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Our 11 most-read global pandemic stories of 2021

Left to right: An illustration of the coronavirus, an illustration of the delta variant and a mural in India.
Hanna Barczyk for NPR / Juan Gaertner/Science Source / Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

For the second year in a row, the global pandemic has dominated our blog — and our readers' attention.

Our top COVID stories reveal the ever-changing nature of the crisis. In February, readers were curious about India's mysterious drop in cases, which spiked again — creating another popular story — in spring. In summer, people wanted to read about the delta variant, only to shift focus to omicron in winter. All the while, readers wanted to know: were vaccines and masks still effective against all the coronavirus mutations?

This list of stories, says NPR correspondent Michaeleen Doucleff, "really shows how so much has happened in just a year."

"Last December, we were still doubtful the variants would change the course of the pandemic," she adds. "Here we are 12 months later, still fighting the delta surge and facing another variant that looks even more contagious."

From the 321 global health and development stories posted on our blog in 2021, here are the 11 most popular COVID stories, ranked by page views.

Highly vaccinated Israel saw a dramatic surge in new COVID cases. Here's why

What happened? Here are six lessons learned from Israel's experience — and one looming question for the future of the pandemic. Published August 20, 2021

Medics in Jerusalem transferred a COVID-19 patient to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem. Many hospitals in Israel were at full capacity this summer following a sharp increase in coronavirus infections.
Menahem Kahana / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Medics in Jerusalem transferred a COVID-19 patient to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem. Many hospitals in Israel were at full capacity this summer following a sharp increase in coronavirus infections.

How SARS-CoV-2 in American deer could alter the course of the global pandemic

Scientists have evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is circulating in white-tailed deer in the U.S. They say the findings could essentially dash any hopes of eliminating the virus in the U.S. — and the world. Published Nov. 10, 2021

A new study suggests that white-tailed deer, like the one here, could carry the virus SARS-CoV-2 indefinitely and spread it back to humans periodically.
/ Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images
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Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images
A new study suggests that white-tailed deer, like the one here, could carry the virus SARS-CoV-2 indefinitely and spread it back to humans periodically.

Extraordinary patient offers surprising clues to origins of coronavirus variants

Scientists looked at a possible link between mutations in the U.K. and South Africa — and those in a patient in Boston who had living, growing virus in his body for five months. Published Feb. 5, 2021

How India went from a ray of hope to a world record for most COVID cases in a day

India's COVID-19 caseload plummeted to record lows in February. Now a startling spike is causing health systems — and possibly law and order — to break down. What went wrong? Published April 22, 2021

Relatives carried the shrouded body of a family member, who died of COVID-19, from an ambulance to a crematorium in New Delhi.
T. Narayan / Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Bloomberg via Getty Images
Relatives carried the shrouded body of a family member, who died of COVID-19, from an ambulance to a crematorium in New Delhi.

New studies find evidence of 'superhuman' immunity to COVID-19 in some individuals

That's how some scientists describe the findings of a series of studies looking at the antibodies created by individuals who were infected by the coronavirus and then had an mRNA vaccine. Published Sept. 7, 2021

COVID's endgame: Scientists have a clue about where SARS-CoV-2 is headed

Pandemic predictions have been made — and then things would change. But based on models and studies (including a 1980s test that squirted virus up human noses), researchers have a new endgame thesis. Published Oct. 29, 2021

What's the coronavirus endgame?
/ Hanna Barczyk for NPR
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Hanna Barczyk for NPR

The delta variant isn't just hyper-contagious. It also grows more rapidly inside you

New research from China suggests people infected with the delta variant have, on average, about 1,000 times more virus in their respiratory tracts than those infected with the original strain. Published July 21, 2021

What omicron's fast spread could mean for the U.S. – and the world

The variant has spread through South Africa with remarkable speed — and been detected in at least 60 other countries. Specialists are trying to figure out the next stage for this unwelcome variant. Published Dec. 10, 2021

Studies suggest sharp drop in vaccine protection vs. omicron — yet cause for optimism

In small studies in South Africa and in Germany, the results indicate a marked decrease in the ability of vaccines to neutralize this variant. But there are other findings that are encouraging. Published Dec. 8, 2021

The mystery of India's plummeting COVID-19 cases

From 100,000 cases a day in September, India was down to about 10,000 a day early this year. Is it climate? Demographics? Mask mandates? Scientists are looking for answers. Published Feb. 1, 2021

A mural in New Delhi is part of public health messaging in India. The country saw a dramatic decline in new cases since the peaks of fall 2020, but researchers aren't sure why.
Sanchit Khanna / Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Hindustan Times via Getty Images
A mural in New Delhi is part of public health messaging in India. The country saw a dramatic decline in new cases since the peaks of fall 2020, but researchers aren't sure why.

Coronavirus FAQ: Why am I suddenly hearing so much about KF94 masks?

There are N95s, the top of the line in terms of protection. There are KN95s, which you can buy easily — except quality may vary. But early this year, South Korea's KF94 masks began getting a lot of buzz. Published Jan. 22, 2021

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

South Korea's KF94 mask does a good job concealing the <em>Mona Lisa</em>'s smile — but how effective is it at preventing coronavirus spread? Here, masked pedestrians stroll through a shopping district in Seoul.
Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images
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Getty Images
South Korea's KF94 mask does a good job concealing the <em>Mona Lisa</em>'s smile — but how effective is it at preventing coronavirus spread? Here, masked pedestrians stroll through a shopping district in Seoul.

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