Jane Greenhalgh | KNKX

Jane Greenhalgh

It's been more than a year since I've seen my mother. Like many families, we live a fair distance apart and the pandemic has put a stop to our visits. I was supposed to visit last April to celebrate her 90th birthday, but instead we shared a toast over the phone and tightly crossed our fingers that by summer things would be better. They weren't.

It's supposed to be the happiest time of the year, but this year it doesn't really feel like it. With many of us hunkered down at home, some having lost jobs, others having lost friends and family members to COVID-19 or other illnesses, it's tempting to give this holiday season a miss.

But it's important to find joy and meaning in the midst of this dark winter — and carrying on with favorite holiday traditions can help. NPR checked in with medical researchers to figure out how risky our favorite customs are, and highlight ways we can all celebrate more safely.

It has become the battle cry of public health officials around the world: "Wear a mask to slow the spread." Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new evidence supporting this advice.

Researchers analyzed coronavirus infection rates in Kansas following a statewide mask mandate. They found that counties that chose to enforce the mandate saw their cases decrease. Counties that chose to opt out saw their cases continue to rise.

The vast majority of children dying from COVID-19 are Hispanic, Black or Native American, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers analyzed the number of coronavirus cases and deaths among people under the age of 21 that were reported to the CDC between Feb. 12 and July 31 of this year. They found more than 390,000 cases and 121 deaths.

As schools across the country grapple with bringing kids back into the classroom, parents — and teachers — are worried about safety. We asked pediatricians, infectious disease specialists and education experts for help evaluating school district plans.

What we learned: There's no such thing as zero risk, but certain practices can lower the risk of an outbreak at school and keep kids, teachers and families safer.

One of the hardest things during this pandemic — for kids and adult children — has been staying away from their parents and grandparents.

People 65 years and older are at higher risk for getting a severe case of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And about 80% of deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 have been in people older than 65.

President Trump is repeating his claim that the United States is doing more testing for the coronavirus than any other country.

"We have more cases because we're doing far more testing than anybody in the world," the president said in a White House briefing on Sunday.

The U.S has ramped up testing, but still lags other countries like Italy and South Korea, when it comes to testing on a per capita basis.

If there's one thing we're grateful for on Shots, it's our passionate, engaged audience. Our stories often prompt a lively response from readers and people who hear us on the radio. This was definitely the case with Monday's look at the use of permethrin-treated clothing to prevent tick bites, which can cause a lot of nasty diseases.

It's an unusually bad wild fire season in the West, and for weeks people across the region have been breathing air thick with smoke.

"There's smoke from Canada, smoke from Idaho, smoke from California and Montana. There's smoke everywhere," says Greg Svelund, a spokesman for Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality.

With more states legalizing recreational marijuana, parents are facing the question of whether they should smoke pot around their children.

"I have never smoked and would never smoke around my child," says one mother who lives in San Francisco. California is one of eight states that allows recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and older.