Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Jonathan Ahl

Rolla Correspondent

Jonathan Ahl reports from the Rolla Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.

Rolla Books and Toys repopened under new rules from the city to help protect workers and customers from coronavirus. 05-13-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Rolla ended its stay-at-home order earlier this month, but two weeks into the reopening of the economy with restrictions, the situation is getting mixed reviews from businesses.

Rolla Books and Toys tried curbside pickup and orders in March but closed after an unsuccessful week. Now they are back open with clear shower curtains surrounding the cash register area to protect workers, six-foot boxes taped off on the floor to promote social distancing, and a large hand-sanitizer dispenser at the front of the store for customers to use. 

That’s what retail looks like now in Rolla during the coronavirus pandemic.

Missouri Department of Conservation

Missouri feral hog hunters soon should be able to donate the meat to local food banks.

The recently passed state budget bill that is on its way to Gov. Mike Parson includes an expansion of the Share the Harvest Program, which will allow hunters to donate feral hogs in addition to deer to local food banks.

Under the program, the state pays meat processors to prepare the animals for donation to food pantries and other agencies that feed those in need.

The measure also doubles the amount of money the state is putting toward the program, from $150,000 to $300,000.

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Salem Memorial District Hospital, a 25-bed facility in Dent County, is ready for coronavirus patients.

Mike Gruenberg, director of disaster preparedness at Salem, said that meant making major changes.

“We don’t usually admit patients on ventilators, so usually those kind of patients, we would send to the urban facilities,” he said. “We have had to change our way of dealing with that. We have some extra ventilators in house. We are able to keep these patients.”

Amy Mayer | Iowa Public Radio File Photo

While farmers are hurting in the coronavirus economy, how badly depends largely on where they are selling their crops and livestock.

“If your normal place to drop your corn is an ethanol plant, and that ethanol plant is shut down, absolutely it’s having an effect,” said Seth Meyer, an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri.

But Meyer said that even for the corn farmers who sell to ethanol plants that are still running, or to some other sector, the lack of demand for ethanol because of lower fuel consumption means they are hurting, too.

Provided photo from Fort Leonard Wood, taken April 2020
Fort Leonard Wood

Unlike other areas of Missouri where health officials believe the peak of coronavirus passed more than a week ago, Fort Leonard Wood has yet to see the worst, post leaders say. And they are asking for help to make sure people follow the rules.

According to the latest data, the virus may continue to spread at Fort Leonard Wood, Maj. Gen. Donna Martin said.

“The trend of cases, community spread and community testing in our region do not indicate that we are on a downward slope or side of this curve,” Martin said.

Provided photo from Phelps Health of triage station 04-27-20
Phelps Health

Updated at 2 p.m. with comments from Department of Health and Senior Services

Expanded testing for coronavirus this week in Missouri is the first snapshot of how the virus is spreading throughout the state. 

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said Wednesday that 4,000 tests will be given this week, regardless if people have symptoms. 

“We now have enough tests to also look at specific populations, the asymptomatic people, we can do 50,000 tests a week now,” Williams said.

Statue of St. Patrick looking over the Missouri S&T quad, 4-24-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — With some data suggesting the region and state hit its peak in coronavirus spread more than a week ago, Missouri University of Science and Technology is planning to start a slow process of bringing people back to campus.

School officials announced the plan during a recent virtual town hall meeting, the latest in a series held every week since the coronavirus pandemic reached the area.

“The optimism [about the data] points us in a direction of looking at repopulation of campus in a well-thought-out, phased approach,” said Dr. Dennis Goodman, the university's medical director. “Getting ready for that phase that is going to occur in August which will be a large population surge.”

A Public House Brewing Company employee brings pizza to a curbside customer. It's a small business trying to make it in a collge town where the students have largely left town. 4-02-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Like most small businesses in the U.S., those in college towns are trying to find a way to stay afloat amid stay-at-home orders and social distancing because of the coronavirus.

But they often face a double whammy, with a sizable amount of the population leaving as dorms are closed and classes are moved online. That’s what’s happening in Rolla, home to Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Rolla is a town of about 20,000, and that includes about 8,000 students at Missouri S&T. While an exact count isn’t known, many of those students left campus and the city to return home to complete their classes online.

Online screen shot from 4/22 virtual town hall meeting
Facebook

The U.S. Department of Defense announced Wednesday that it is lifting the suspension of new recruits going to basic and advanced training at bases like Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood.

That means hundreds of new soldiers will be arriving at Fort Leonard Wood amid concerns of spreading coronavirus.

The base’s commander, Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, said the new soldiers’ experience will be vastly different than before, including numerous coronavirus precautions.

Gov. Mike Parson signs the legislation that has Missouri recognize professional licesnes of military spouses that move into the state. 4-21-20
Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 4 p.m. with Gov. Mike Parson signing the bill

Some spouses of military members will have an easier time finding a job when they move to Missouri.

Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday signed legislation to have Missouri honor the professional licenses that military spouses hold from other states.

Parson said the move will help military spouses avoid hiccups in their careers when they relocate to Missouri, and will also help fill open jobs.

Parson and some lawmakers have expressed interest in expanding the program to non-military families to help make the state more attractive.

Fort Leonard Wood, taken 7-26-19
File photo | Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Hundreds of soldiers who graduated from training at Fort Leonard Wood should be at their next post, but travel restrictions due to the coronavirus have stalled those movements.

It also means that family members have not been able to see their loved ones in the brief windows between assignments.

Alex Englemann of Stockton, California, graduated from basic combat training at Fort Leonard Wood more than three weeks ago. His father, John, was on his way to Missouri for the graduation ceremony, but turned around when it was canceled because of coronavirus concerns.

Rolla City Hall picture taken 4-16-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

While President Donald Trump is going back and forth on setting a date to lift stay-at-home orders and reopen the economy, one of his staunchest supporters in Congress said it shouldn’t be a federal or state government decision.

U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican from Salem, said the coronavirus pandemic is affecting different places in different ways, and local governments are best equipped to decide when to ease off on quarantining and let businesses reopen.

“What works in St. Louis County doesn’t work in Phelps County,” Smith said. “So I think that in reopening, all the decisions should be closest to the people, and that’s what works best.”

Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology are analyzing millions of tweets to track the nation’s mood and behavior during the coronavirus outbreak.

And they say the data could help devise strategies to deal with this pandemic and others. 

Computer science professor Sanjay Madria and Ph.D. student Yasin Kabir created a program that started searching Twitter in early March for trending topics, keywords, phrases and other elements in tweets that give some insight to the public sentiment about coronavirus.

Friday is the deadline for U.S.-China trade talks. If they fail and China's 25-percent tariff on soybeans goes into effect, Missouri farmers will feel the impact.
jasonippolito | Flickr

ROLLA — The economic downturn following the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. has hurt agriculture in the short term but is also providing opportunities for long-term gains.

Commodity prices are down again this month, following a trend that has been going on for more than five years. In addition, China’s promises to buy $36 billion in U.S. crops this year and $43 billion next year may not come to fruition.

Charles Baron, co-founder of Farmers Business Network, an online farm information and consulting service, said historically low interest rates are another outcome of the downturn, and that could help farmers.

The drive-thru triage area at Phelps Health Medical Center in Rolla is part of the hospital's preperation to handle increased patients becaue of coronavirus. 04-02-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — So far, there have not been any confirmed cases of coronavirus in Phelps County, but the hospital in Rolla is using the delay to make sure it's ready.

Phelps Health Medical Center is the largest hospital for more than 50 miles in every direction. And while COVID-19 cases are few in that region, they are preparing for its arrival in big numbers.

Phelps Health started expanding its capacity more than two weeks ago, with the creation of a triage center in a parking lot adjacent to the hospital. It’s made up of tents, portable buildings and a covered carport where patients can be assessed in their cars.

Maj. Gen. Donna Martin spoke on Facebook Live about the confirmed coronavirus case at Fort Leonard Wood 03-25-20 screenshot from Facebook
Facebook

FORT LEONARD WOOD — Maj. Gen. Donna Martin returned to Facebook on Wednesday in what was billed as a virtual town hall meeting to praise the procedures in place to keep the coronavirus in check.

The briefing came days after the first confirmed case of the virus at the installation in Missouri’s Ozarks that has tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians coming through every year.

Martin said the infected soldier was on leave in New York before the Department of Defense banned such travel. The soldier returned to base, followed protocol and reported for a medical check.

Eric Schneider sits at a computer wearing a mask prototype and working on revisions for the next version. March 23, 2020. JA 3-23-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 8:10 p.m. March 25 with production continuing

Production of protective face masks at Missouri University of Science & Technology, which had been paused pending FDA approval, has resumed. They won’t be delivered to Phelps Health Medical Center until the FDA approves them. Missouri S&T and the hospital are pleased with the final design and are optimistic it will be approved.

The students, who are continuing to work around the clock, are also producing face shields, which do not require FDA approval.

Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

WAYNESVILLE — Using online services to help rural people in need isn’t new, but a domestic violence shelter has learned it takes more than that when internet access in safe spaces isn’t available.

That’s why Genesis, a domestic and sexual violence victim advocacy agency, is combining its online offerings with a roving staff member who travels to women in need.

“If they can just get to me at the disclosed location, I can set them up with therapy services through our therapists over the internet,” said Wendy Miller, the rural victim advocate for Genesis.

Missouri S&T professors Rex E. Gerald II and Jie Huang with the sensor they are developing that could help screen people for viruses like coronoavirus. Photo from Missouri S&T, provided March 2020
Tom Wagner | Missouri S&T

ROLLA — Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology are developing an electronic sensor that can detect viruses by analyzing someone’s breath. 

The technology could be used in the future to manage the spread of an epidemic like coronavirus. The prototype of the sensor is designed to be a first-level screening for viral diseases that affect the lungs. 

Maj. Gen. Donna Martin spoke at a virtual town hall meeting on Facebook to talk about Fort Leonard Wood's response to coronavirus (Facebook screen capture from 03-18-20)
Facebook

Maj. Gen. Donna Martin took to Facebook on Wednesday to hold a virtual town hall meeting on Fort Leonard Wood’s response to coronavirus concerns, and delivered a message of some things being exactly the same and some very different.

All troop training exercises and classes, including basic training, will continue. New recruits from all over the country will still come to the military installation in Missouri’s Ozarks to take the first steps toward becoming a soldier.

But service members and their families on base face significant restrictions in travel. All personal leave has been canceled, and travel is only allowed in military-approved scenarios where COVID-19 screening protocols are in effect.

Provided photo of Dale Martin from Missouri S&T, taken in 2017
Missouri S&T

ROLLA — The Rolla Regional Economic Commission’s new leader has no economic development experience, and his hiring marks a shift in the group’s focus.

Dale Martin was the head men’s basketball coach at Missouri University of Science and Technology for 22 years. He started as the executive director of RREC this month.

Carther Chance playing the French horn. His cerebral palsy limits the use of his right arm, which isn't needed for this insturment. 03-03-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Carter Chance has never let cerebral palsy stop him from doing what he wants, but a unique set of circumstances is threatening his ability to join the Rolla High School Marching Band next year.

One of the effects of the disorder is he has little strength in his right arm and almost no use of his right hand. When he wanted to join the band last year, there was an easy solution to that problem: the French horn.

“You use your left hand on the valves of a French horn to be able to play it, and then your right hand just goes in the bell, and all it does is sit there, and that works perfect for Carter,” said Mike Goldschmidt, band director at Rolla Junior High.

A CT scan of ovarian cancer
Wikimedia Commons

A study of more than 1,000 women in Missouri, Kansas and Iowa diagnosed with ovarian cancer showed those with the more lethal stage IV tended to come from rural areas.

The study published in the Journal of Rural Health shows rural women are two and half times as likely as their urban counterparts to be diagnosed when the disease is at its most severe stage.

Researchers are not sure why that’s the case.

Missouri S&T students in the campus Havener Center on Feb. 28, 2020, raising money for coronavirus supplies for a Chinese hospital.
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Missouri University of Science and Technology students from China are raising money to help their home country fight the new coronavirus, but so far they haven’t found a way to get money or supplies to China.

The school’s Chinese Scholars and Students Association started taking donations in the middle of last week and have already raised more than $4,000.

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri University of Science and Technology chose the state Capitol building to launch its yearlong 150th anniversary celebration, in part to get lawmakers' attention as it asks for more state funding.

More than 100 people gathered in the Capitol rotunda Tuesday morning to hear from university officials, students and lawmakers.

Missouri S&T Chancellor Mo Dehghani told the crowd that the school, which started as Missouri School of Mines and was later called the University of Missouri-Rolla before taking its current name, has a proven track record.

The Sanvello app is available to all University of Missouri students at all of its campuses 02-21-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

Stress, anxiety and depression can be part of the college experience for many students, so the University of Missouri System is hoping a mobile app can help them cope better and be healthy.

The university purchased the rights for students on the campuses in Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City and Rolla to download and use the app called Sanvello. Normally it costs $8.95 a month. 

It has functions including self-assessments, guided meditations, breathing exercises and behavioral studies that are designed to help manage mental health issues.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt spoke in Rolla with rural health care providers about opioid addiction 02-21-2020
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — If Missouri receives money from its lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, rural health care providers want to make sure they get some of those dollars to support underfunded opioid addiction services.

The Your Community Cares Rural Health Coalition invited Attorney General Eric Schmitt and representatives from the U.S. Attorney's office in St. Louis to Rolla on Friday to talk about the programs and how they are underfunded.

Missouri needs more internet service producers to connect underground fiber networks to customers to increase high-speed internet access, a new FCC report says.
Dan Chace | Flickr

ROLLA — More than $60 million in grants and low-interest loans is headed to Missouri as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to increase broadband internet access in rural areas.

Six businesses are receiving the grants to install fiber optic internet lines that will bring high-speed service to areas that have little to no access.

Gascosage Electric Cooperative is one of those businesses. It provides electricity to rural areas of Camden, Maries, Miller, Phelps and Pulaski counties in south-central Missouri. This grant is part of its entry into the internet service provider market.

A sign announces the sudden closure of Pinnacle Regional Hospital in Boonville.
SEBASTIAN MARTINEZ VALDIVIA | KBIA

When Pinnacle Regional Hospital in Boonville closed recently, it became the seventh rural hospital to shut its doors in Missouri since 2010.

In that same time frame, Illinois had two rural hospitals go out of business. The National Rural Hospital Association blames the difference on lack of Medicaid expansion. 

The association reports there are nine factors that can lead to a rural hospital shutting down, and being in a state, like Missouri, that hasn't expanded Medicaid is No. 1.

Kaitlin Taylor from Senn-Thomas Middle School puts the finishing touches on her team's model city for the Future City Competition. 1-25-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Twenty teams of Missouri junior high students took a crack at solving a big problem: What will cities of the future look like as they try to address clean water shortages?

Future City is an annual competition challenging sixth through eighth graders to design and build a model of a city and present it to a group of judges. This year’s theme was “Clean Water: Tap Into Tomorrow.”

The teams gathered at Missouri University of Science and Technology over the past weekend to present their ideas and compete for a chance to represent the state at a national competition in Washington, D.C.

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