The hope that we’ll eventually return to normal life is in sight now. But local officials say how well we can curb the spread of the coronavirus is going to come down to how individuals take it from here. As cases and hospitalizations across the country rise, science-backed precautions can be lifesaving for public health.

To understand how we can do our part right now, Lauren chatted with our health and science reporter Tom Avril about the latest round of coronavirus updates, both encouraging (vaccine news) and concerning (fatigue).

— Ashley Hoffman (@_ashleyhoffman) and Lauren Aguirre (@laurencaguirre) (

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Behind the story with Tom Avril

Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with health and science reporter Tom Avril, who covers health and science in Pennsylvania.

There’s been a surge in COVID-19 cases in the Philly area. What exactly has been going on?

Cases are unfortunately on the rise here and across much of the United States, and multiple factors seem to be at work. More people may be gathering indoors, whether at work, school, or restaurants and bars. Some may be letting down their guard due to the same dreary COVID-19 fatigue that we’re all feeling. Also, there is evidence that the virus may spread more readily in cooler, drier air.

Is this better, worse or about the same as the first surge in March and April?

We’re seeing the number of infections surpass the levels of the spring, yet so far the number of deaths remains lower, fortunately. Some of that is because the people getting infected now tend to be younger, whereas the brunt of infections early on was borne in nursing homes.

What is the best thing individuals can do right now?

The infectious-disease experts say we should keep following the same advice they’ve been hammering since the start: Avoid crowds, especially indoors. Wear masks. Remain at least six feet away from those outside your “bubble.”

What’s going on with a vaccine? Is there a chance one could be available to the public soon and how much would it help?

The vaccine news this month is great, with candidates from Pfizer and Moderna both seeming to reduce the risk of illness by more than 90%. If the FDA gives the OK, the companies will be able to start distributing the drugs to a few million essential workers and vulnerable people by the end of the year, but most of us will likely have to wait until at least March.

How do you evaluate new coronavirus studies as they surface? Science is an evolving process, so what makes a study more or less consequential?

Oh boy, that’s a complicated one with many parts. You can check this guide for a fuller understanding of evaluating scientific studies.

What are you continuing to look for or keep an eye on as you continue to cover the pandemic?

I and many others remain puzzled by how this virus causes such a wide range of issues. A small minority of people get very sick, while some people develop few or no symptoms at all. Age and underlying health conditions play a role, but plenty of old people seem to recover just fine, for reasons that are not yet fully understood.

Why did you become a journalist and what drew you to the health beat?

I majored in engineering in college, and I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I sought out a career that would allow me to combine those interests. I have been covering science-related topics at the Inquirer since 2001, and in biotech-rich Philadelphia, that often means writing about health and medicine.

Email Tom Avril at and follow him on Twitter at @TomAvril1.

Through Your Eyes | #OurPhilly

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Comment of the week

“Wonderful story! The outpouring of concern and donations shows me there is still kindness in our divided country. I’ll bet no one asked their political views before contributing to this couple. Good for you Massachusetts and those others that did this.” — bigly yuuge on A struggling older couple was shamed for their aging house. Hundreds of people stepped in to help spruce it up.

Your Daily Dose of | Play

For one golden hour and a half every single Thursday, kids from the Bridgeton, N.J., community’s Mexican and Latinx families come to play soccer with pro coaches. (To play it safe, coaches and adults wear masks and families watch the action at a distance from the side.) The goals are family fun, a dose of physical activity and social interaction, and most important of all: endeavoring to build trust between the city’s large Spanish-speaking immigrant community and local police.