Meredith Rizzo

As Americans shift their lives indoors and away from large public gatherings, people across the U.S. are grappling with basic questions about life, work and social distancing in the age of COVID-19.

Schools have shut down or pivoted to online learning, restaurants have halted dine-in services, and businesses across the nation have altered their work hours or shuttered completely. NPR checked in this week, with residents of three U.S. cities that have been among the first to face high numbers of cases and restrictions related to the outbreak.

Everyone who lived through Black Saturday remembers the heat and the wind that day in February 2009. The temperature soared to 115 degrees Fahrenheit — so hot it sucked the breath out of you, made your vision swim and your fingers swell. The wind blew in from the northwest, from the vast, arid Australian interior. Flags flew stiff. Fire danger was extreme.

Updated Feb. 21, 11:56 a.m. ET

Coming off a shift at Tuen Mun Hospital in Hong Kong on Wednesday night, cardiologist Alfred Wong was getting ready to go to dinner with his wife. The last time they ate together, she brought the meal to the courtyard below their apartment, placed it on a bench, then sat down at least 10 feet away.

From across the patio, they ate. On separate benches. Looking at each other.

First came the fires, denuding millions of acres of forest in eastern Australia. Now comes the rain, more than 12 inches in just 48 hours over this past weekend in some areas of New South Wales.

That sequence, severe bushfires followed by torrential rain, is bringing a third cataclysm — landslides and large-scale erosion.

When Linda and Bob Oslin lost their home last year to California's most destructive wildfire, they began searching their burned property expecting to salvage at least some sentimental items.

But, she says, "everything was gone." Or so she thought.

Walmart announced Tuesday that it is ending sales of some kinds of ammunition at its stores. The move came in the wake of two deadly shootings at Walmart stores in recent months, including one in El Paso, Texas, that killed 22 people.

At first, Stephen DiRado thought his dad was dealing with depression. Gene DiRado, then in his late 50s, had become more withdrawn, more forgetful. So Stephen processed his growing concern by doing what he'd done since the age of 12: taking photographs. It was the 1980s, and Stephen schlepped his 8x10 camera and tripod over to his parents' home in Marlborough, Mass., to check in on Gene and make portraits of him.

"I was running toward him with the sense of fear that something was wrong," Stephen says now about those years.

Each year, more than 100,000 Americans are shot. And the wounds to bone and tissue caused by specially designed bullets also are getting more severe, according to surgeons.

Not all bullets are created equal. The energy of a bullet is determined by its mass and speed, and its wounding potential hinges on its ability to transfer its energy to a target; even rounds that are similar in size, or look similar, can cause dramatically different damage.

Welcome to Invisibilia Season 4! The NPR program and podcast explores the invisible forces that shape human behavior, and we here at Shots are joining in to probe the science of why we act the way we do. In Episode 5, they're investigating how it feels to live "in between," to be in two worlds at once. In the episode, and in the animation above, we meet M, a woman who worries that her intense daydreaming is interfering with her actual life.

When Ayanna Howard was a little girl, her favorite TV show was the Bionic Woman.

It's been one week since Hurricane Irma hit Southwestern Florida. Residents in Collier County, where the storm made landfall after the Florida keys, are in the early stages of the recovery process still cleaning up debris, wading through floodwaters, struggling to get gas, and trying to get by without electricity. It will take months to fully assess the damage, and the rebuilding process could take years. Yet already they are looking ahead to the next steps. They are figuring out how to continue with their lives amidst the devastation.

Immokalee, Fla.

Within weeks of being diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 years old, Nicole O'Hara of Phoenix, Md., underwent a double mastectomy. She had breast reconstruction during the same operation; then it was on to chemotherapy.

The ordeal left O'Hara with "big, ugly, red inflamed scars and stitches and drains," she says.

"It [was] a battlefield."

When Mexican-American artist Nora Litz first talked with her students about immigration — she was shocked to hear how scared they were.

Sometimes, even professionally compassionate people get tired.

Kristin Laurel, a flight nurse from Waconia, Minn., has worked in trauma units for over two decades. The daily exposure to distressing situations can sometimes result in compassion fatigue.

"Some calls get to you, no matter who you are," she says.

After years working as a nurse in critical care units, Anne Webster found herself lying in the hospital struggling to get well. She had been given the wrong dose of a chemotherapy medication to treat Crohn's disease. The mistake had caused her bone marrow to shut down, and she'd developed pneumonia.

As she lay in the hospital, she thought, "If I live, I'm gonna write about this."

After three weeks, she recovered. And the experience led Webster to write Chemo Brain, a poem about how the drug scrambled her thinking.

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