Audio Features | St. Louis Public Radio

Audio Features

Feature-length audio news reports from St. Louis Public Radio reporters.

Danielle Harper, the social worker at Mann Elementary School in St. Louis, hands a tablet computer to a parent on April 14, 2020. School districts that serve low-income populations faced a steeper obstacle getting their kids fully online quickly.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

Lynn Weaks doesn’t have internet access at home. A smartphone, she said, “was basically all I had.”

Her four children often stayed after school at Ashland Elementary School in St. Louis, which gave them access to tablets to do homework. On the weekends, if they needed to log online to do schoolwork, they’d head to the public library. 

That all changed in March when the pandemic forced schools — and libraries — to close. 

St. Louis Firefighter Cedric Ross talks with other firefighters while wearing a protective mask in St. Louis on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. All St. Louis firefighters are practicing safety from the coronavirus, by wearing the masks when on calls.
Bill Grenblatt | UPI

The highly contagious coronavirus has forced police and fire departments, often the most public-facing of city services, to change the way they interact with the public.

Whether it's disinfecting police cars and ambulances or limiting in-person response to serious crimes, departments across the region are adapting to keep their members safe.

The Feb. 28 tornado killed one man and destroyed more than 100 Perryville area homes.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

As Gov. Mike Parson stepped to a podium to address the media earlier this month, he had more on his mind than just the coronavirus pandemic. 

The night before, strong storms damaged property in two different areas — Laclede and Bates counties — a stark reminder that natural disasters are lurking during Missouri’s springtime. Parson used his opening remarks to emphasize that Missouri’s emergency management personnel are ready to deal with things like tornadoes, floods and severe storms as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley wants to completely shift how the country handles mass unemployment during an economic calamity like the coronavirus pandemic.

The Missouri Republican senator proposes that the federal government step in to help pay for an employee’s wages at companies affected by the COVID-19 crisis. It’s a move he says will substantially tamp down economic anxiety among workers and employers.

Hawley’s proposal, which is similar to what some European countries are doing to deal with the economic downturn, has some fans among economists and Democrats. But it’s an open question whether his GOP colleagues who run the U.S. Senate will make it a priority. 

There are no national regulations or guidelines for determining which patients receive treatment when hospitals are overwhelmed in a pandemic. Some hospitals have scrambled to develop or revise their triage policies during the pandemic.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

As the number of patients sickened by the coronavirus surged worldwide, hospital officials considered a gut-wrenching question: If doctors can’t care for everyone, which patients should get lifesaving treatment?

Triage policies are intended for worst-case scenarios, when resources are scarce and a hospital is too overwhelmed to save every patient. 

But rationing treatment presents a serious moral dilemma, says St. Louis University bioethicist Jason Eberl. He spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Shahla Farzan about the ethical challenges of deciding who to treat — and planning for the next pandemic. 

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.”

Kranzberg Arts Foundation Executive Director Chris Hansen stands in the empty Grandel theater. The Kranzberg will soon start training hundreds of local arts professionals in its coronavirus safety protocols. [5/7/20]
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Leaders of most St. Louis-area theater companies don’t know when they’ll invite audiences back for live performances again during the coronavirus pandemic.

But they’re plotting the shape of live theater in an environment where social distancing is paramount and ticketbuyers may hesitate to return. 

Kranzberg Arts Foundation has taken the lead, developing a comprehensive set of new protocols that could serve as a model for local performing arts organizations.

The Chase Park Plaza Cinemas is a part of St. Louis Cinemas.  Operator Harmon Moseley said when the theater reopens, it will implement safety measures to protect customers. May 1, 2020
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Cinemas owner Harman Moseley isn’t sure when he can reopen the Chase Park Plaza Cinemas and MX Movies and Bar. But as St. Louis prepares to loosen its restrictions on businesses during the coronavirus crisis, he's preparing a reopening plan in case theaters are allowed to open in time for summer blockbusters.

Like many theater owners, Moseley is trying to figure out how a movie theater will operate during the pandemic, when social distancing is key to preventing the virus from spreading.

“How does that work in the time of coronavirus?” Moseley asked. “It’s a tricky thing to figure out at the moment.”

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.

St. Louis-area businesses remain closed as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. Weeks of reduced income, or none at all, has stretched small businesses thin.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

As the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic worsens, small businesses throughout the region — and across the country — are struggling to stay afloat. Some have been out of business for weeks, while others have scraped by on reduced revenue. 

While Missouri lifted its statewide stay-at-home order this week, St. Louis regional leaders won't start reopening the local economy until May 18.

Jerome Katz, head professor of entrepreneurship at St. Louis University’s Chaifetz School of Business, said the small business landscape will look much different when things reopen. 

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.

Kruta's Bakery in Collinsville in August 2019. The bakery is still open during the coronavirus, but sales are down between 25% and 30%.
File photo | Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Illinois residents face at least another month of strict social distancing before the state’s economy will start to open up — later than other parts of the St. Louis region.

At the very least, it will be another tricky four weeks for restaurants and other eateries in the Metro East that had to abruptly pivot because of the pandemic. 

Recovered COVID-19 patient Melissa Stone and her cat Long Boi spend time in her St. Charles apartment. Stone has begun sewing cloth masks.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Clifford Mcintyre had been sick with pneumonia before. So when the 49-year-old started coughing and having trouble breathing a few weeks ago, he went to the doctor in search of the usual treatment, a steroid shot.

But the nasty cough didn’t go away. Soon, McIntyre couldn’t breathe. He went to the hospital, and within hours he was hooked to a ventilator, fighting to stay alive. A test later showed he had COVID-19. 

“COVID feels like you’re drowning,” McIntyre said. “You're out in the water, and you’re trying to reach the top, you can’t breathe and you’re panicking.”

Lisa Marlow is worried about her students. Marlow is a school nurse and educator with the Murphysboro Community Unit School District 186. 

The district serves primarily low-income students in a rural part of southern Illinois. 

When school is in session, Marlow says having eyes on students, especially those with chronic conditions like Type 1 diabetes or asthma, is crucial.

St. Louis University's Institute for Healing Justice and Equity co-founder Ruqaiijah Yearby said the city needs to provide resources for those minority groups with limited access to health care to begin making the city's health care system equitable.
Saint Louis University

On April 8, St. Louis health director Dr. Fred Echols penned a column for the St. Louis American, in which he revealed that the first 12 COVID-19-related deaths in the city were African Americans.

At that time, no detailed racial data about who the virus was affecting was readily available to the public.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has approved a petition to allow Missouri voters to decide whether to expand Medicaid.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Sandy Diamond is planning to vote this year, even with high anxiety over the spread of the coronavirus. 

If the University City resident must vote in person, she’ll put on a mask and practice social distancing to participate in democracy. But Diamond would like to see policymakers come up with ways to make more Missourians feel safe participating in the upcoming elections — including expanding access to absentee ballots.

It’s an idea that’s gained traction with a bipartisan group of election officials.

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. 

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.

Virginia O'Brien transplanted her peas in mid-April, after the last anticipated frost. She's among many in St. Louis growing a garden for the first time this year. 04/15/20
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Virginia O’Brien has a new morning routine. 

She used to wake up and check news headlines. “Now I check my little green ones. I can’t wait to see how they did overnight,” she said. 

O’Brien is among scores of St. Louisans finding peace and purpose in gardening while the pandemic sows upheaval into daily life outside their yards. 

health officials are expecting the peak on/around April 25. But another, potentially worse, peak could come if businesses/etc try to go back to normal before wide-spread testing becomes available.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

About a month ago, Dr. Keith Woeltje’s initial projections plotting the curve of COVID-19 cases in the St. Louis region looked bleak.

“For a couple of days there, it actually looked like we had a steeper curve than New York City. Then things started to flatten out a bit,” said Woeltje, vice president and chief medical information officer at BJC HealthCare.

St. Louis-area hospitals are expected to take on the peak of COVID-19 patients late this week, around Saturday. Updated models from mid-April, which use local data from previous weeks, show that in the most likely scenario, about 700 people will need to be hospitalized at that time. Nearly 180 of those patients will likely be in intensive care units, and around 125 will need ventilators. In a worst-case scenario, those numbers double.

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Brown

Amanda Brown was nervous enough about being pregnant with her first child. She was washing her hands all winter — and that was before the coronavirus erupted into a global pandemic.

Now, she has a whole new set of concerns about childbirth. Brown’s due date is April 30, shortly after experts expect the St. Louis region to experience its surge in coronavirus cases.

“I was trying to be prepared, but all those plans went out the window,” Brown said.

"Fires don't chase firemen home," said Dr. Howie Mell, an emergency physician. "But this bug chases lots of folks home, and that's a new reality."
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

As an emergency room physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Evan Schwarz is used to working under pressure. 

But when he and his team connect a COVID-19 patient to a ventilator, it’s hard not to worry.

To connect a patient to the equipment, the team must first insert a tube down a person’s trachea — one of the riskiest procedures for medical workers when treating a coronavirus patient. As the tube is inserted, potentially deadly virus droplets spray into the air. 

The Smith family gathers at New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church.  Provided
Nia Smith

When the Rev. Carl Smith preached his last sermon from the pulpit of New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church on March 22, he told members of the congregation that because of the stay-at-home orders they might not see each other for a while.

But he commended those who came to the service and said he understood that some stayed at home to protect themselves from the virus.

“The bottom line is, I don’t hold it against nobody who didn’t come,” Smith said to those in his church, whom he would address via computer the following week. “It’s probably good that some are not here.”

Less than two weeks later, Smith became a victim of COVID-19, leaving his family and friends to cope with a deep loss.

Two Australians created Mental Health First Aid  in 2001. Since then, millions of people have taken classes in how to help someone in a mental health crisis.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The stay-at-home orders in place in our region are set to expire by the end of the month, but it’s likely they will be extended, as the coronavirus continues to spread. Even after the strictest measures lift, social distancing guidelines will continue to keep infections from flaring back up. 

These measures help combat the spread of the coronavirus, but they also take a toll on our mental health. 

The coronavirus outbreak has changed how mental health professionals are serving their patients.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Many of psychotherapist Carol Robinson’s clients were doing well in early March, when COVID-19 was more of a distant concern than a reality. But now that their everyday lives are upside down, many are struggling.

Stay-at-home orders have turned parents into teachers and homes into offices. People whose work takes them into health care facilities and busy stores risk infection every day. Families are apart during birthdays, births and deaths. Robinson is starting to see the mental health of even well-functioning clients unravel. Their emotions run the gamut.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Tyler Keohane, photographed on April 9, 2020, worked as a bartender at two different establishments, including Two Plumbers Brewery in St. Charles.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Hundreds of thousands of Missouri residents have filed for unemployment in recent weeks, as countless businesses have closed their doors due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Many are now wondering if they’ll be able to return to work at all.

St. Louis Public Radio asked unemployed workers how they’re coping during these uncertain times — and what they worry about most.

Affinia Healthcare's staff and nurses take a moment for prayer before the first day of testing at their Biddle Street location on April 2.
File photo | Kendra Holmes

Alderwoman Pam Boyd, D-27th Ward, recognized the need for coronavirus testing stations in north St. Louis at the beginning of March. 

In meetings with local officials and fellow aldermen, Boyd found the city was on alert but seemed unaware of the impact coronavirus would have on the region. Specifically, Boyd sensed predominantly black north St. Louis would be forgotten in the city’s COVID-19 preparations. 

With schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, students have had to adapt to trying to keep up with lessons remotely, from living rooms, kitchen tables and bedrooms.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio

Schools in the St. Louis region and around the nation have been closed for nearly a month, as one of many social distancing measures aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus pandemic stretches on. In place of classroom learning, schools have implemented instruction delivered virtually. 

While students can now attend school in their pajamas, it’s not all fun. They’re missing their friends and teachers, and older students will likely lose milestone moments, such as graduation.

St. Louis Public Radio wanted to know how students are adjusting and adapting to their new reality, so we asked them to tell us. Take a listen.

The Red and Black Brass Band march down Juniata Street Sunday afternoon. The group became a viral sensation after a Twitter user uploaded a video online. April 5, 2020
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

With St. Louisans stuck in their homes as they comply with stay-at-home orders to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, the city’s musicians are disconnected from music-loving fans.

But a couple of horn players have found a way to reach an audience — from a safe distance. For the last week, trombone player Dominique Burton and tuba player Benjamin Kosberg have hit the streets of the Tower Grove South neighborhood to deliver homebound neighbors some New Orleans-style brass.

“This whole lockdown’s got everybody going stir-crazy,” Burton said while walking down Juniata Street. “It’s just good to get out, stretch your legs and do what you love.”

Aaron Sprowl (left) and Charmaine Vonkriegenbergh dive in a tank at St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station while Amber Lanwermeyer relays questions from folks watching at home.  [4/8/20]
St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station via Facebook

The doors to St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station are closed to the public for the foreseeable future. But frequent visitors to the aquarium can still return there through video livestreams, available on Facebook.

They recently got a peek inside with a virtual scuba diving lesson from general curator Aaron Sprowl as he swam around a water tank, surrounded by fish.

His mask was equipped with a headset that allowed him to talk to the audience at home. The diving livestream was one way aquarium employees are staying in touch with the facility’s audience and providing some content for would-be visitors who are sheltering at home. 

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