a 2017 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting fellow, reporting on sanitation in Haiti; and a 2015 NPR Above the Fray fellow, investigating the causes of the suicide epidemic in Greenland.

Prior to working at NPR, Hersher reported on biomedical research and pharmaceutical news for Nature Medicine.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 2020 will be an above-average hurricane season, with six to 10 hurricanes. NOAA expects three to six to be Category 3 or higher, with sustained wind speeds above 110 miles per hour.

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With traffic dramatically down in recent months, the United States is in the middle of an accidental experiment showing what happens to air pollution when millions of people stop driving.

Unprecedented job losses and furloughs have pushed millions of Americans to the brink of eviction during the coronavirus pandemic, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the White House have failed to fund a legal assistance program that is routinely available to disaster survivors.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Multiple cities have started door-to-door coronavirus screenings and testing in an effort to identify those who are infected and help severely ill people get treated.

It's a small part of a larger effort to test more Americans for coronavirus in order to get a handle on how widely it has spread and prevent another wave of infections as some parts of the economy slowly reopen.

The number of people breathing unhealthy air in the United States is increasing despite decades of declines in the overall amount of air pollution being released, and climate change is a major cause.

The number of patients being treated at overflow hospitals in New York City has more than doubled in the last two days, the Department of Defense says.

On Thursday, military doctors and nurses were treating 189 patients at the overflow hospital at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, including 15 patients who are being treated in an intensive care unit inside the facility. The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort currently has 53 patients, including 10 who are critically ill with COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the two facilities had fewer than 100 patients combined.

"An ICU. What is it?" asks Dr. Robert Foronjy. It's late afternoon. He's in his office at University Hospital Brooklyn.

"It's people," he says. "You think of an ICU, maybe you think four walls, some beds. But really it's people."

The USNS Comfort hospital ship and an emergency hospital at the Javits Center are meant to be relief valves for hospitals in New York City, where more than 14,000 people have been hospitalized for COVID-19. But the facilities have been largely empty, leading officials to try to streamline their operations.

Now, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is hoping the Comfort can join the Javits Center on the front line of the fight against the coronavirus.

Medical rationing is not something Americans are accustomed to, but COVID-19 may soon change that.

The specter of rationing is most imminent in New York City, where the virus is spreading rapidly and overwhelming hospitals with patients.

According to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state has 2,200 ventilators in its state stockpile. Current COVID-19 case projections suggest the state may not have enough of the machines, which help critically ill people breathe, as soon as next week.

Some New York City hospitals are still unable to perform reliable on-site coronavirus testing for patients and staff who show symptoms of COVID-19 and must instead wait days for results from outside laboratories, even as the city's hospital beds fill up with seriously ill people.

New York City hospitals are struggling to make sure they have enough staff, beds and protective equipment to treat a relentless and growing stream of COVID-19 patients. Providing effective, efficient care to people who are seriously ill requires hospitals to rapidly test people who appear to have the viral disease.

But even with New York's statewide effort to procure and distribute coronavirus testing supplies to hospitals, some medical centers say they still don't have what they need to test patients on-site. That includes one major hospital in Brooklyn.

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

Spring begins today in America. Good.

Perhaps you are mildly surprised to learn that March 19 is the first day of spring. Perhaps you learned as a child that the spring equinox — when day and night are roughly the same length — occurs on either March 20 or March 21.

Opening arguments ended Monday in Texas in the highest profile criminal case ever brought against a company and its employees for allegedly failing to adequately prepare for the effects of climate change.

The company, Arkema, owns a chemical plant outside Houston that flooded when Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 5 feet of rain on the area in 2017. The rising water knocked out power to the plant and caused volatile chemicals stored there to heat up and eventually catch fire. Burning containers and trailers sent up a column of black smoke above the facility for days.

Everyone who lived through Black Saturday remembers the heat and the wind that day in February 2009. The temperature soared to 115 degrees Fahrenheit — so hot it sucked the breath out of you, made your vision swim and your fingers swell. The wind blew in from the northwest, from the vast, arid Australian interior. Flags flew stiff. Fire danger was extreme.

Updated Feb. 21, 11:56 a.m. ET

Coming off a shift at Tuen Mun Hospital in Hong Kong on Wednesday night, cardiologist Alfred Wong was getting ready to go to dinner with his wife. The last time they ate together, she brought the meal to the courtyard below their apartment, placed it on a bench, then sat down at least 10 feet away.

From across the patio, they ate. On separate benches. Looking at each other.

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

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. After listening to those voices, I want to bring in one of our colleagues who is covering this outbreak. It's NPR science reporter Becky Hersher, who is reporting from Hong Kong. Hi, Becky.

First came the fires, denuding millions of acres of forest in eastern Australia. Now comes the rain, more than 12 inches in just 48 hours over this past weekend in some areas of New South Wales.

That sequence, severe bushfires followed by torrential rain, is bringing a third cataclysm — landslides and large-scale erosion.

Last year was the second hottest on record globally, according to the latest climate data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

It's the latest confirmation that the Earth is steadily getting hotter — the planet has already warmed about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (or almost 1 degree Celsius) compared with in the mid-20th century — and that robust greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming to continue unabated.

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