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California's CARE Court program to tackle mental illness starts next month. What you need to know

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(LOS ANGELES) -- California's controversial new CARE Court program, meant to address serious mental illness and the state's homelessness crisis, will go into effect next week.

Under CARE -- which stands for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment -- the court, family and others can file a petition in civil court if they believe a loved one is suffering from severe symptoms of an untreated psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia.

The program, however, does not cover other mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are also other caveats, such as a person must be aged 18 or older. The petition must also include either an affidavit from a licensed mental health professional stating they examined or attempted to examine the individual within 60 days of the petition's submission or evidence the person was detained for at least two intensive treatments.

A judge can then order a care plan for the person for up to 12 months, with renewal for an additional 12 months. The person will be set up with a team that will prescribe individualized treatment along with supportive services and a housing plan, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom's office.

The counties will be required to provide the services but are receiving additional funding from the state government, including for new housing units, treatment slots and behavioral health services.

The court can order medications, but it cannot be forcibly administered and if a person refuses to take it, they will not receive a penalty.

Seven pilot counties -- Glenn, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Stanislaus and Tuolumne -- are required to launch CARE Court by Oct. 1. The remaining counties will be required to do so by December 2024.

Newsom championed the program as a way to combat the mental health and homelessness crises plaguing the state and to prevent those in need of help from ending up in jails or shelters.

A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found 3.79% of those aged 18 and older in California are suffering from a serious mental illness.

Additionally, the state has the largest homeless population in the nation with more than 170,000 estimated to be unsheltered, according to a 2022 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"CARE Court means new hope for thousands of Californians with untreated mental health and substance abuse issues," Newsom said in a statement last year. "Today, our work begins to turn promise into practice. While we watch other places in America move swiftly towards more involuntary hospitalization, in California, we're doing it the right way -- community-based care, a focus on housing, and accountability for everyone involved."

However, the program is not without its critics. Earlier this year, the Western Center on Law & Poverty sued to end CARE Court, arguing that the program is forcing treatment on people and is a violation of their rights.

The participant is required to attend hearings to make sure they are following the CARE Court plan but if they fail to complete their treatment, they can be hospitalized or referred to a conservatorship, according to the governor's office.

"Not only is creating this new court system to round up individuals unconstitutional, it is bad policy subject to pervasive societal biases and disproven methods of treating mental illness," WCLP said in a statement at the time.

The group also says it's unclear how many the program would help and what impact it would have on the community at large.

The California Supreme Court declined to block the program from going into effect and the Center declined to comment on its criticisms to ABC News.

The governor's office also did not immediately reply to ABC News' request for comment.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Overdose crisis reaches historic levels in New York City

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(NEW YORK) -- The overdose crisis has reached historic levels in New York City, according to new data from the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Provisional data shows there were 3,026 overdose deaths in New York City in 2022, the highest total since the department began recording such incidents in 2000.

Newly released data shows that overdose deaths increased by 12% from 2021 to 2022. Fentanyl was detected in 81% of drug overdose deaths in New York City, according to the data. Fentanyl is an opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, the department states.

The report found that Black and Latino New Yorkers had the highest rates of overdose death and the largest increases in rate from 2021 to 2022.

Adults ages 55 to 64 continued to have the highest rate of overdose, followed by adults ages 45 to 54, according to the report.

Across the country, officials are battling deadly drug abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that 28 states, including New York, Texas, California, Alabama, Washington, and Oregon, are expected to see a rise in overdose deaths from 2022 to 2023.

NYC Mayor Eric Adams and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have said they aim to reduce overdose deaths by 15% by 2025 as part of the “Care, Community, Action: A Mental Health Plan for New York City."

The city recently launched its first public health vending machine, which stocks health and wellness supplies, including naloxone -- a safe medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose -- hygiene kits, and safer sex kits.

New York City has also expanded hours and services at the country's first two recognized overdose prevention centers (OPCs) that opened in late 2021. The centers have intervened in over 1,000 overdoses that could have been fatal.

OPCs are a form of harm reduction, which is a set of strategies to minimize the negative effects and consequences linked to drug use, and "keeping people who use drugs alive and as healthy as possible," according to the U.S. government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The city also said it continues to provide support to its syringe service programs, which distribute sterile needles and other supplies to people who inject drugs in order keep them and the larger community safe.

The city has also given out more than 77,000 naloxone kits and hosted 38 naloxone trainings, as well as providing approximately 30,000 fentanyl test strips.

In response to the fatal overdose total, the New York City Health Department issued a Commissioner’s Advisory and is recommending that New Yorkers carry naloxone and know how to use it, talk to their loved ones about substance abuse and the risk, avoid using drugs alone, and keep all medication safely stored.

“This crisis is killing a New Yorker every three hours and is impacting every individual and family in our city and in our nation,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan in a statement. “No one is spared, even if you think otherwise."

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Saltwater intrusion in Mississippi River could impact drinking water in Louisiana, officials say

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(LOUISIANA) -- New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has signed an emergency declaration over an intrusion of saltwater into the Mississippi River that officials say could impact the water supply in the region.

"We will continue to work with our partners locally and state-wide as we closely monitor this situation," Cantrell wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Officials said weather forecasts indicate that river volume will fall to historic lows in the next several weeks. As a result, saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico is intruding upstream in Louisiana.

"Plaquemines Parish has been affected by this issue since June. Drought conditions have only gotten worse since that time, which means additional communities along the Mississippi River could be impacted," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement Friday.

Intruding saltwater at the Boothville Water Treatment Plant water intake in Plaquemines Parish is impacting the drinking water supply to residents and businesses from Empire to Venice in southeastern Louisiana, local officials said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed an underwater barrier sill in July to create an artificial basin to help delay the ingress of saltwater. The upriver intrusion of saltwater overtopped the sill's elevation earlier this week.

Edwards said additional work will begin soon to further delay an increase of the saltwater intrusion.

Next week, officials will begin making the existing sill larger to further delay the saltwater intrusion by an estimated 10 to 15 days.

The river's water level is forecast to continue to drop and very minimal rainfall to mitigate the circumstances is expected. Local, state and federal officials are working to determine what can be done to protect water systems and water intake points.

"Unfortunately, without any relief from the dry weather we are starting to see the saltwater intrusion creep further up the river despite efforts to mitigate the problems by the Army Corps of Engineers," Edwards said.

"Most importantly, this is not a time to panic or listen to misinformation," he added. "We have been through this situation before in 1988, and we are monitoring this situation very closely and applying the lessons learned. It is extremely important for the public to stay informed and only rely on credible sources for updates during this event."

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How hospitals have been coping with COVID as number of admissions tick up

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(NEW YORK) -- Weekly COVID hospitalizations have been ticking up over the past 11 weeks, rising to 20,538 for the week ending Sept. 9, the highest figures seen since March of this year.

Although the majority of U.S. counties are reporting low hospital admissions levels, a growing number are seeing moderate and even high levels, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite the uptick, doctors and hospital administrators across the country said the number of patients they've seen this summer has been lower than previous years and the lessons they've learned over the course of the pandemic has helped them cope with increasing hospitalization rates.

In Sacramento County, California, hospital admissions have reached medium levels with about 10.1 admissions per 100,000.

Michael Korpiel, president of the Sacramento market for Dignity Health, a nonprofit that operates hospitals in three states, said there have been fewer than 20 people testing positive for COVID at any time in the six hospitals.

"The last three years have been a great learning experience for our system and our hospital, but I think for the Sacramento region, we are better prepared today than we have been in the past," he told ABC News. "We have shored up all of our supply lines, so that we make sure that we have enough equipment and supplies in place if we begin to see a spike in the number of COVID patients."

Similarly, Dr. Rami Zebian, chief medical officer for the Medical University of South Carolina Health Pee Dee Division -- which encompasses three hospitals -- told ABC News there has not been a huge surge in patients over the summer, but lessons learned have helped the division be prepared.

One example he gave was increasing the number of devices for non-invasive ventilation and knowing when to use ventilation on a patient.

"We have that equipment that can be used for both," he said. "We learned that we don't have to put people on the ventilator early on in their disease. If we can delay that, until they really need it, we don't have to do it."

Hospital staff are also kept safe by having enough personal protective equipment when dealing with patients. They're also encouraged to get the annual flu shot and the updated COVID vaccine that targets circulating variants.

None of the hospitals or health systems that ABC News spoke to said they have universal masking in place, but there are discussions about what the threshold would be to reinstate a mandate or if they would follow county health department guidelines.

As the U.S. moves into the colder weather months -- the traditional respiratory virus season -- hospitals also need to prepare for a possible "tripledemic," a mix of COVID, flu and RSV that could overwhelm health systems.

Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious disease specialist and the medical director at Northshore University Hospital in New York, said his hospital is in "a constant state of readiness for COVID" as well other viruses.

Nassau County, where NU Hospital is based, is currently in the medium admission category with 10.4 hospital admissions per 100,000, CDC data shows. Hirschwerk said the hospital has not been overwhelmed so far and protocols are in place to prevent it from becoming overwhelmed later in the year.

"Each year as we get into this time of year and as we move deeper into the fall and winter will be impacted by increase in respiratory viruses not only with COVID but also with influenza and other respiratory viruses like RSV," he told ABC News. "With that we have the tools to do testing, we have the space in our hospital, and we always manage and try to keep our environment safe by testing patients when it's indicated by screening visitors."

"It would be great if we don't see all three viruses simultaneously. But we know that we're going to see all three at some point and we'll be prepared regardless of how much there is and what the timing of it is," Hirschwerk added.

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Why the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get the updated COVID vaccine

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(NEW YORK) -- An independent panel of advisers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that everyone over the age of 6 months get the updated COVID vaccine this fall.

"Even children and adults with no underlying conditions can still experience severe illness due to COVID," said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Most infectious disease experts agree with the recommendations made by the federal health agency.

"I agree with the CDC recommendations because it is a simple recommendation to follow, and I believe that the benefit of the vaccine outweighs any risk at every age level," Dr. Todd Ellerin, chief of infectious diseases at South Shore Health, told ABC News.

"It’s consistent and harmonized with the flu shot and I think that really important. We need to emphasize that,” he added.

Dr. Donald Alcendor, a professor of microbiology, immunology and physiology at Vanderbilt University, said the sweeping recommendation "was the right thing to do."

"If you start to restrict recommendations to certain age groups or vulnerabilities and leave younger people out of it, you forget that young people can spread COVID and can get older people sick," he told ABC News.

Some of the CDC’s advisers pointed out that only about 20% of American adults received the COVID bivalent booster last fall. However, around 45% of those over the age of 65 – those most at risk – got the shot.

"It’s clear that the vaccines are most important for the elderly in the extremes of age, those with comorbidities like heart disease, diabetes, and the immune compromised," Ellerin said.

Dr. Pablo Sanchez, a professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, was the only member of the CDC advisory panel to vote against the new vaccine recommendation.

"The group that should get it are those who are at the highest risk ... those [who are] are greater than 65 years of age and younger individuals with risk factors," he told ABC News. "The healthy adolescent, the male 20-something year old who's already had COVID, may already have been vaccinated ... I'm not sure if that individual should get one or even needs one."

Over 96% of people over the age of 16 are estimated to have some level of antibodies from either past infections or previous vaccines, offering some degree of protection, according to the CDC. But that protection does not last forever, leaving some potentially at risk for severe illness.

"Immunity wanes after anywhere from three to six months. That will be different for different people. Immunity waning in 5-year-old versus a 75-year-old will be different ... the immune system is weakened with age," Alcendor said.

An updated vaccine may also offer some additional protection against infection.

"You may actually get a bonus effect which is prevention of infection. Some people may think of it as protection for the holiday period, or before taking that big trip, or going to a place where there might be others at risk,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told ABC News.

A point of contention among the advisers was whether or not children should be recommended to receive the updated vaccine.

"A lot of pediatricians feel strongly about this. It is still one of the top 10 causes of death even though it’s not high numbers. All of these younger kids being born now, it’s why we give childhood immunizations, they haven’t seen the real virus before, so you want to give them priming to give a jumpstart on the rest of their lives,” Chin-Hong said.

One concern with the COVID vaccines is the rare potential for myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. Most cases get better on their own or respond to care quickly, according to the CDC. And the risk of myocarditis is higher when people get a COVID-19 infection versus a vaccine shot, according to published peer-reviewed studies and the CDC.

"There is a rare risk of vaccine-induced myocarditis, which is more pronounced in young men that are typically in older adolescent years or 20s. But the risk is extremely low, the outcomes are usually very good," Ellerin said.

The risk of myocarditis may be more pronounced if vaccine doses are scheduled closely together. Most studies show the second dose of the primary series, typically three to four weeks after the first, had the highest rates of myocarditis.

"Any sort of inflammatory syndrome from vaccines, you have a bunch of immune cells floating and you stimulate them to make more immune cells. That agitation can cause some of these side effects," Chin-Hong said.

It may help to wait to get an updated vaccine if you recently got one, experts say. The CDC recommends waiting at least two months between vaccines or consider delaying a shot three months after COVID symptoms started or a positive test.

Updated COVID-19 vaccines are now available in pharmacies across the country, with health officials urging the public to get all vaccines they are eligible for ahead of the winter respiratory virus season. Everyone older than 6 months is eligible for COVID and flu shots, and seniors are eligible for newly approved RSV vaccines.


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Couple speaks out about embryo donation after fertility treatment

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(NEW YORK) -- Fertility treatments can be a very emotional process filled with complex decisions, including what to do with extra embryos.

It's a dilemma Ryann and Richard Hendrickson had to face. The married couple's effort to donate their extra embryos was first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Hendricksons started their fertility journey after Ryann Hendrickson was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. They were already parents to a daughter and hoped to give her a sibling.

"We knew we wanted more children," Ryann Hendrickson told "Good Morning America."

The Pennsylvania couple said they started the embryo freezing process before Ryann started chemotherapy treatments and eventually used a surrogate to carry their son, who is now 18 months old.

Afterward, they continued to pay a monthly fee to have extra embryos properly stored.

"We weren't really ready to let them go right away," Ryann explained.

At first, the Hendricksons disagreed about what to do with their extra embryos.

"I wanted to help another woman who wanted a baby so badly because I knew what that felt like," Ryann Hendrickson recalled.

Rich Hendrickson, however, said he felt "unsure for a long time." Eventually, though, he came to a decision.

"What really alleviated my concerns was just knowing that there are couples out there that want another child so bad that they're willing to do whatever to get it," he said.

The Hendricksons went on to donate their embryos

A growing number of potential parents are turning to social media to find embryo donors, joining a growing number of people deciding to undergo embryo transfers. The number of embryo transfers have more than tripled in recent years, according to a 2022 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Before donating embryos, some fertility clinics require patients speak to a psychologist, to ensure they've considered the often complicated questions surrounding the decision.

"What does it mean to be a parent? What does genetics mean? I think for a lot of people who are leaning away from donating, they just cannot really feel comfortable with the idea that a genetically related child out there is growing up," Andrea Braverman, a clinical professor and psychologist in obstetrics and gynecology at Thomas Jefferson University, told "GMA."

With extra embryos, couples and potential donors have several options. These include discarding the embryos, donating them to scientific research, or donating them to other potential parents.

"For me, I knew in my heart that discarding them was just not an option," Ryann Hendrickson said. "I knew that they had another purpose and I just could not bear to destroy them."

An Instagram influencer who links embryo donors with intended parents helped the Hendricksons find an embryo recipient – another breast cancer survivor with whom Ryann Hendrickson had once chatted online.

"She texted me and we both went, 'Oh my gosh, this is a full-circle moment, connecting over cancer and now connecting over this," Ryann recounted, adding that she and the recipient are now friends and talk every week.

The Hendricksons decided to sign over legal ownership of their extra embryos to the recipient and their partner in July, giving them a chance to have their dream family.

"Those reservations are totally gone at this point," Rich Hendrickson said of his previous concerns. 'We will be strangers to these babies. They're not ours. They are our DNA. But once they're brought into this world, the recipients that we chose, they will be their parents."

The recipient couple told the Hendricksons they plan on trying to get pregnant in the upcoming months. Both couples also said they plan to tell their children about embryo donation when they are older.


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FDA discusses using artificial wombs to help save preemie babies: What to know about the new technology

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(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration met Wednesday to discuss something that was once thought to be only science fiction: the use of artificial wombs to help premature babies survive.

Exactly as it sounds, an artificial womb is an artificially-created environment that mimics the womb, something like a fluid-filled container with lines and tubes attached to the babies' blood vessels, similar to an umbilical cord, to provide nutrients and medications.

Theoretically, an extremely premature infant, one born at less than 28 weeks gestation, could be placed in the device so that they could grow and develop normally, as if they were still in the womb.

Neonatologists already use incubators for premature babies, which are enclosed air-filled "pods" that can be heated to help the baby regulate their temperature. However, incubators and current technology are not able to simulate the exact same environment as a womb.

"It's an amazing first step to potentially extending viability and improving morbidity and mortality outcomes for our preterm newborns," Dr. Shaliz Pourkaviani, a New York City-based board-certified neonatologist, told ABC News of the technology.

So far, this has only been tested in animals and there are many complexities to resolve before this could reach human subjects.

At a two-day meeting focused on artificial womb technology, FDA advisers discussed what human trials could look like, and the complex medical considerations that would have to be taken into account.

Excerpts say developing artificial womb technology could be critical in helping to save the lives of some babies born premature.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prematurity, defined as being born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, occurs in 1 in 10 babies in the United States.

The earlier the birth, the higher risk of death or complications, with preterm birth accounting for 16% of infant deaths.

Prematurity can also lead to issues with development of essential organs, such as the lungs, intestines, and brain.

Before human trials can be done on artificial wombs, there are several ethical considerations that need to be considered, FDA advisers pointed out.

First, physicians have a responsibility to "do no harm."

"We as neonatologists want to support life and minimize pain and suffering in the process," said Pourkaviani, who was not part of the FDA's discussion. "The unknowns, such as if this will be painful and do the benefits outweigh the potential risks, raise many concerns."

There are also the potential long-term consequences of an artificial womb that are not easily studied, such as the potential long-term complications if a womb is made out of materials such as plastics.

Artificial wombs could also change the definition of a "viable pregnancy," and how far along in pregnancy someone is before it is considered survivable.

"Accepted gestational age for viability used to historically be accepted as 23 weeks and [weighing] above 500 grams," Pourkaviani said. "However, over the last few years, there has been a push to extend this as low as 22 weeks."

Despite the obstacles that may lie ahead, Pourkaviani described the potential that artificial wombs show as "groundbreaking."

"This will be groundbreaking in our field of neonatology," she said. "Premature babies who otherwise would have not had an opportunity to grow and develop in extrauterine conditions have a chance of survival."

Evelyn Huang, M.D., is a resident physician in emergency medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.



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Morning exercisers tend to have healthier habits, which can help with weight loss, study finds

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(NEW YORK) -- A new study finds that people who tend to exercise early in the morning also tend to have healthier eating habits and lower weight.

Although research is mixed on the best time to exercise, overall, medical experts say the most important thing is to fit physical activity into your schedule, no matter what time of day it is.

The study, published Tuesday in the medical journal Obesity, looked at at the activity and health data of over 5,000 people in the United States.

Those who exercised earlier in the day, between 7 and 9 a.m., were found to have lower body mass index, or BMI, and lower waist size than other study participants who exercised later in the day. They also found that people who exercised in the morning spent more time performing sedentary behaviors later in the day.

The study's authors also found that the morning exercise group chose healthier habits, like eating better, throughout the day.

The authors also noted that more research needs to be done, and that their study was just a first step.

Physical activity has proved to be beneficial for all ages. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physical activity reduces the risk of depression, improves bone health, and increases some measures of academic performance in children. For adults, physical activity lowers the risk of stroke and high blood pressure, and also improves mental health.

The CDC states that despite the proven benefits, only half of adults get the physical activity they need, while getting enough physical activity could prevent 1 in 10 premature deaths.

The current movement guidelines from the CDC state that adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, along with two days of muscle strengthening activity.

Moderate-intensity physical activity is defined by the CDC as any activity that "gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster," and can include everything from mowing the lawn to walking, biking or dancing. The weekly exercise requirement breaks down to just 30 minutes a day, five days per week.

The CDC notes that the 150 minutes per week recommendation is a minimum goal, and that going beyond that will provide more health benefits.

If a person is doing a more vigorous aerobic activity, like jogging, the minimum requirement is 75 minutes per week, according to the CDC.

Another key guideline for adults is to move more and sit less, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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Federal government to relaunch free COVID tests program

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(WASHINGTON) -- The federal government program used for the last two winters to send free COVID tests to Americans' homes will get up-and-running once again in the coming days, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Wednesday.

Becerra made the announcement at a CVS drugstore in Washington, D.C., while getting his updated COVID shot and flu shot.

The site, CovidTests.Gov, will officially relaunch on Sept. 25 and each household will be able to order four free rapid tests, according to the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response.

The site has had an on-and-off presence since the winter of 2022, when the omicron variant was ripping across the country.

At the time, President Joe Biden pledged to give out 1 billion free rapid tests.

But the site was temporarily shut down that fall as a political fight dragged on over COVID funding. Officials said they had to conserve tests in case they didn't get more money -- which they didn't.

Still, the site relaunched again in December as cases began to climb again, then shut down this past June.

The government will now relaunch CovidTests.Gov again in time for a surge in cases this winter.

"We want them to be able to use those tests during this viral season -- fall, winter, respiratory viral season," Becerra said.

The tests will come from a $600 million investment across 12 different domestic test manufacturers, which will yield around 200 million tests to boost the federal stockpile. Tests ordered from CovidTests.Gov will be pulled from that stockpile.

The funding for the free tests will come from money that was left over from a past supplemental COVID bill. Though the debt ceiling deal reached over the summer between President Joe Biden and Republicans did claw back about $30 billion in unspent COVID relief funds, officials said there was still enough left over to put toward replenishing the testing stockpile this fall.

Officials said they didn't have an estimate yet for how many they expect Americans to order the free tests given the shrinking demand for COVID precautionary measures. Roughly 755 million tests have been distributed through the website over the last two years.

But if there is high demand in the future, the $600 million investment toward test manufacturers will also serve to warm up the supply lines and get the production process underway ahead of a crunch in resources, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Dawn O’Connell said.

“Manufacturing COVID-19 tests in the United States strengthens our preparedness for the upcoming fall and winter seasons, reduces our reliance on other countries, and provides good jobs to hardworking Americans,” O’Connell said.

“ASPR’s investments in these domestic manufacturers will increase availability of tests in the future,” she said in a statement.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are continuing to climb in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the week ending Sept. 9, data showed that hospitalizations increased 7.7% from 19,068 to 20,538 weekly hospitalizations -- an estimate that's likely an undercount, due to less available data without the public health emergency still in place.

ABC News' Mary Kekatos contributed to this report.

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Mississippi sees 10-fold increase in babies born with syphilis since 2016: Report

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(JACKSON, Miss.) -- The number of babies born with syphilis in Mississippi has risen 10-fold over the last several years, according to a new report.

Between 2016 and 2022, congenital syphilis cases rose from 10 to 110, marking a 1,000% increase, according to a report from the John D. Bower School of Population Health at University of Mississippi Medical Center.

For the report, researchers looked at hospital discharge data from the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Mississippi Hospital Association.

During the study period, 367 infants were hospitalized in Mississippi due to a diagnosis of congenital syphilis. The majority were identified at delivery while a few were admitted to the hospital post-delivery.

In addition to the number of cases rising, the hospitalization rate also increased from 2.0 per 100,000 in 2016 to 24.8 per 100,000, according to the report.

The report found a wide discrepancy when it came to breakdown by race. The overwhelming majority of infants were African American with 71.1% of all infants compared to 25.1% of infants being white.

Additionally, when it came to characteristics that put an infant more at risk for congenital syphilis, they included being covered by Medicaid and being older than 3 days old.

Infants with congenital syphilis were also significantly more likely than those without the disease to be born to mothers with illicit drug use.

Congenital syphilis occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection to her baby during pregnancy.

There has been a "sharp increase" in the number of babies born with syphilis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nationwide rate in just a year rose 30.5% from 59.7 per 100,000 live births in 2020 to 77.9 per 100,000 live births in 2021.

More than 2,000 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in 2021 alone, which is the highest number reported in one year since 1994, the federal health agency said.

Syphilis infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, and an infant with congenital syphilis can result in stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight or death shortly after birth.

Although babies born with syphilis may not show overt signs of the condition at birth, they need to be treated right away to avoid having serious health problems, according to the CDC.

Without treatment, the infection can lead to severe defects including low blood count, jaundice, skin rashes, deformed bones, blindness, deafness or meningitis, which is inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

The study found infants were more likely to suffer from severe complications including prematurity at 27% among babies with the disease compared to 12.7% for those without, and low birthweight at 17.9% compared to 9.7% for those without.

The average length of hospital stay for infants with congenital syphilis was 14.5 days and average charges were $56,802 compared to a 3.8 day-hospital stay and mean charges of $13,945 for infants without congenital syphilis.

"Although the upward trend was consistent with national-level surveillance data for CS, the upturn in Mississippi was even steeper," the authors of the report wrote. "This spike is troubling because decades of research have demonstrated the dire health consequences of CS, including prematurity, low birthweight, and death."

The authors said comprehensive public health policies must be implemented including more access to prenatal care and health care providers being informed about the need to ensure early diagnosis and treatment of syphilis during pregnancy.

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Wildfires in recent years have reversed some of the progress made in eliminating air pollution, new study suggests

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(NEW YORK) -- The smoke from wildfires in recent years has been so intense that it is decreasing air quality in the majority of the U.S., reversing some of the improvements made to air quality in the last several decades, according to new research.

Wildfire smoke in the U.S. had a "notable influence" on recent air quality trends in nearly 75% of states in the continental U.S., despite air quality that has been steadily improving over the past several decades, largely due to policies like the Clean Air Act, according to a study published in Nature on Wednesday.

Wildfires have been increasing in size, frequency and intensity in recent years -- at the same time that progress in air quality improvement has stagnated across much of the U.S., with some regions reporting rising levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the study found.

The biggest surprise for the researchers was the extent of the influence of wildfires on diminishing air quality throughout the country, even reversing the progress made in recent decades in some regions, Marshall Burke, associate professor at Stanford University's Doerr School of Sustainability and lead author of the study, told ABC News.

"What we found was a pretty substantial and widespread fingerprint of wildfires on air pollution trends in the U.S.," he said.

Researchers combined air pollution data from ground and air sensors between 2000 and 2022 to determine the contribution of wildfire smoke to PM2.5 trends and found pollution was declining in 41 of the 48 states before 2016.

That decline has since slowed in 31 states and begun to reverse in 11 states, according to the paper.

Smoke from just six years of wildfires in North America, from 2016 to 2022, was found to have eroded nearly 25% of the air quality progress made in the U.S. since the start of the century, Burke said.

"All of this success we'd had before is being rapidly unraveled, at least in some parts of the country, by wildfires," he said. "And that's a that's a concern."

Fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, is 30 times smaller in diameter than a human hair and cannot be seen by the naked eye. Exposure to concentrated amounts of PM2.5 can cause both short-term effects such as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; coughing, sneezing; and shortness of breath, and long-term effects such as worsening of conditions such as asthma and heart disease, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The severity of the wildfires in recent years are a result of a combination of a century of fire suppression, which has left more fuel on forest floors to ignite, and global warming, which is creating drier landscapes that amplify a spark of flames, Burke said.

The study data doesn't even include the wildfires that have been burning in 2023, including the unprecedented wildfire season in Canada, Burke said.

While the West Coast has been dealing with acute events of dangerous air quality in recent years, the Northeast and even some parts of the South experienced toxic levels of air pollution in June.

More of these extreme air pollution events could continue in the future if severe wildfires continue to burn unabated, Burke said.

"I would be surprised if we didn't see more events analogous to this in future years," he said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Hispanics experience higher risk of heart disease, stroke while facing language barriers

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(NEW YORK) -- When Jose Montijo sought treatment for shortness of breath, doctors realized he was experiencing heart failure.

"They told me your heart is working at 20% and you are a candidate for a heart attack," the Puerto Rican dishwasher from New York recalled in Spanish.

Montijo is among the many Hispanic people in the United States impacted by cardiovascular disease. It is the leading cause of death among the population, according to a study published last year in the journal Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports. Roughly 43% of Hispanic women and 52% of Hispanic men in the U.S. live with the illness, according to the study.

Stroke is also one of the leading causes of death in the Hispanic community, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, and language barriers may be a factor.

Dr. Claudia Serrano-Gomez, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Health, spoke about communication challenges in an interview with "Good Morning America."

"They don't speak the language," she said about many Hispanic immigrants, noting the difficulties they experience in adjusting to an American lifestyle.

"They don't know how to manage themselves out in the street," she said. "They are not aware of how to change from their lifestyle in their countries to the lifestyle here."

Experts say the numbers reflect other issues like immigration status, socioeconomic standing and lack of cultural nuance in health care.

Underscoring the importance of diversity in medicine, Cynthia Lebron, assistant professor and prevention scientist at the University of Miami, said doctors will not be able to give patients the best care if they don't understand them.

"It's not just language," she said. "It's cultural."

Lebron also noted that good relationships between physicians and patients result in better health outcomes.

To help people spot the warning signs of a stroke, the American Stroke Association urges people to learn the acronym F.A.S.T., which stands for "face drooping," "arm weakness," "speech difficulty" and "time to call 911." The ASA is also launching a new campaign spotlighting the Spanish acronym R.Á.P.I.D.O., so non-English speakers can better remember the signs too.

Dr. José Biller, an ASA volunteer expert and chair of Neurology at Loyola University Chicago's Stritch School of Medicine, said in a statement that "R.Á.P.I.D.O. is a tool that can help save lives."

"The language barrier is among the most significant barriers to health care access and quality," he continued. "Understanding which Spanish acronym resonated best with Spanish-speaking communities addresses this barrier while increasing stroke awareness and improving outcomes for all."

Montijo, who has given up drinking coffee due to his heart condition, is now on the mend. But he isn't planning to rest any time soon.

His daughter Mariel Miranda said she "thinks that it's just part of the Latino culture to continuously work because retirement sometimes isn't an option for us."

ABC News' Aisha Frazier contributed to this report.


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Soap opera star dies by suicide: What to know about bipolar disorder

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(NEW YORK) -- The death of 43-year-old Billy Miller, an actor best known for his role in the soap opera The Young and the Restless, was due to suicide, his mother has confirmed.

Patricia Miller wrote in a statement shared on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that her son suffered from bipolar disorder, noting that "in the end the disease won the fight."

"He fought a long hard valiant battle with bipolar depression for years. He did everything he could to control the disease," she wrote. "He loved his family, his friends and his fans but in the end the disease won the fight and he surrendered his life."

The statement was shared on X by Billy Miller's manager, who on Sunday publicly announced his death in a statement to Variety.

Sunday would have been the actor's 44th birthday.

According to the magazine, Billy Miller died Friday in Austin, Texas.

In addition to his role on Young and the Restless, for which he won three Emmys, Billy Miller also starred on TV shows including General Hospital, Suits, Ray Donovan, NCIS and Truth Be Told.'

What to know about bipolar disorder

In battling bipolar disorder, Billy Miller was far from alone: Nearly 3% of adults in the United States live with the condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

In recent years, high-profile figures including singers Mariah Carey, Selena Gomez and Bebe Rexha, former NBA player Delonte West and college basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie have all publicly revealed their own battles with the mental health condition.

Bipolar disorder is defined by the NIMH as a "mental illness that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, activity levels, and concentration" that are more severe than the usual ups and downs that people experience.

The condition has three different types -- bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder and cyclothymic disorder.

All three types involve drastic changes in moods ranging from very up and energized, called manic episodes, to very down and sad, known as depressive episodes, according to the NIMH.

The different moods and frequency of changing moods can impact a person's day-to-day functioning, as well as their sleep and activity levels.

According to the NIMH, bipolar disorder is most commonly diagnosed during the late teen years and early adulthood.

It is a condition that requires lifelong treatment, which can include everything from medication to professional talk therapy.

The NIMH notes that for people with bipolar disorder, in many cases, they also have other mental health conditions like anxiety disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and may struggle with drug or alcohol abuse or eating disorders.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder include noticeable changes in mood, sleep and activity levels, and swings in mood changes, ranging from manic to depressive, according to the NIMH.

People who have concerns that they or a loved one may be struggling with bipolar disorder or another mental health condition should reach out to a medical professional for help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 or chat at Free, confidential help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You are not on your own.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Weekly COVID hospitalizations reach 20,000 for 1st time since March but new vaccine could help: Experts

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(NEW YORK) -- COVID-19 hospitalizations are continuing to climb in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the week ending Sept. 9, hospitalizations increased 7.7% from 19,068 to 20,538 weekly hospitalizations.

This marks the first time COVID hospitalizations have surpassed 20,000 since mid-March, when the figure hit 20,170.

However, COVID figures are at relatively low levels overall compared to the peak of the omicron wave in winter 2021-22 when weekly hospitalizations hit 150,674 the week of Jan. 15, 2022.

Although increasing, the number of weekly hospitalizations remains less than hospitalizations at the same time in previous years. At the same period throughout the pandemic, weekly hospitalizations sat at 24,504 in 2020, 80,166 in 2021 and 31,571 in 2022.

"Hospitalizations [are] still a fraction of where we were in last winter and last summer," Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told ABC News. "I think it's not surprising, but it's still not like before -- in terms of a surge -- overwhelming resources. However, it is a siren call for the winter, when we have other things that cause people to go to hospital as well."

He said with other viruses, including flu and RSV, expected to uptick this fall and winter, the health care system could be really strained if COVID hospitalizations keep increasing.

"If you bring too many people together and hospitalize them, it really strains the system and makes it hard for people who have other conditions to come into the hospital," Chin-Hong said.

Additionally, 2.3% of all deaths in the U.S. last week were linked to COVID-19, according to CDC data. Although deaths have increased over the past few weeks, they still remain at their lowest levels since the pandemic began.

It comes as an updated COVID vaccine for everyone aged 6 months and older becomes more available across the country.

The updated vaccines, formulated by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are formulated to target variants that are currently circulating, which are related to XBB -- an offshoot of the omicron variant.

Recent data has indicated the updated vaccines could offer additional protection against currently circulating variants and especially protect against severe disease and death, particularly for those who are elderly or immune compromised.

Data published from Moderna showed its updated vaccines generated a nearly nine-fold increase in antibodies against the newer subvariant BA.2.86 in a lab-based study.

There are about 14 cases of BA.2.86 in the U.S., according to the open global genome sequencing database GISAID. it does not appear to cause more severe disease.

There are at least 19,000 sites nationwide that have received the updated vaccines, according to ABC News medical contributor John Brownstein.

Chin-Hong said the vaccine could help stem any potential surge, but that it depends on how many people get the new vaccine and how quickly they get it.

"That's kind of the interesting thing, we are predicting what will happen in winter, yet the active actors in the play are, you know, haven't performed yet, which is people's behavior in terms of getting the vaccine," he said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Over 58K pounds of raw ground beef recalled in multiple states

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a recall on approximately 58,281 pounds of raw ground beef due to possible E. coli contamination.

American Foods Group and business operator Green Bay Dressed Beef announced a recall Friday after a sample collected by a state public health official notified the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services that some products may be contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O103.

The recalled products included three specific 10-pound plastic tubes, known as “chubs."

The raw ground beef items produced on Aug. 14, 2023, have an establishment number "EST. 18076" inside the USDA mark of inspection. Three products are subject to the recall:

Approximately 80-lb. cases containing 10-lb. plastic tubes (chubs) of "90050 BEEF FINE GROUND 81/19" with lot code D123226026.
Approximately 80-lb. cases containing 10-lb. plastic tubes (chubs) of "20473 BEEF HALAL FINE GROUND 73/27" with lot code D123226027.
Approximately 80-lb. cases containing 10-lb. plastic tubes (chubs) of "20105 BEEF FINE GROUND 73/27" with lot code D123226027.

The now recalled food items had been shipped to distributors in Georgia, Michigan and Ohio, the USDA said.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

A representative for American Foods Group did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for additional comment.

The USDA said "many clinical laboratories do not test for non-O157 STEC" because it's "harder to identify than STEC O157:H7."

Distributors and customers who may have purchased these products are urged by the USDA not to use them or distribute them further.

"These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase," the agency stated.

People can become ill one to 10 days after consumption of STEC bacteria. Symptoms of E. Coli bacteria include vomiting or diarrhea (sometimes bloody) that worsens over several days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most people recover within a week; some may develop a more severe infection.

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