ABC - Health News

Opal Foster and her son Jeremiah. (ABC News)By DEVIN DWYER and JANET WEINSTEIN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- When Opal Foster lost her job during the pandemic, she unexpectedly found herself consumed by another full-time gig that didn't pay: at-home virtual learning supervisor for her son with special needs.

"We're all kind of living in panic mode right now," said Foster, a single mother in Silver Spring, Maryland, who is still unemployed.

Foster spends all day at the family dining room table working with her son, Jeremiah, who has Down syndrome, as he navigates a labyrinth of Zoom classes, counseling sessions and art projects for eighth grade.

"There isn't anybody really available to give you breaks," Foster said. "Financially, I'm not really sure how the end of the year is going to look."

Parenting during a pandemic has meant financial, educational and emotional challenges for millions of Americans, but for those with special needs children it's become a Herculean responsibility.

More than seven million U.S. public school students receive special education services, according to the Department of Education. With the coronavirus keeping many of those students home, their parents say they have been left to fill the gap.

Stretched thin, many worry their children are at risk of falling behind in their development.

"It has been scary, hectic, making an already challenging existence for someone living with a disability and a family living with a disability even more challenging and limiting," said LeAnn Quinn of Warwick, Rhode Island.

Mother Haley Keisler of Lexington, South Carolina, said the burdens of caring for her two boys could cost her income.

"Because of a nursing shortage, because both boys are virtual school, right now we have to take off work a few days a week occasionally when there's not someone available," she said.

School districts are required by law to develop an individualized education plan, or IEP, for any child with a disability, but many have been falling short of meeting that standard in the pandemic, advocates say.

Virtual learning is simply not an effective option for many children with special needs.

"A lot of parents rely on the additional support they receive in school during the day to help in the development and growth of their children, especially children with special needs," said Misty Heggeness, a U.S. Census Bureau economist who studies families. "There's a likelihood that they will fall behind much more than the average child."

Melissa and Jason Winchell of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, have spent hundreds of dollars of their savings to transform their home into an interactive school for daughter, Moriah, who has Down syndrome.

"It's too overwhelming for her," Melissa Winchell said of Zoom classes. "This is a kid who gets special ed services every minute of her day when she's in school. This remote learning thing is just not working."

The Winchells, who are both teachers, take turns working with Moriah on fifth-grade lessons during the day, then tend to their other students, giving online lectures, virtual counseling sessions and grading papers late into the night.

The couple said they spend one day a week in the kitchen with Moriah, teaching her how to follow instructions and do basic math by baking bread, bagels, pretzels, cookies or cake-pops.

"We're really tired," Winchell said.

Because many kids with disabilities are in high risk groups for COVID-19 infection, social distance and limits on visitors inside the home are essential for many families. Six months into the pandemic, several parents said the social isolation weighed heavily.

"I have been isolated from other adults for a really long time and, you know, my mental health has paid a price for that," said Rob Gorski, a single father of three autistic sons in Akron, Ohio.

Opal Foster said the isolation has led to a "regression" in Jeremiah.

"Definitely the social piece has fallen back," she said. "Jeremi used to be much more talkative."

Megan Scully and Chris DeBatt, whose 4-year-old son Danny has a rare brain disorder and is learning to speak using his eyes, said they are trying to celebrate each bit of developmental progress -- even if it's not what it should be.

"I think (Danny's speech) has progressed in a different way than if he were using it sort of organically in a classroom," said Scully, "but his amazing speech therapist Corrine has continued through the pandemic."

Gorski says counterbalancing constant change in routines for his boys is critical to keeping their learning on track.

"It's hard to replicate the structure and the routine and the support that you have in the classroom or in the school building at home," Gorski said. "To find some kind of balance is the hardest part of this."

Masked family hikes in the woods are the new "gym class" for the Gorskis. Science, math and English classes are all online.

"It's been a little weird to be honest," said 11-year-old Emmett Gorski. "There are some glitches that need to be worked out."

As for their grade-level progress, Rob Gorski thinks it's inevitable that his kids -- like millions of others -- will fall behind this year.

"We can play catch up on the other side of this," he said, "because the priority is health and wellness."

"Everybody is in the same boat, whether or not you're in the classroom right now wearing a mask and spread apart not being able to interact like normal," Gorski said. "There's nothing we can do at this point but ride it out."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

GoodLifeStudio/iStockBy SASHA PEZENIK, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Joe Dinan felt an anxious pulse in his ears as he walked out of CVS and spotted the liquor store across the street. Having lost his job during the pandemic, he'd had plenty of time to run errands. But he couldn't shake how hopeless he felt, marooned from his own sense of purpose. And the liquor store was right where he'd left it. A small bottle of vodka won out over his recovery.

In the age of pandemic, uncertainty lingers in the air. Now, new data shows that during the COVID-19 crisis, American adults have sharply increased their consumption of alcohol, drinking on more days per month, and to greater excess. Heavy drinking among women especially has soared.

The study, released Tuesday by the RAND corporation and supported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), compared adults' drinking habits from 2019 to now. Surveying 1,540 adults across a nationally representative panel, participants were asked about their shift in consumption between spring 2019 and spring 2020, during the virus' first peak.

Based on the results, experts say they're concerned about how people may be choosing to ease the pain and isolation wrought by the pandemic.

"The magnitude of these increases is striking," Michael Pollard, lead author of the study and a sociologist at RAND, told ABC. "People's depression increases, anxiety increases, [and] alcohol use is often a way to cope with these feelings. But depression and anxiety are also the outcome of drinking; it's this feedback loop where it just exacerbates the problem that it's trying to address."

Between 2019 and now during the pandemic, men and women both reported increasing the frequency of their binge drinking episodes, defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a couple of hours. For women, that count rose by half.

"To move the average up by that much means that some people are really increasing their binge drinking," Pollard said. "For women in particular it can often be an overlooked issue, but it is a real concern."

The study shows that not only has consumption spiked, but respondents also say they've experienced more adverse impacts as a result of their drinking.

Respondents were presented with 15 possible negative outcomes and asked to identify which were true for them. Among the yes-or-no options were, "I have been unhappy because of my drinking," "I have felt guilty or ashamed because of my drinking," "I have taken foolish risks when I have been drinking," and "My family has been hurt by my drinking."

From 2019 to 2020, the average number of the 15 questions women responded "yes" to nearly doubled, from two last year to more than three during the pandemic. In 2019, men on average responded "yes" to four of the questions, compared to roughly five in 2020.

"There is a history with events like 911, Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes and other catastrophes, that people then drink more, post-trauma," NIAAA Director Dr. George Koob told ABC. "Alcohol is a very effective pain killer. But when it wears off, that pain comes back with a vengeance."

Dinan, 42, has been working to get his drinking under control for the past seven years. He's gotten back on track now, but the stress of the pandemic has made it harder than ever before.

"It got to a point when everything just compounded, and I didn't know what to do," Dinan said. "When you're in recovery, you're told you shouldn't isolate, and now that's exactly what we've been told to do. We drink to hide from feelings, hide from life. We tend to isolate. Especially when addiction really gets advanced. Now people are isolated at home. And it presents a real challenge."

"Even when we're doing well, for someone in recovery who's been doing really well, our demons return with stress, and can trigger relapse," Koob said.

Sarah Hepolah, a writer and recovered alcoholic whose bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget," addressed her substance abuse, has been candid about the struggle and how hard it is for people to stay sane and sober amid the shutdown.

"The world took the rest of the coping mechanisms away -- and so you have this one thing and it has a kind of wicked allure," Hepolah told ABC. "I was very called by that voice of romantic doom -- heading to the liquor store for 'supplies' -- like it was a camping trip. And it sort of was. I was going on a camping trip from life."

It's an appealing escape hatch from reality, experts say, especially when that reality has begun to feel dystopian. That appeal, RAND's data shows, appears especially strong for women.

"It's a perfect drug for women in particular, in a lot of ways," Hepolah said. "Makes you feel braver, empowered, strong, it's a pain management system -- and it's a forgetting drug, and a lot of us are in a place where we just don't want to think a lot right now. And as far as women go right now, a lot of them are bearing the biggest burden of dealing with both work and added domestic stresses, home schooling, childcare, keeping the household from falling apart. A glass of wine or two, 'mother's little helper,' that's socially acceptable."

Drinking in and of itself is not a negative thing -- it's built into our social infrastructure as a way of bringing loved ones together over shared experiences. That's remained true during the pandemic, where Zoom cocktail parties have taken the place of traditional gatherings.

During the shutdown, innovative ways of bringing booze home took off, with online app sales connecting consumers with liquor stores for home delivery. One such company, Drizly, told ABC that during the early lockdown days, they saw growth surge of 700-800%. It's leveled off some since then, but they're still sitting at 350% growth since last year.

But with that unprecedented demand, Drizly's Liz Paquette said, comes a responsibility to wield their product mindfully.

"At a time when we're frightfully socially distancing, retaining connection with our loved ones is important for a lot of people," Paquette said. "But it can be a slippery slope. And so we practice a lot of care with our messaging and communication. We're careful to make sure we're not insinuating alcohol should be used as a coping mechanism. We don't glorify getting drunk. We don't push shots."

When they began seeing their sales snowball, Paquette said, they put a pause on their paid media spending -- making sure they had both supplies and safe messaging in place to meet the influx of demand.

"It's important to us both as humans at this company, and as an organization, that we understand our role within this space and make sure we're acting in a way that's as responsible as possible," Paquette said.

When alcohol becomes a crutch to sublimate unwanted pain, however, it becomes a problem.

Frankie Arguinzni, an employee at Supreme Liquor, gets down bottles of vodka from the top shelf for a customer in the Cambridge, Mass., April 28, 2020.
"It's one way to deal with this stress," Koob said, "but when you start drinking to fix something or to not feel something, the alcohol makes it worse. It gets very insidious."

As the coronavirus began to spread this spring, and alcohol sales began to spike, the World Health Organization warned that alcohol use could potentially exacerbate health issues and risk-taking behaviors.

Alcohol abuse poses unique risks in the current COVID-19 crisis, potentially making people more vulnerable to disease, experts say.

"Chronic alcohol consumption has historically been shown to increase the risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome," Koob said. Fluid builds up in the lungs, keeping them from filling with enough air. Less oxygen reaches the bloodstream, depriving organs of what they need to function.

"At a moment when we're supposed to be extra careful, this seems a particularly bad time for impaired judgment when we're supposed to be paying close attention to our behaviors," Pollard said. "There are real risks with lasting consequences."

As a result, say experts, this unprecedented crisis may offer new opportunities to rethink pain management.

"People may not want to quit drinking because they don't want to change their world," Hepolah said. "But now, the world has changed. And we're here whether we like it or not. So the question becomes, who do you want to be?"

If you or someone close to you needs help for a substance use disorder, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit, SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

ABC News' Sony Salzman and Eric Strauss contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

naumoid/iStockBy DR. LEAH CROLL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Evidence is mounting that children may play a larger role in the community spread of COVID-19, according to two studies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association published a study on Tuesday that showed that the number of children infected with COVID-19 rose sharply from April to September.

In April, children accounted for about 2.2% of all reported U.S. cases, but by September that figure had risen to 10%. By Sept. 24, according to the study, which used data from U.S. public health department websites, 624,890 cases in children had been reported.

And there's emerging evidence that older children may be "approximately twice" as likely to test positive than younger children, according to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published on Monday.

The study, published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, analyzed trends among 277,285 school-aged children with confirmed COVID-19 cases from March 1 to Sept. 19. During that span, adolescents aged 12 to 17 were found to have an average weekly rate of 37.4 new cases per 100,000 people, compared with 19 cases per 100,000 for ages 5 to 11.

The weekly rate of new cases among all children included in the CDC's study peaked during the week of July 19 and subsequently leveled off during the summer, rising in the week of Sept. 6, when many returned to school. Both studies noted that case numbers among children varied over time and by region.

As of Sept. 10, children represented 1.7% of COVID-related hospitalizations and 0.07% of deaths. It's still rare for children, especially young children, to die of COVID-19, with 0.01% of all child cases resulting in death, according to the Pediatrics study.

The CDC researchers found that underlying conditions were more common among children with severe outcomes from COVID-19. Among school-aged children who were hospitalized, admitted to intensive care or who died, 16%, 27% and 28%, respectively, had at least one underlying medical condition. Black and Latino children still are more likely to experience severe illness.

Both studies explained that they may be underestimating the true burden of COVID-19 on children because testing data reported by states often is not uniform or complete. Also, testing frequently was prioritized for people showing symptoms, and asymptomatic infection in children is common. More delayed reporting of children's tests means the data could be lagging behind reality.

"It is important for schools and communities," the CDC researchers wrote, "to monitor multiple indicators of COVID-19 among school-aged children and layer prevention strategies to reduce COVID-19 disease risk for students, teachers, school staff and families."

Leah Croll, M.D., a neurology resident at NYU Langone Health, is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty ImagesBy ANDREA TUCCILLO and CARSON BLACKWELDER, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Chrissy Teigen revealed via her Instagram Stories that she was hospitalized for excessive bleeding on Sunday.

Teigen, who's about halfway through her third pregnancy, has been on weeks of mandatory bed rest and said her bleeding issues involving her placenta have been going on for a "like a month."

"Basically he's the strongest, coolest dude in the s-------t house. His house is just falling apart," she said of her baby boy. "It didn't have a good foundation to begin with, though. He didn't have the strongest chance at the very, very beginning."

"It's just hard because there's not much you can do," she added. "I'm in that weird in-between time of it being really dangerous to try anything."

"Basically if I can make it through the next few weeks, if little boy can make it through the next few weeks, then, you know, we can go from there and be able to kind of get through the danger zone or whatever," Teigen said. "But we have to get through this first. So yeah, it is scary. But it's scary in the way that there's just really nothing to do."

Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an OB/GYN, said Tuesday on "Good Morning America" that the "Cravings" author's bleeding problems may be caused by various issues with the placenta. They could range from "whether that placenta is lying a little bit low, closer to the cervix" to "the way that it's inserted into the muscle of the uterus."

Teigen said she is feeling "really good" despite the setback.

"The baby is so healthy," she said, noting that he is "stronger" than her two previous children were at this stage. "I'm just so excited for him."

Teigen's husband, John Legend, has stayed in the hospital room with her as she has undergone two blood transfusions.

The couple shares 4-year-old daughter Luna and 2-year-old son Miles.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


(NEW YORK) -- Just weeks after losing her daughter to complications of COVID-19, Shirley Bannister has also died from the virus, her family said.

“[It has been] very traumatic. This is our family [and] definitely will not be the same without them. It definitely leaves a void,” said Shayla Jones, Shirley Bannister’s niece.

Shirley Bannister, 57, who was the Department Chair for Nursing at Midlands Tech, learned she had COVID-19 the day she lost her daughter, Demetria “Demi” Bannister, to complications of the virus.

“[Shirely Bannister] took it very hard,” said Jones, who added that Bannister was still grieving and under immense stress when she was diagnosed. “It was a multitude of things, you know, mainly about Demetria’s passing and I know that was definitely a big impact [on] her.”

When Shirley Bannister began feeling symptomatic, she went to the hospital for a test, but was turned away, Jones told ABC News.

“[My aunt] and my uncle went to the hospital, and they wouldn't test them,” said Jones. “She tried more than one time to go to the hospital and they wouldn't admit her because they felt that her symptoms weren't severe enough.”

Shirley Bannister was able to get tested at an urgent care center, where she tested positive for COVID-19. She was subsequently admitted to a hospital, where she died a little over a week later on Sunday.

“I'm thankful that we are a strong family and a praying family. So I think sometimes we just get unexpected strength from God to deal with the matter,” said Jones.

Jones said her uncle tested negative for the virus this past week. He’s now grieving the loss of his family.

“We just try to be there for my uncle, you know, because [Demetria] is his only child,” said Jones.

She added that it’s been difficult for the family to grieve together as they’re unable to gather in person.

Demetria Bannister was a teacher at Windsor Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina. The 28-year-old was known for her “lovely spirit” and her love for music, Jones told ABC News. She was known for the songs, dances and music videos that she would make with her students.

After losing two family members, the family is now urging others to take the virus “seriously.”

“Well, we're really taking it day by day,” said Jones. “I think sometimes we think that they went somewhere and they'll be back, but then reality will sink in and we realize that their destination has no return.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


(NEW YORK) -- On the evening of Dec. 18, 2004, 3-year-old Meghan Beck was enjoying the film, Frosty the Snowman before heading to bed. The toddler was looking forward to Christmas and was set to decorate cookies the following day with her twin brother, Ryan and older brother, Kyle.

"She was bossy and loud," mom Kimberly Amato of Sterling, Massachusetts, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "She loved all animals from a caterpillar to a bird and her beloved cats -- all named Duncan."

"She had everybody wrapped around her little finger ... her twin was very laid back and Meghan was like, 'I want it and I want it now.' It was almost as if she knew she wasn't going to have a lot of time," she said.

On that night in 2004, Amato attended a neighborhood party with her son, Kyle. She returned home and tucked in Meghan and Ryan, who slept in separate rooms.

At 10:00 p.m. Amato went to sleep, though was woken by Meghan around 3:30 a.m.

"She had a stinky diaper [and would say], 'Mommy I'm a stinky girl,'" Amato recalled. "I changed her diaper and said, 'It's not time to get up yet.' That was the last time I saw her alive."

That morning, Amato says she slept later than usual -- a rare occasion. When she woke up at 8 a.m., her husband was yelling her name. His tone of voice made Amato realize something was wrong.

"I literally flew [to the bedroom]," she said. "I think my feet hit the ground three times."

Meghan was found unresponsive and trapped under her dresser. Amato said her family did not hear the furniture fall, and it appeared Meghan had removed her clothing from the drawers.

Amato rushed to her daughter's side and administered CPR. She remembers it had been more than six minutes, which is the window when irreversible brain damage can occur. Amato is CPR-certified.

"I said, 'Meggie, Come back to Mommy only if you can be Meggie,'" Amato says she told Meghan while waiting for paramedics.

An ambulance arrived as well as several neighbors with medical backgrounds, including an emergency room physician.

Amato followed the ambulance to the local hospital where she was informed that Meghan was being airlifted to the trauma ward at UMass Memorial.

"I knew in my heart she was gone," Amato said. "I wasn't ready to accept it, I'm still not ... but you always hold onto that hope."

An EMT drove Amato and her husband to UMass. It was there where they learned Meghan had died from suffocation.

"I remember hanging my head and taking a deep breath. I remember saying, can I see her?" Amato said, adding that nurses allowed her to hold Meghan in a blanket.

The night she lost Meghan, Amato sat down and wrote an email to her loved ones, informing them of her child's sudden death and urging them to bolt their dressers to the wall.

With Amato's blessing, people began sharing Meghan's photo on a flyer to alert parents of the dangers behind furniture tip-overs. The cause was soon named "Meghan's Hope." Amato launched a guest book that within days, had over 1,000 comments from family, friends and nurses who cared for Meghan in the hospital.

Amato also wrote a letter to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) about her devastating experience-turned-mission to alert other families.

"It's not in any parenting magazine, it wasn't taught to me when I took a childcare class. Something was wrong," she said.

In its 2019 report on furniture, television and appliance tip-over injuries and fatalities, the CPSC revealed that between 2000 and 2018, there were 556 fatalities that were caused by tip-overs. Of those reported deaths, 83% (459) involved kids with the victims ages being 1 month to 14 years. Fourteen percent involved seniors, victims ages 60 years or older.

Ages 1-4 years were the age majority of tip-over injuries and fatalities involving children. Furniture like dressers, bookshelves, drawers, TV stands and desks, were found to be the main cause of both injuries and deaths, with 60% of deaths involving furniture (some had both furniture and a TV tip-over). As for injuries, 76% involved furniture.

The main causes of tip-over accidents, according to the CPSC, are either unknown or the child was climbing onto the furniture. When drawers are open, furniture becomes front and top heavy, easily tipping over with some pressure or weight.

Emily Samuel, program director at the nonprofit child safety organization Safe Kids Wordwide, told GMA that furniture tip-overs are especially relevant now amid the pandemic and stay-at-home orders.

"Homes are no longer just place to live. It's [now] our home offices and where our kids play," Samuel said. "It's a combination of a young child at home and parents and caregivers balancing several priorities of homework, virtual learning and that could lead to gaps in supervision. There's a potential there for an increased number of injuries in the home."

Parents should be one step ahead, Samuel suggested, and put safety devices in place as soon as your baby rolls over. Don't wait until they crawl or walk, she said.

"Anytime we hear about a child or a family who has been affected by a preventable injury, it's so heartbreaking for us," she said. "And that's why we align our mission focused on educating and raising awareness to prevent these tragedies from happening."

At 3 years old, Meghan was 28 pounds. Her dresser stood 30 inches tall at 150 pounds, and Amato described it as an expensive piece of nursery furniture that she never imagined would've fallen over.

Amato, who now works with the CPSC on the government-funded campaign, Anchor It!, said Meghan's dresser would technically be compliant with today's voluntary safety standard based on height, yet it still tipped over and killed her.

"Anchoring right now is the only way to prevent a tip-over, and I would say properly anchoring is the only way," Amato explained, adding that not all furniture include anchors or warnings that it can tip, and injure or kill children.

On Sept. 17, 2019, the STURDY Act (Stop Tip-Overs of Unstable Risky Dressers on Youth), passed through the U.S. House and was referred to the Senate committee on science, commerce, and transportation.

The bill, which Amato is fighting to be passed, proposes the CPSC issue a mandatory furniture safety standard within one year of it's enactment.

It would warrant:

• Testing on all clothing storage units, regardless of height
• Require testing to simulate the weight of a child 72 months of age
• Require testing that accounts for the way children interact with furniture in the real world
• Testing that would include loaded drawers and multiple open drawers -- accounting for the impact of carpeting on stability, and simulating the dynamic forces a climbing child would cause
• Mandate strong warning requirements and labels
• Anchoring is the first line of defense, and the consumer should have to take final steps to make the product safe

Since Meghan's death, Amato became a founding member of the group, Parents Against Tip-Overs, in which the members are also parents of young children who have lost their lives from a furniture tip-over incident.

Their goal is to educate the public on how a child can be severely injured or killed by falling furniture, televisions and appliances.

The group first met in Washington, D.C., in November 2018, to talk with CPSC commissioners.

"The moms and dads, when we got together for the first time ... it was incredibly emotional," Amato said. "We said, 'Close your eyes and think of what our kids would say.' Our kids are all up there together looking down on us [saying], 'I'm so proud of you mommy and daddy for trying to save all these kids."

"I do hope that's what it is ... they're proud of mom and dad for trying to make sure this doesn't happen to anybody else," she added.

On the Anchor It! website, the CPSC says anchoring kits are sold online and in-stores for as low as $5 and people can install them themselves. The organization gives step-by-step instructions showing how to anchor furniture to drywall, or a brick wall to prevent tip-overs.

CPSC tips to remember:

• Use sturdy furniture designed to hold TVs, such as television stands or media centers
• Mount flat-screen TVs to the wall or furniture to prevent them from falling over
• Secure TVs even if they are not wall-mounted with an anti-tip device
• Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to secure TVs properly
• Secure top-heavy furniture with anti-tip devices, whether it’s old or new
• Remove items that might tempt kids to climb, such as toys and remote controls, from the top of TV and furniture

Samuel of Safe Kids said to also read instructions on the anchor straps or anti-tip devices like mounts of brackets on how install securely. Make sure the device is appropriate for the item you are anchoring.

You can find a complete list of furniture anchors and where to get them at

If you've experienced a tip-over, a near-miss, or any other product hazard, report it at It's the best way to ensure the CPSC has tip-over data as well as information about potentially dangerous or deadly products (like unstable dressers), and is where many recalls are born, Amato said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Narvikk/iStockBy DR. YALDA SAFAI, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- People with substance use disorders may be more likely to become infected and die of COVID-19, according to a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in Molecular Psychiatry.

Specifically, the study found that people with opioid use disorder and tobacco addiction were more likely to die of COVID-19.

"Drugs inhibit the ability to fight viral and bacterial infections, disrupting immune function," Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and co-author of the study, told ABC News.

"Opioids inhibit the respiratory centers in the brain. The combination of the two leads to the increased risk of COVID and its complications," she added.

Opioid epidemic meets the coronavirus

The opioid epidemic that began in the 1990s is now a global health crisis, and with the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, the two public health crises are now colliding in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 70,000 people died in the U.S. from an opioid overdose in 2019. These numbers are projected to be higher in 2020.

Overdose with opioids is caused by the respiratory depressant effects of these drugs. Opioids -- including but not limited to heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl -- work by slowing down the breathing rate.

COVID-19 also affects breathing, decreasing the ability to properly take in oxygen, which makes the combination of opioids and COVID-19 infection particularly lethal.

Tobacco and cocaine increase risks too

In addition, the chronic use of drugs such as tobacco, cocaine and opioids is associated with heart problems, including risk for heart attacks and heart failure.

"Cocaine doesn't work in the same way opioids do. Stimulants, such as cocaine, work by causing constriction of blood vessels," said Volkow. Chronic cocaine use can lead to high blood pressure, which is also a risk factor for COVID-19 complications.

"All substance use is highly comorbid with tobacco use," which can leave you more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses, added Volkow.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that smoking cigarettes can cause heart and lung disease and people with underlying heart and lung problems may have increased risk for serious complications from COVID-19.

"Smoking can also cause inflammation and cell damage in the body, and can weaken your immune system, making it less able to fight off disease," they add.

The pandemic has led to an increase in many risk factors for substance addiction, including isolation, financial hardship and mental health problems. The need for treatment services has gone up significantly while mental health and addiction treatment centers have struggled to stay open. Financial burdens caused by safety regulations, quarantine rules, limited capacity and fewer physician referrals are only some of the reasons these centers have been having a hard time staying afloat.

Disruptions in treatment caused by the pandemic

The CDC noted on its website that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions in treatment.

In-person treatment options might not be available, which may bring on a relapse for those in remission. Narcotics Anonymous meetings, for instance, were suspended early in the pandemic, just when support was perhaps needed most, and the transition to online meetings was slow. Now they're beginning to open up, offering social support and mentorship that are often fundamental to recovery.

Syringe service programs may be closed or have reduced hours, limiting access to clean syringes, constituting a public health hazard. Illicit drug supplies might be limited, or access disrupted due to social distancing, which can potentially lead to the risk of using contaminated drug products that might increase overdoses or other adverse reactions.

In addition, social distancing rules and stay-at-home mandates may lead to higher numbers of people using substances alone, without others around to administer life saving remedies such as naloxone or to call for help in the case of overdose.

"It is very important for substance users to recognize that they are at a higher risk," said Volkow.

The study emphasizes the need to screen for, and treat, substance use as part of the plan for controlling the pandemic.

It is important for health care providers to closely monitor patients with substance use and develop a plan to help protect them from infection and severe outcomes, the study concludes.

Find a health care provider or treatment for substance use disorder and mental health: SAMHSA's National Helplineexternal icon: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and TTY 1-800-487-4889

Yalda Safai, M.D., M.P.H., is a psychiatry resident in New York City and contributor to ABC News' Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

narvikk/iStockBy DR. LEAH CROLL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- More than 90% of U.S. adults remain susceptible to COVID-19, according to research published on Friday.

Using data from dialysis centers in the United States, the study, published in The Lancet, estimates that less than 10% of U.S. adults have virus antibodies, meaning everyone else is potentially vulnerable to infection.

Those figures roughly match those of a forthcoming Centers of Disease Control and Prevention study, according to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, who spoke at a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

"The preliminary results in the first round show that a majority of our nation, more than 90% of the population, remains susceptible," said Redfield, referring to an ongoing CDC study assessing the prevalence of antibodies to better track how widely the virus has spread.

CDC data from that study is expected to be published in the "next week or so," Redfield added.

The Lancet study offers new details about the prevalence of COVID-19. Researchers at Stanford University studied 28,503 U.S. patients receiving dialysis in July 2020 and found that 8% of those sampled had COVID-19 antibodies -- 9.3% when standardized to the general U.S. adult population.

The study raises questions over "herd immunity," the idea that when enough a large enough population becomes immune the virus could die off. One big problem, experts have said, is that they don't yet know enough about how immunity to COVID-19 develops to say whether antibodies provide adequate protection from reinfection.

"What we know about antibodies is that things get a little dicey," said Dr. Jay Bhatt, an ABC News contributor and former chief medical officer of the American Hospital Association. "People don't have a uniformly consistent or strong antibody response, so the question is, 'Can we achieve herd immunity with this particular virus, or will that not be possible?'"

The results provide "yet another data point that helps us reinforce that there are significant amounts of people in this country that haven't been exposed to the virus," Bhatt added. "This study suggests that we have a long way to go to get to the kind of immunity we need to move past the virus."

This study is different from many others in that it looked at dialysis patients, who already undergo routine, monthly laboratory studies. This allows for better and more reliable data collection.

Dialysis cleans the blood of patients with end-stage kidney disease. Because dialysis patients are from a diverse range of backgrounds, ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses, the group studied is a reasonable approximation for the rest of the country, the researchers said.

John Brownstein, an ABC News contributor and epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital, said the study's findings should be taken with a grain of salt as dialysis patients aren't necessarily representative of the general population.

Because dialysis patients are less likely to be employed and many have issues with mobility, they also could have been exposed to COVID-19 at lower rates, which would mean the actual number of people with antibodies has been underestimated. Or conversely, individuals on dialysis may be more susceptible to the virus because of chronic underlying health issues, meaning the number of those with antibodies has been overestimated.

Patients with end-stage kidney disease and patients with severe COVID-19 have several risk factors in common: they're older, have higher rates of hypertension and diabetes, and people of color are disproportionately affected by both. This adds an extra layer of insight to the study's findings.

"Being able to understand the level of vulnerability of the part of the population that is going to be most impacted by the virus is important," Brownstein said. "And understanding where they are at in terms of immunity or potential immunity is valuable information."

Leah Croll, M.D., a neurology resident at NYU Langone Health, is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Elen11/iStockBy ERIC MOLLO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) – Retired colonel Terry Virts has spent over seven months in space, serving as a NASA astronaut, performing space walks, and commanding the International Space Station.

The former U.S. Air Force pilot spoke to ABC News this week about his new book, How to Astronaut: An Insider's Guide to Leaving Planet Earth, in which he details things like taking a shower in space, eating, sleeping, and what happens if an astronaut gets stranded.

On ABC News’ “Perspective” podcast, Virts told ABC’s Cheri Preston he dealt with a lot of isolation while traveling in space:

"We had a couple of cargo ships blow up and I was stuck in space. We didn't know when we were coming back. We were low on supplies. So it's really similar to what we're doing down here now… There is a chapter about how to survive isolation."

As a former fighter pilot and astronaut, Virts says he frequently had to confront the possibility that he could die instantly. By compartmentalizing the grim prospect of instant death, he was actually able to carry out his duties:

"If you thought about that for 200 days, you know, you'd go insane… You just have to figure out how to put it in a different compartment in your brain so it's not in the front."

Virts believes the isolation he experienced in space mirrors much of what people have had to manage amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One way he dealt with isolation and continues to do so today is by keeping a positive attitude and reminding himself that negative experiences will not last forever. Other tips that have helped him through isolation include getting physical exercise and taking on an art project:

“When I was in space, I took pictures and I helped film a movie, “A Beautiful Planet,” which is really helping me now because I'm kind of moving into the TV and film universe. So, I think if you can write a book or learn photography or start painting or whatever, doing something artistic I think is really good for the human brain.”

Retired astronaut Clayton Anderson previously appeared on "Perspective," during which he admitted that one of the biggest challenges he faced while traveling through space was spending time with people he did not particularly like. Virts believes that experience is relatable both for astronauts and those who are self-isolating, and that it is something people should think about critically as the pandemic continues:

"That is super important. Look, you're not going to like everybody in life... even if you're married to someone that you love, if you're spending 24/7 for 200 days with them, that's going to get old after a while... It's [space traveling] the ultimate isolation: being stuck in a can with a few other people. Many of them are not even from your country… don't speak your language... Give yourself some personal space and some personal time. The technical aspects of spaceflight are hard and can kill you. But it's the psychological aspect that's even harder--the interpersonal relationships--because that is the ultimate quarantine."

Listen to the rest of this past week’s highlights from Perspective here.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

fizkes/iStockBy JENNI GOLDSTEIN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- September is National Recovery Month. Every September for the last 31 years, organizations across the country use this month to educate Americans about substance use disorders, mental health treatment and service options available to help in the recovery process. Patty McCarthy is the CEO of Faces & Voices of Recovery, an organization with the goal of organizing and mobilizing Americans to achieve long-term recovery through its advocacy efforts.

McCarthy herself has been in long term recovery for over thirty years. Each year marks a new theme for the month. The 2020 theme is Join The Voices for Recovery, Celebrating Connections.

McCarthy told the ABC News "Perspective" podcast:

 “We know that we can't do it alone. So that's why the theme of celebrating connections is so important, especially right now during COVID-19, when connecting with people has become a whole new challenge when we're not able to visit with people in person or attend our usual gatherings to support recovery.”

Listen to the full interview with Patty McCarthy here.

Martine Hackett is an associate professor in the Master of Public Health and Community Health Programs at Hofstra University. Hackett told the "Perspective" podcast that racial disparities can make it more difficult for minorities to get the help they need to recover from substance misuse.

“Some of these barriers that minorities face when it comes to identifying help have to do with even their perceived need for treatment,” said Hackett.

Hackett said it is important to recognize that they might not want to have help from official means and might be more comfortable receiving that assistance from family, friends or religious organizations instead.

Hackett says trauma and racial tensions also play a role in how alcohol and drug can be used as a coping mechanism:

“Concepts around trauma and the experiences of trauma, particularly at an early age, might make people more susceptible to addiction. There’s research that talks about the stressors of racism and how those stressors can cause behaviors that people reach to be able to deal with those stressors.”

Another challenge that minorities might face is access to behavioral health services. Hackett said Native Americans are particularly afflicted by substance misuse.  

“They [Native Americans] have a higher rate of addiction, but they also have a lower rate of recovery and being able to seek recovery,” said Hackett.

McCarthy said that recognizing the language and terminology we use when referring to those in recovery is an important step not only to help with the process, but to humanize their struggles:

“We no longer use words like addict. We no longer use the word drug abuse. We have to remember that these are our family, friends, sons and daughters. We have shifted to person-first language, such as a person with a substance use disorder.”

The stigma that many associate with those in recovery can make it more difficult for many to seek help. This is especially true for minority communities.

“There are certain ways that different cultures view addiction,” said Hackett. “People might not feel comfortable being able to even admit that they have a problem.”

Resources are available at Faces & Voices of Recovery's website for National Recovery Month and beyond. More information about how the month is celebrated can be found at

“Recovery is a journey,” said McCarthy. “We want a path to a better future.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


(NEW YORK) -- Health officials have issued a new warning against abusing the allergy medicine Benadryl after reports emerged of a so-called "Benadryl challenge" gaining popularity on the app TikTok.

Reminiscent of the deadly "Tide Pod Challenge," the latest dangerous social media trend is encouraging young people to take higher-than-recommended doses of the over-the-counter drug whose generic name is diphenhydramine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned in a statement Thursday that this can lead to "serious heart problems, seizures, coma or even death."

"We are aware of news reports of teenagers ending up in emergency rooms or dying after participating in the 'Benadryl Challenge' encouraged in videos posted on the social media application TikTok," the agency added.

The statement said that the FDA contacted TikTok and "strongly urged them to remove the videos from their platform and to be vigilant to remove additional videos that may be posted."

Moreover, the agency recommended that parents and caregivers store these medicines "away and out of children's reach and sight."

If someone has taken too much Benadryl and is hallucinating, can't be awakened, has a seizure, has trouble breathing, or has collapsed, the FDA warns to get them medical attention immediately or contact the poison control center at: 1-800-222-1222.

At least one death has been reportedly linked to the challenge, according to local media reports in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

TikTok said that the hashtag for the challenge has been blocked from search on the app and has been for months, instead directing users to their Community Guidelines.

"The safety and well-being of our users is TikTok's top priority," a company spokesperson told ABC News in a statement.

"As we make clear in our Community Guidelines, we do not allow content that encourages, promotes, or glorifies dangerous challenges that might lead to injury," the spokesperson added. "Though we have not seen this content trend on our platform, we actively remove content that violates our guidelines and block related hashtags to further discourage participation. We encourage everyone to exercise caution in their behavior whether online or off."

Johnson and Johnson, the producer of Benadryl, also responded to the online challenge, saying it is "a dangerous trend and should be stopped immediately."

"Collaboration and education are critical to putting an end to this dangerous misuse," the company said, adding that it is working with TikTok and other online platforms to remove content that showcases this behavior.

"We will look to partner across industry and with key stakeholders to address this dangerous behavior," the drugmaker added.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Mumemories/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- Many Americans can relate to the tempting, passing glances at the colorful assortment of confections while waiting in line at the grocery store. But one city in Northern California is making a move to help people resist the unhealthy urges at checkout in favor of healthier options.

The Berkeley City Council unanimously approved a Healthy Checkout Ordinance at its meeting on Tuesday that will be reviewed next month.

The recommendation, presented by council members Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn who co-authored the ordinance, would require stores over 2,500-square feet to "sell more nutritious food and beverage options in their checkout areas."

"We're not saying you can't have these goods. We're just saying they're not going to be right at the eye level of your children when they walk into the store and you're waiting in that long line at check out," Harrison said, according to ABC News San Francisco station KGO.

The city is well known for its ties to the Slow Food movement -- a global nonprofit that seeks to create better food systems and help communities change the world through their relationship with clean, healthy foods. Shoppers would see the change at local stores like Safeway, CVS, Berkeley Bowl, Trader Joes and Whole Foods.

The ordinance would be adopted officially after its second reading at the City Council meeting on Oct. 13. It won’t go into effect until March 1 and enforcement won’t begin until Jan. 1, 2022.

"Today’s food landscape plays a large role in determining what people purchase and consume," the ordinance stated. "Cheap, ready-to-eat foods high in salt, saturated fat, and added sugars dominate checkout aisles, where shoppers are more likely to make impulse purchases and where parents struggle with their children over demands to buy treats at the end of a shopping trip."

Berkeley will be first in the nation to ban candy, soda at checkout aisles

— Berkeleyside (@berkeleyside) September 23, 2020

The city manager would determine specifics for adequate funding and staffing needs in order to implement and enforce the ordinance and sources of funding to support this program.

The ordinance laid out research and data surrounding excessive sugar and sodium intake and related disease disparities, including elevated risk of tooth decay, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

"The adverse health effects of added sugar consumption further entrench health disparities, burdening people of color more than white populations," the ordinance stated. "Currently, Type 2 diabetes is on the rise across the country; one in three children and one of two children of color will be diagnosed in their lifetime."

It also cited a 2019 report that found "73 percent of shoppers are concerned about the nutritional content of their food."

"The aim of placing food and beverages at checkout is to induce unplanned purchases; thus, unhealthy checkout options undermine consumers’ efforts to purchase healthier foods," according to the ordinance. "The placement of snacks near the register increases the likelihood that people purchase those foods. In addition, most of the candy, soda, and chips in checkout aisles are placed at eye-level and within reach of children, undermining parents’ efforts to feed their children well. Three-quarters of parents report that it is hard to shop at grocery stores because unhealthy food is so prevalent. Healthy checkout aisles provide all families more opportunities to say yes to their kids."

Berkeley has long been on the forefront of healthy living. It became the first city in the U.S. to pass a soda tax in 2014.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

kitzcorner/iStockBy DR. L. NEDDA DASTMALCHI, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Prior to COVID-19, Dr. Julia Few, director of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Moms in Recovery Program, gathered a group of women in a small room, joined together by the struggles of motherhood while battling opioid addiction. These women learned from each other, grew with each other, through an intensive three-hour session three times a week.

Now, because of the pandemic, these women have lost this important community. These sessions are hard to replicate on Zoom, and for many with unreliable internet access that's not an option anyway.

"Women with substance-use disorders, particularly in rural areas, face a lot of barriers to telehealth access," Few said. "Many of these women don't have cell reception or high-speed internet."

With the pandemic putting programs like these on hiatus, patients like Megan, who has been with Moms in Recovery, was relieved when the program started up again virtually. (She declined to give her full name for privacy reasons.)

"When groups did start going virtual, I started to feel like myself again and getting back on track," Megan said. "I am worried about the people I was close with in the program who cannot attend anymore, because it is not a question of 'if,' it's a question of 'when.'"

Secondary repercussions in health as a result of the pandemic have been profound. Three times as many people reported battling depression, and there have been more deaths from opioid overdose. Additionally, a recent peer-reviewed study found an increased susceptibility to complications from COVID-19 infection among patients struggling with substance abuse.

"I know at least one or two [people] a month who have died since July [from opioid overdose]," Megan explained. "I am just worried about the kids. The next generation all the kids will share something -- a parent who died from overdose."

Group visits for treating substance abuse and mental health disorders is not a novel idea. These programs, by creating a common bond and sense of unity, can help heal patients facing similar physical and emotional struggles.

Dr. Chanel Heermann, the director and an integrative psychiatrist at SynerGenius Telepresence and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, finds that in-person group therapy can be helpful for many people who suffer from mental illnesses, especially among patients who battle depression and suffer from social anxiety.

"One of the great gifts that groups offer us is the realization that we have so much more in common as human beings who suffer than the diagnostic or demographic differences that divide us," she said. "That realization -- of not being alone -- can be profoundly healing."

Tawny Jones, an administrator at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, said that chronic diseases don't occur in isolation. About 1 in 4 people have chronic diseases driven by modifiable lifestyle factors, including nutrition, physical activity and substance abuse. As a result of these "unifying" contributors to ill health, group visits are an excellent alternative to traditional care delivery models in dealing with chronic disease and mental health disorders.

"Group visits allow more time with practitioners to improve a patient's medical literacy and understanding of their treatment plan," Jones said. "There is also peer-to-peer sharing that can elicit information from patients that the physician may not be able to get in an individual setting, which leads to a healthy sense of pressure and motivation from peers to actively manage their condition and adhere to treatment plans."

Megan said she feels privileged to have the ability to continue her therapy virtually via Moms in Recovery, but experts have said they fear for those without similar digital access.

Dr. Andrew Myers, director of the Cleveland Clinic Community Care, agreed that the reliance on telemedicine and virtual care has led to an increase in the health care access disparities.

"Not all patients have the technical expertise or logistical support needed to fully utilize virtual care," Myers said. "The growing reliance on virtual care during this pandemic has heightened the impact of this divide."

Moms in Recovery and the Cleveland Clinic have made salient efforts to help alleviate this.

"We are actively working with community partners to mitigate this divide by extending broadband access into some of the underserved neighborhoods around our campuses," Myers explained. "More work is underway to further mitigate this divide."

Even for those with access to telemedicine, many chronic conditions, such as depression, still are better treated with in-person care, Heermann noted.

"I do believe that physical touch is critical for helping people recover from depression," she said. "For patients who live alone, those who are single, those without children or other nearby family, this can be a real concern, especially during this difficult period."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

bymuratdeniz/iStockBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- After struggling for years with disordered eating and more recently a severe eating disorder, Kwolanne Dina Felix, a college junior in New York City, realized early this year that the eating disorder had taken over her life and she was ready to seek recovery.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States and, like so many others with eating disorders, Felix saw her condition spiral out of control.

"I tried to go into the pandemic with a sense of recovery, but that wasn't really the case," she told ABC News' Good Morning America. "Eating disorders are about routine and control and I was in a place where I was completely out of control."

"When the world is spiraling out of control, I felt like the only control I had was whether to not eat ice cream," Felix explained. "I found myself being a lot more restrictive ... I really doubled down on my habits."

Felix, 21, said the stay-at-home orders and strict social distancing brought on by the pandemic also stripped her of the social support that may have helped her eating disorder recovery in more normal times.

Stuck in isolation in New York City, she described having a "crippling fear" about weight gain, brought on in part by the "COVID 15" and "COVID 19" weight gain memes that circulated on social media.

"The 'COVID 15' was such widespread hysteria," Felix said. "I had to unfollow people and celebrities who were talking about that."

During the height of the pandemic, Felix said she did her best by following body positive accounts on social media and relying on virtual support through sites like The Unplug Collective, a platform that allows Black women to speak openly about mental health and body discrimination.

Social media influencer Charli D'Amelio, 16, a TikTok star, opened up about her own eating disorder during the pandemic. When she included a swipe-up link to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), the association saw a 300% increase in website traffic, according to a spokesperson.

"I've always tried to use my voice when it comes to issues surrounding body image, but I've never talked about my own struggles with eating disorders," D'Amelio shared in an Instagram story earlier this month. "It's so uncomfortable to admit to even your closest friend and family, let alone the world. I've been afraid to share that i have an eating disorder, but ultimately i hope that by sharing this i can help someone else."

"I know disorders are something that so many other people are also battling behind closed doors," she added.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the NEDA has reported a spike of more than 70% in the number of calls and online chat inquiries to its hotline compared to the same time period last year.

"This has been a time of heightened anxiety for everyone," NEDA's CEO Claire Mysko told GMA. "For people with eating disorders, either those who are actively struggling or those who are pursuing recovery, there's an added stressor with the pandemic."

Jillian Lampert, Ph.D., chief strategy officer of The Emily Program, a national network of eating disorder treatment centers, said the program has seen inquiries both online and by phone "fly off the charts" during the pandemic.

"We're seeing people calling now in a more acute, intense stage [of an eating disorder]," she said. "So we're seeing not only are more people calling, but more people are calling in a more crisis situation."

The nature of the pandemic, with its uncertainty and isolation, makes it one that "checks every box" for putting people at a higher risk for eating disorders, according to Lampert.

Mysko points to the isolating nature of the pandemic -- which has forced people to stay home and forced eating disorder treatments to go virtual -- as a particularly damaging element.

"We know that eating disorders strive with isolation," she said. "The public health guidelines with social distancing really stand in contrast to what we learn in recovery, which is all about connection and standing outside of that isolation."

In addition to isolation, the pandemic has brought on issues of food insecurity and fears for people, a disruption from norms and routines, stress related to job and financial woes and social pressure to reinvent one's self during quarantine, all of which can be contributing factors to eating disorders, experts say.

The pandemic has also brought on a mental health crisis in the U.S., of which eating disorders are a major part, according to Mysko.

"Eating disorders are very complex mental health issues with a strong relation to anxiety, depression, past histories of trauma and substance abuse," she said. "We really need to talk about them as part of this mental health crisis."

Felix -- who sought in-person treatment once New York City began to reopen -- said she learned firsthand during the pandemic that her eating disorder was a mental health concern, one that was taking over her life.

"When people talk about eating disorders, they talk about it like it's a diet," said Felix. "It's like, no, eating disorders have [one of] the highest mortality rates of any mental health disorder."

Eating disorders are second only to opioid overdose as the deadliest mental illness, with eating disorders responsible for one death every 52 minutes in the United States, according to data shared by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Eating disorders are treatable, especially if treatment is sought early, which is why, despite the alarming spike in inquiries, Mysko is glad to see so many people reaching out for help.

"We often hear from people who have waited a very long time [to seek help] because they don't feel their experience is validated or it doesn't fit into the stereotypical narrative," she said. "If you've never been in treatment or never reached out for help, that can be scary."

"We want to stress that there is help out there. There are options. There is support," added Mysko. "Recovery is not canceled."

If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

frantic00/iStockBy ANGELINE JANE BERNABE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- When Tavi Kaunitz and Tom Lerner had to postpone their May wedding due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was stressful and upsetting for the couple, who had spent nearly a year planning their dream ceremony.

"We'd already been in the throes of planning, and you just get excited for it," Lerner told ABC News' Good Morning America. "That time was really tough and stressful."

Kaunitz and Lerner, from California, are one of many couples from all across the country who were planning on getting married in 2020, but instead quickly had to pivot, decide on a new date and rethink what their celebrations would look like.

"There was a lot of disappointment and a lot of fear about what their new wedding was going to look like," said wedding planner Victoria Holland, founder and CEO of Victoria Ann Events in Los Angeles, who worked with Kaunitz and Lerner. "For my weddings that were in May, I told them they needed to make a decision sooner than later because we needed to come up with a plan B. I think the best thing was [for us] that we were at the first line of defense right away."

The couple rescheduled for April 2021.

Event planners Neha Shah and Amanda Mendez of Blue Lotus Insights in Orange County, California, took a similar approach by creating multiple backup plans for their couples with bigger weddings.

Shah had a list of several alternative options for couples to cut down on guest lists or pivot to an outdoor wedding versus an indoor one.

While most of their couples postponed their weddings until next year, Holland, Shah and Mendez are all starting to pick up planning again with their clients, as 2021 is just around the corner. Unfortunately, with the timing of a COVID-19 vaccine still in flux, couples still have many questions.

Wedding planners are being asked by their clients how the wedding industry is going to look in 2021, but "unfortunately we know as much as anybody else does at this point that we don't know what's going to happen," Shah said.

Shah's main piece of advice for couples planning a wedding is to prepare for any roadblocks that could happen due to COVID-19.

To help other couples who have postponed their wedding to next year, Shah, Mendez and Holland all shared their top tips on what to consider when planning their special day.

Here are their top 10 pieces of advice for couples who have postponed their weddings to 2021:

1. Check to see if events are being rescheduled near your venue

Holland's first piece of advice for couples who have postponed their weddings to next year is to see when events in the city you're having your wedding have been rescheduled to. Check the city's visitor bureau to get an idea, she suggested.

"A lot of couples here in Los Angeles get married in Palm Springs," said Holland. "You definitely don't want to pick Coachella weekend for your wedding or Stagecoach weekend for your wedding because a lot of hotels are completely booked and restaurants [too]."

2. Research your local ordinances

For couples who have opted for a smaller wedding in 2021 and are having the event in their backyard, Shah suggests taking a look at your local ordinances. Different counties have their own set of rules and regulations and some counties might be more relaxed or strict than others when it comes to loud music, gatherings and more.

"If you know your local ordinances, and then are able to move around those ordinances within different counties, that can also be really helpful," she said. "With that comes safety tips. Those counties will recommend what the minimum and maximum safety tips are, which will help you navigate your wedding day itself."

3. Ask your vendors for referrals

One of the big things couples are experiencing after they've postponed their weddings is having to pick out new vendors, so Holland suggests couples ask vendors if they have any friends or people they know that they can refer you to.

"If you're looking for a photographer and your original was this beautiful, light and air, and you're looking for another one that can do that same style, ask [your photographer] them if they have any referrals," said Holland.

4. Ask your vendors about their deposit policy -- and negotiate

Planning a wedding is stressful, and one of the things that can be daunting for couples to do is putting deposits down for a wedding that may or may not happen next year amid the ongoing pandemic.

"We understand very intimately that it's money that's being put down and you don't know if that money will come to fruition or those services will come to fruition because we don't know what 2021 is going to look like," said Shah.

Ask what the deposit, postponement, cancellation and refund policies are for all your vendors. According to Shah, many vendors are agreeing to smaller deposit amounts because they also understand the uncertainty of planning a wedding during these times.

5. Read over contracts with your vendors

Holland suggests thoroughly reading contracts for each of your vendors and make sure all dates match on each contract to avoid any mixups from happening.

"Read all the addendums that are in the contracts because sometimes there's things that you might not really want to agree to," she said. "Once you sign on that dotted line, you're locked in."

6. Safety first! Sanitizing stations, matching masks and more

Now more than ever, it's so important to stay safe. Mendez suggests that guests wear masks at next year's wedding celebrations and hand sanitizing stations are made available for them throughout the venue. One way to make this stylish is to custom-make hand sanitizing bottles that fit with your decorations and even custom-make face masks for your guests.

"This is the time that we're living in right now, so you got to make the best of it," she said.

Another addition that Shah suggests couples consider for their weddings next year is to have a COVID compliance officer. Many film productions in Southern California have designated a COVID compliance officer who will do a quick assessment of guests and perform temperature checks before they enter the event.

7. Ask your guests to take COVID tests

While it may feel strange to ask guests to take COVID tests before attending your wedding, Holland said it's not an odd question to ask.

"Don't feel funny about asking your guests to get COVID tested," said Holland. "Depending on what your situation is, you can try to take some of the costs of a COVID test. You want your wedding to be enjoyable and the best way for it to be enjoyable is to know that everyone is healthy."

8. Think of new ways to serve food

How to serve food in a safe but celebratory way is one of the things at the top of wedding planners and caterers' lists. With buffet and family-style meals in limbo, Holland has seen caterers use covers for food that go with the decor, individualized hors d'oeuvres and pre-made drinks where there are less hands on the food or drinks that are being picked up.

9. Create smaller guest lists in case you need to scale down

Although couples are considering smaller weddings with a limited guest list these days, it can be tough for couples whose cultures celebrate the occasion with people beyond their immediate families. So, if the time comes that your wedding needs to shift to a smaller event, Shah suggests that you prepare smaller guest lists.

"Let's come up with 25, 50, 75, 100 person guest lists. Specifically, when it comes to saying only 25 people and then scrambling to cut people makes it a little harder," said Shah.

10. Take a deep breath

While this time can be stressful, Holland is reminding couples to take a deep breath.

"Don't get yourself crazy about what you originally thought your day was going to look like," she said. "Enjoy the engagement portion, which a lot of people don't get to do because they get right into wedding planning."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.