Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Eli Chen

Science Reporter

Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

Ways to Connect

Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis is an infectious disease doctor with the Washington University School of Medicine.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

When the coronavirus began spreading in the St. Louis region, Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis was about seven months pregnant. 

Like other doctors at the Washington University School of Medicine, she began to prepare herself in early March for the risks of treating patients who could be contagious with a dangerous virus that experts knew very little about. 

But after examining a patient who had a fever, cough and other symptoms of COVID-19, she started to wonder if seeing patients in person would be too risky for her and her child.

Employees of O'Dell's Irish Pub & Ale House in Eureka climb over a wall of sandbags to get into the bar Thursday afternoon.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

More than 280,000 properties in Missouri are at risk of flood damage, according to a nationwide study of flood zones.

That's nearly twice the number estimated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, say researchers for the First Street Foundation, a consortium of academics. They calculated the higher figure after considering the effects of climate change and parts of the state not included in FEMA's flood insurance maps.

In Illinois, 451,700 properties are at risk of flood damage, or more than twice the number FEMA estimates.

Monsanto's widely used weed killer Roundup on a shelf in Home Depot.
File photo | Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6:20 p.m., June 24, with comments from Bayer officials. 

German biotech giant Bayer AG has agreed to pay up to $10.9 billion to settle tens of thousands of claims that its popular weedkiller Roundup has caused people cancer. 

Perennial City Composting co-founder Tim Kiefer at his small chicken farm in Visitation Park on June 19, 2020.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

About a year ago, Jermell Hasson Williams called the police because he smelled a terrible odor and thought someone might have died in the vacant house next door. 

Instead, he discovered that the strong rancid odors were coming from a two-acre farm nearby owned by a local urban agriculture company, Perennial City Composting. 

Williams and his neighbors in the Visitation Park area north of Delmar Boulevard claim that the smell is coming from composted chicken manure. They’ve asked city officials to move the farm out of the neighborhood.

Delmar Gardens of Chesterfield's building on May 22, 2020.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Nursing homes could soon allow families to visit their loved ones outdoors. 

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services released guidelines Monday for nursing homes and assisted living facilities so that people can visit residents outdoors or at open windows, if the resident cannot leave their room. 

Nursing homes have restricted access to visitors since March to reduce the risk of infection. More than 250 nursing home residents in Missouri have died of COVID-19, according to data the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid released this month.

Dicamba graphic
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

German biotech giant Bayer AG could lose tens of millions of dollars from a federal ban this week of its widely used dicamba weedkiller. 

The Environmental Protection Agency halted sales of three dicamba products, including Bayer’s XtendiMax, after a federal appeals court ruled last week that the herbicide could not legally be sprayed over crops.

Research from Midwestern weed scientists has shown that dicamba has damaged millions of acres of crops in the U.S. Hot weather can cause the chemical to drift and ruin crops miles away. 

Ecologist Leticia Classen-Rodriguez, who studies wolf spiders at St. Louis University, stands at the closed gates of the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center in Ladue on June 6, 2020.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Leticia Classen-Rodriguez planned on spending spring and summer searching for wolf spiders along a winding tree-covered road in Ladue. 

Classen-Rodriguez, a doctoral candidate in ecology at St. Louis University, records the environments of wolf spiders. She’s researching how the sounds of construction work and other human activities interfere with their ability to listen for food, mates and threats. 

But when universities and research institutions in St. Louis closed laboratories and field sites to reduce exposure to the coronavirus, Classen-Rodriguez and many other scientists had to work from home. Much of their work has been delayed or halted because developing treatments for chronic diseases and studying wild animals can’t be done remotely. 

Earlie Fuse points to a plywood wall he constructed after his basement wall collapsed. Jan. 27, 2020
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Earlie Fuse’s home in Centreville, Illinois, flooded in 1993. 

Since then, Fuse and his neighbors have experienced worse floods. Some found that the sewer and stormwater systems were so clogged that raw sewage had seeped into people’s yards. Sometimes, a rain would lead to flash floods because the water had nowhere to drain. 

Lawyers on Friday filed a federal lawsuit against the city and sewer utility Commonfields of Cahokia. The suit, filed in East St. Louis on behalf of Fuse and Centreville resident Cornelius Bennett, seeks to fix long-neglected stormwater and sewer systems.

An illustration of flooded homes.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

An advisory group Gov. Mike Parson appointed during the record-breaking 2019 floods has released a report that calls for strengthening levees and other structures that control floods. 

The report from state regulators, agriculture groups and navigation industry representatives also recommends that state and federal officials increase funding for levee repairs and provide financial assistance for farmers with property damage from floods. 

Environmentalists called the group’s recommendations short-sighted because the strategies are largely focused on levees than on other solutions, such as wetland restoration and buying frequently flooded properties.

Protesters begin a march from outside the Target in the Promenade at Brentwood shopping center on Thursday, June 4. The group marched east on Eager Road. to South Hanley Road, south to Walmart, north to the I-64/40 access road north of the highway and wes
Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 10:20 p.m. June 4 with the conclusion of the demonstrations

Protesters packed a Target parking lot and marched through Brentwood and Richmond Heights on Thursday, the day a memorial was held for George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Thousands of people have attended rallies over the past week in the St. Louis region, demanding a stop to police violence against African Americans and mourning the violent death of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police. A smaller protest also occurred in Florissant shortly before the demonstration in Brentwood. 

Royal Oak Nursing & Rehabilitation in St. Louis' Central West End neighborhood on April 22, 2020.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Guardians of nursing home residents in Missouri will soon be allowed to install cameras in facilities to monitor how workers provide care to their loved ones. 

The Missouri Legislature passed a law in mid-May to allow surveillance of residents’ rooms. Patient advocates say the measure could help families keep an eye on relatives they can’t visit during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Cameras would allow families to document abuse or workers not taking precautions against the coronavirus, said Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a St. Louis advocacy group for long-term care residents.

Dr. Katherine Austman, a fellow with the Addiction Recovery Centers of America, conducts a follow-up appointment with a patient living at an encampment for homeless people on May 28, 2020.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Emergency workers in St. Louis responded to an increased number of drug overdoses this spring, according to city health data. 

St. Louis EMS responders used the overdose-reversing medication Narcan 246 times in March and April, nearly twice as often as during the same period last year. 

The increased stress and isolation during the coronavirus pandemic has made some people more likely to use drugs, St. Louis Fire Department Chief Dennis Jenkerson said.

Greg Shank, 20, Harry Shank, 94 and Gary Shank, 65, pose for a photo at their home in St. Louis County on May 22, 2020.
Greg Shank

A few weeks ago, St. Louis County resident Gary Shank decided to move his 94-year-old father out of Delmar Gardens nursing home in Chesterfield. 

Delmar Gardens notified Shank, who lives near Chesterfield, that three residents there had tested positive. Shank didn’t want his father to become infected, so he brought him home on May 6.

More than a third of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the St. Louis County have reported to state health officials that multiple residents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Like others who have moved loved ones from nursing homes, Shank wanted to distance his father from the risk.

Dikes on the Mississippi River
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Environmental organizations in Missouri and Illinois have filed a federal lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, alleging that dikes and other structures the agency has built in the Mississippi River have caused major damage to the environment. 

The federal agency has been working on a project that uses dikes and other barriers to maintain a 9-foot-deep channel that allows barges to transport grain and other goods on the Mississippi River. But environmentalists cite research that has shown that the structures can constrict the river, causing water to flow higher and faster during floods.

Cynthia Whitfield, a nursing home worker at Grand Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation, who passed away on April 21, 2020.
Jasmine Whitfield

When the coronavirus began spreading in Missouri, Jasmine Whitfield remembers how scared her mother was. 

Cynthia Whitfield, 58, was a certified medication technician at Grand Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation in St. Louis’ Grand Center. Since March, dozens of nursing home workers and residents in the St. Louis region have tested positive for the coronavirus. Whitfield was one of them.

SEIU Healthcare members rallying to support nursing home workers who want paid sick leave at Grand Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation in north St. Louis on May 4, 2020.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Every day that Michael Howard reports to work at Grand Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation in north St. Louis, he’s terrified that he will catch the coronavirus. 

Howard is among many St. Louis-area nursing home workers who want their employers to provide sick leave if they become infected. 

“If you get sick and you’re not getting paid for being sick, you know what I mean, that’s scary because you’re the sole breadwinner,” he said. 

Unionized nursing home workers at Grand Manor and Northview Village want paid sick leave and hazard pay for all workers. Not everyone is receiving hazard pay, said Lenny Jones, vice president of SEIU Healthcare, which represents workers at the two facilities.

Delmar Gardens' Meramec Valley facility on April 30, 2020.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri health officials do not plan to publicly identify nursing homes that have residents or workers who have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the state Department of Health and Senior Services, said Friday that state law does not allow the department to name facilities. Instead, the department will disclose the number of nursing homes, other long-term care facilities and prisons in each county that have at least two coronavirus cases. 

The state’s decision to withhold names of nursing homes where there are positive cases disappoints advocates for nursing home residents and their families. Thousands of nursing home residents in Missouri and Illinois have tested positive for the virus.

An illustration of a man trying to reach a nursing home. April 30, 2020.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 4:30 p.m., May 1, with details about Missouri’s plan to identify the number of nursing homes that have coronavirus cases.

In mid-April, Tim Distler’s sister told him that two residents at their mother’s nursing home had tested positive for the coronavirus. 

His sister had learned about the infected residents from their mother’s doctor, so Distler wanted to confirm the information with the director of admissions at Delmar Gardens in Fenton. 

But like many family members seeking information about how nursing homes are taking care of their loved ones, he struggled to reach anyone at the facility. With the coronavirus spreading in nursing homes across the country, state and federal officials are responding to demands for more information on long-term care facilities.

Royal Oaks Nursing & Rehab CNA Monica Mondaine and other workers demand more protection from coronavirus at a rally outside the facility on April 22, 2020.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Workers at two nursing homes in St. Louis are urging their facilities to take action to prevent them and their patients from being infected by the coronavirus. 

Employees of Royal Oak Nursing & Rehabilitation and the Estates of Spanish Lake Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility want more access to tests and masks, gloves and other protective equipment. They’re also asking for paid time off for workers forced to quarantine after coming into contact with residents who have the virus and additional compensation for working during the pandemic. 

At least 99 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in Missouri have one or more residents or employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

Karen Nickel sits on the porch while her two-year-old granddaughter sits by the driveway during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 20, 2020.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s been two months since Karen Nickel last held her 2-year-old granddaughter. 

Nickel, of Maryland Heights, has lupus, psoriatic arthritis and fibromyalgia — chronic and painful conditions and illnesses that weaken her immune system. Sometimes, she is unable to leave her bed. When the coronavirus began spreading in Missouri, she and her children decided they would stop visiting each other in person. 

People who have chronic conditions are at high risk of becoming very sick or dying of COVID-19. Many families are worried about their loved ones and have taken extra precautions to protect them. When Nickel’s 2-year-old granddaughter comes for a visit, the toddler stays outside and they talk through her living room window. 

Ameren Missouri's Labadie Energy Center next to the Missouri River
Labadie Environmental Organization

Sauget resident Mamie Cosey has complained for years about odors and air pollution from a Veolia incinerator located about a mile from her house. 

In recent weeks, Cosey has grown increasingly concerned about the spread of the coronavirus and how it could affect her grandchildren, who have asthma and sinus problems. She has reason to worry. Harvard University researchers found this month that people who have lived with long-term air pollution are more likely to die of COVID-19. 

That frightens Cosey and others who live near industrial facilities in the St. Louis region.

An illustration of flooded homes.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Charles officials plan to substantially raise two levees to reduce flood-related costs for residents and property owners. 

City engineers aim to augment the Frenchtown and Elm Point levees to fend off floods that have a 1-in-500 shot of happening in any given year. The Frenchtown and Elm Point levees can fight floods that have a 4% and 5% chance of occurring in a year. 

Area environmentalists have long opposed raising levees, which can constrict rivers and exacerbate flooding. But elevating the levees is necessary to protect property and reduce flood insurance costs, said Brad Temme, the city’s director of engineering.

May 29, 2019 Workers shore up a temporary levee across Main Street in Grafton. The river had reached 32 feet, on its way to a projected crest of 36.3 feet, which would be the second highest on record and less than two feet below the record set in 1993.
Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio

Mississippi River communities drained by the long flood of 2019 are facing more financial strain from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Kimmswick, Grafton and other cities along the river are in debt from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on sandbags, raising levees and other flood-fighting efforts. As businesses close and tourism plummets due to the pandemic, the economies of flood-prone communities are taking a huge blow.

The new coronavirus has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. It gets its name from its protruding spikes, which resemble a crown.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Doctors at the Washington University School of Medicine will treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients with antimalarial drugs to see if they can fight the disease. 

The clinical trials will test the effectiveness of antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin. President Donald Trump has promoted the prescription medicines as treatments for COVID-19, but there is no scientific proof that any drug works against the illness. 

The Food and Drug Administration last week gave hospitals around the country emergency approval to use the drugs to treat the disease.

Life Care Center of St. Louis, a nursing home in St. Louis on March 27, 2020.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

At least 49 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Missouri have residents or workers who tested positive for COVID-19, according to state health officials. 

State and federal authorities last month directed nursing homes to restrict access to visitors, increase screenings for symptoms and cancel social activities to limit exposure to the coronavirus. 

The restrictions led state surveyors to stop inspecting long-term care facilities for lapses in care. The lack of government oversight makes it hard to know if facilities are taking the necessary precautions to protect residents, said Marjorie Moore, executive director of VOYCE, a St. Louis-area advocacy group for long-term care residents.

File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis-area advocates for housing equality demand that private banks and other lenders put a temporary stop to foreclosures during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Alliance on Thursday called on financial institutions to help people keep their homes while the region is under a stay-at-home order. The requests include moratoriums on evictions for mortgage-backed properties and halting reports of past-due payments to credit bureaus.

The new coronavirus has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. It gets its name from its protruding spikes, which resemble a crown.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5:30 p.m., March 31 with comment from Washington University School of Medicine

St. Louis University doctors are using an experimental drug to treat hospitalized patients who test positive for COVID-19. 

The National Institutes of Health recently launched a study on remdesivir at SLU and about 60 research sites around the world. The intravenous drug has been used to treat a small number of COVID-19 patients, but there’s not enough evidence to show that any drug is an effective treatment. 

Determining whether remdesivir works could save lives, said Sarah George, an infectious disease researcher at SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development.

Frontier Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing home in St. Charles on March 27, 2020.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5 p.m., March 31 with latest number of cases at Frontier Health and Rehabilitation

When dozens of nursing home residents in a Seattle suburb tested positive for COVID-19, people in St. Louis grew worried about their loved ones. 

Michael Allen immediately thought of his aunt, who has schizophrenia and a heart condition, and lives at Frontier Health and Rehabilitation in St. Charles. Allen grew more worried when her nursing home reported that residents there had tested positive.

Nursing homes across the country blocked access to visitors, began screening staff and residents multiple times a day, and are trying to follow guidelines from federal and local authorities.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and elsewhere are investigating whether transfusions of blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can prevent or treat the disease.
Getty Images via Washington University

Updated at 2:52 p.m. with comments from Dr. Jeffrey Henderson

Washington University researchers will soon begin testing a century-old technique that could help combat COVID-19.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the university’s application to test plasma transfusion: isolating and transfusing antibodies from the blood of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to those who are at high risk or are already ill from the virus.

2-ounce hand sanitizer bottles made by Switchgrass Spirits, a distillery in Wellson, Missouri
Switchgrass Spirits

Barbara Chappuis, the owner of Clarksville beauty shop Bee Naturals, found it impossible earlier this month to purchase the alcohol her company needs to make hand sanitizer. 

Global supplies of high-proof alcohol have become scarce due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease spread by the new coronavirus. But in Chappuis’ desperate search to acquire alcohol, she found an unlikely business partner: Switchgrass Spirits, a one-year-old distillery near north St. Louis.

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