Health, Science, Environment | St. Louis Public Radio

Health, Science, Environment

Medical workers at Mercy Health's drive-through novel coronavirus test collection site are gathering samples from patients daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (March 16, 2020)
File Photo| Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents in primarily north St. Louis County ZIP codes hit hardest by the coronavirus will help determine how $7 million in federal coronavirus funding will be spent by voting online.

The survey from the St. Louis County Department of Public Health asks people what health services they need the most and will use those responses to bring the most urgent needs to the communities.

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Monday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

It was one thing to navigate the initial stress and disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic. And early on, as people looked for ways to guard mental well-being amid big changes, many people realized that it helped to have a sense of horizon in sight.

“I can shelter in place for a month” and “One semester at home is manageable” were common — and useful — mindsets.

But as weeks turn into months and maybe even years of new normals, frustration and anxiety may be mounting. On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Dr. Jessi Gold of Washington University will offer strategies and insights for safeguarding your mental health at this time and take questions from host Sarah Fenske and listeners.

After a five-year, $380 million renovation to Gateway Arch National Park, Fair St. Louis and Independence Day fireworks returned to the Mississippi Riverfront. July 4, 2018
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

The deafening booms and brilliant flashes of many big-budget Independence Day fireworks shows will be muted this year.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced dozens of towns and organizations in the St. Louis region to depart from tradition and cancel fireworks displays and parades. Meanwhile, sales at fireworks stands are soaring as area residents are lighting their own shows. And some out-of-town campground managers report a blaze of campsite rentals in recent weeks.

Mayor Krewson wearing a mask during a visit to an Affinia Healthcare COVID-19 mobile test site in north St. Louis in late April.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Updated at 6:50 p.m. July 1, with comments from St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlman.

St. Louis and St. Louis County will require people to wear face masks when in public to protect people from the coronavirus, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Sam Page announced Wednesday.

The order, which takes effect at 7 a.m. Friday, is aimed at preventing the virus from spreading.

All people over age 9 will need to wear a mask or face covering when inside stores or other indoor public spaces. They will also need to wear one outside when social distancing isn’t possible. People with certain health conditions such as respiratory problems will be exempt from the requirement.

ROLLA — Therapists and researchers have long used music to diagnose and treat disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's, but there hasn’t been a standard on what music to use. 

Amy Belfi, a psychology professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, is trying to change that via a list of 107 melodies ranging from "Happy Birthday" to "Sweet Caroline."

The list has been tested through hundreds of surveys that had people rate melodies on eight different questions relating to how well they are known and what kind of emotional response they elicit: from “relaxing” to “stimulating” and from “negative” to “positive.”

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region is the last provider of abortion services in Missouri. It could lose its license this week.
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Department of Social Services must pay Planned Parenthood for providing care for Medicaid patients, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

State lawmakers cut funding for the provider in the 2018 budget by inserting language that barred state funds, including those from the state’s Medicaid program MO HealthNet, from going to any abortion provider.

In a 6-1 decision, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed a 2019 ruling from a lower court that found the provision was an example of lawmakers using a budget bill to create policy, which is prohibited by the Missouri Constitution.

Signs at the Barnes-Jewish Center for Advanced Medicine alert patients to disclose if they think they may have symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
File | Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Hospitals in St. Louis are again allowing people to visit patients after months of restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

SSM Health, Mercy, BJC HealthCare and St. Luke’s hospitals are now allowing one visitor per day for most patients. Patients who are being treated for COVID-19 or may have the disease are still not allowed to have visitors in most cases.

The coronavirus has slowed in the community, and the risk to patients and visitors is lower, said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

Inez Davis, Bill Callahan
DEA St. Louis Division

More often than not, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is associated with tracking drug cartels and arresting traffickers. But the law enforcement agency also ensures physicians and pharmacists are following the law with regard to prescriptions, a role that has become more critical as well as more challenging in recent months.

And in the DEA’s St. Louis Division, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more focus on community outreach, even as the opioid crisis continues to ravage the country. Earlier this month, the St. Louis County Department of Health reported a 47% increase in opioid-related deaths among Black men in 2019.

This spring, the division launched the website With You STL in an effort to help connect community members with critical resources for prevention, treatment and recovery. 

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.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday striking down a Louisiana abortion restriction means similar provisions in Missouri and Kansas are no longer enforceable.

In a 5-4 decision, the court found unconstitutional a Louisiana law that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Had the court upheld the Louisiana law, the state would have been left with just one abortion clinic.

St. Louis Fire Department paramedic Andrew Beasley wears a mask, gloves and a gown as he disinfects the back of an ambulance with a bleach mix, after delivering a patient to Barnes-Jewish Hospital on March 16, 2020.
File Photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI

More than 1,000 people in Missouri have died from COVID-19, according to data analyzed by St. Louis Public Radio. The state reached that grim milestone earlier this week, three months after the first person in the state died from the disease.

“Any number is significant, but it’s a sign we’re truly in a pandemic situation with 1,000 deaths,” said Dr. Bill Powderly, infectious disease chief at Washington University and director of the school’s Institute for Public Health. He said the country is still in the “first wave” of the virus. 

“We’re still in the phase where it could rapidly flare up again if we don’t remain vigilant,” he said.

Michael Rozier
Michael Rozier

As an assistant professor of health management and policy at St. Louis University, Michael Rozier is used to thinking a lot about matters of public health — and finding plenty of reasons for hope. His research focuses on the shift toward preventative health care efforts, as well as how ethical and moral rhetoric can advance health care policy. But last week, with COVID-19 case numbers in the U.S. suggesting any end to the pandemic is still a long way off, he took to Twitter to offer some less-than-optimistic predictions.

“Sadly, I'm becoming convinced that #COVID is not far from taking on the characteristics of #gunviolence,” Rozier tweeted. “[The U.S.] will endure much higher, persistent negative effects from something that other countries have solved; we'll normalize it and convince ourselves nothing can be done.” The tweet was off the cuff, but it quickly gained traction online, with both those in agreement and those who found it too pessimistic weighing in.

Supporters rally outside Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Ave. on Friday after a St. Louis Circuit Court judge issued a temporary restraining order that keeps the clinic's license valid.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Planned Parenthood has regained its license to perform abortions at its St. Louis clinic.

The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday issued the clinic a one-year license, ensuring that the state’s sole abortion provider will remain open.

It caps a yearlong battle between state health officials and Planned Parenthood. Last year, state officials declined to renew Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services’ license, setting off a legal battle in which clinic workers accused Gov. Mike Parson and his administration of attempting to limit access to abortion.

When physician Erik Martin left his home in southwest Missouri to help with New York’s COVID-19 outbreak in April, his county had fewer than 10 confirmed cases of the virus. Now he’s back — and watching those numbers skyrocket. More than 400 Jasper County residents have tested positive, and more than 800 are in quarantine.

“I never expected that within such a short period of time, my home town would become a COVID hotspot, as it has now," Martin says. He was alarmed when he learned a patient who tested positive worked at the Butterball poultry processing plant in nearby Carthage. After seeing a second Butterball worker, Martin alerted the county health department to the potential outbreak.

On one thing, both Missouri’s Gov. Mike Parson and health experts agree: The state must dramatically increase supplies of masks and other protective medical gear to keep health care workers and the general public safe from COVID-19.

To that end, state officials recently created an online PPE marketplace. But critics say a lack of oversight and legal protections has left marketplace buyers vulnerable to scams and price gouging.

Tad Yankoski is an entomologist at the Missouri Botanical Garden's Butterfly House.
Missouri Botanical Garden

Tad Yankoski is an entomologist at the Missouri Botanical Garden's Butterfly House. His job mainly consists of tending to the site’s cockroaches, beetles, ants, tarantulas, scorpions, millipedes and butterflies. Even when the garden had to shut down to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic, Yankoski still had to show up to work and feed the insects — a few days of imbalance and no food could lead the bugs to turn on each other. 

But early on during the pandemic shutdown, Yankoski received news that his job just got a bit trickier to manage. How tricky? The U.S. government had intercepted 14 exotic mantis egg cases illegally shipped from Germany, with each case carrying anywhere from a dozen to 150 mantids. They could either be delivered to an accredited site or be euthanized.

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. 

Philip Mudd picks up a cooler of medical samples at Washington University's School of Medicine. Mudd and his colleague Jane O'Halloran created a centralized bank of samples collected from COVID-19 patients in St. Louis.
Washington University

Researchers at Washington University are collecting samples from hundreds of people who have had COVID-19 — including blood, saliva and urine.

As scientists scramble to answer a multitude of questions about the coronavirus, medical samples are becoming an ever more critical piece of the puzzle. By creating a centralized specimen bank and sharing samples among labs, Wash U physicians are hoping to streamline the research process.

June 22, 2020 Joe Monahan Walter Smith
Provided by Confluence Discovery Technologies

COVID-19 remains a mystery in many ways, but as it continues to rampage through the world’s population, some things are becoming more clear. One of them is that cytokine storms — a “deranged immune response” to the virus, in which the body literally attacks its own cells instead of the invading coronavirus — appear to be one reason some patients end up extremely ill.

A drug developed in St. Louis aims to combat those cytokine storms. Called ATI-450, it was originally developed by Confluence Discovery Technologies in 2013 with the idea of helping people suffering from autoimmune diseases, particularly rheumatoid arthritis.    

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

Statewide, there were 1,528 new coronavirus cases for the week ending June 19. Thats up 8% over the previous week, and on June 18, new cases topped 300 in one day for the first time since the beginning of May.

Some of the increases are coming from outbreaks in rural areas that are tied to meatpacking plants and Fort Leonard Wood. 

Adair and Sullivan Counties in northern Missouri each have more than 100 cases, while their neighboring counties are in the single digits. 

People pass a window display featuring outfits with matching coronavirus masks on Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis on June 19, 2020.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

After months of being stuck at home in Madison, Illinois, Towanne Russell decided to venture out on a Sunday in mid-June.

“Being locked up in the house, it kind of messes with you mentally, physically, emotionally,” she said. “And I needed to get out before I lost it!”

Many people in the St. Louis regions are eager to emerge from months of quarantine to meet with friends, or get their hair cut. So far, so good: Since officials in St. Louis and St. Louis County in May lifted restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, the average number of new cases has remained relatively constant.

But some public health experts worry that people in the region are resuming their routines too soon.

Fort Leonard Wood

Soldiers, their families and veterans near Fort Leonard Wood in the Ozarks will have a new place to receive medical care. 

Construction on a $400 million, 400,000-square-foot hospital and clinic officially started Monday.

The current General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital is 55 years old, past its intended service life. The building suffers from a leaky roof and utilities that struggle to keep pace with increasing demands. 

More providers are treating patients over video chats and phone calls as concerns about the coronavirus keep people from visiting clinics.
Janice Chang | NPR

Spurred by the coronavirus, top medical schools in the St. Louis region are making telemedicine part of their curriculum for training new doctors.

Telemedicine has surged in popularity during the pandemic because it minimizes the risk for both doctors and patients spreading the virus. Medical experts now say telemedicine will prove to be more than a temporary fix, and instead, an essential tool for current and future doctors.

St. Louis County Health Department co-director Spring Schmidt (left) and county executive Sam Page address reporters on Sunday, March 8, 2020, regarding Missouri's presumed first case of the new coronavirus.
File Photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The number of black men in St. Louis and St. Louis County who died of opioid drug overdoses increased between 2018 and 2019, even as those deaths declined 7% in the region.

Opioid deaths among black men in St. Louis County went up nearly 50% during that period. Deaths in St. Louis went up 2%.

Public health officials say the greater access white people have to addiction doctors in part explains the disparity. But the fear that some black opioids users have of seeking medical or emergency help also is a factor.

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.

More than 1,000 people in the bi-state St. Louis region and nearly that many across Missouri have died of COVID-19 as of this week. 061920
Kristen Radtke for NPR

More than 1,000 people have now died of COVID-19 in the bi-state St. Louis area. 

The region surpassed the grim milestone late this week, about 90 days since a St. Louis County woman became the first in the metro area to die of the illness caused by the coronavirus. 

St. Louis County alone accounts for about half of the deaths, though it makes up around a third of the region’s population. St. Louis and St. Clair County each has seen more than 100 of their residents die of COVID-19. 

About 100 demontrators, many of them children, walk onto the Arch grounds Sunday June 14, 2020, to protest police violence. It was just one of several such protests over the weekend.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio

People across the St. Louis region are taking to the streets to protest police brutality as officials lift restrictions put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

But the virus hasn’t gone away.

The St. Louis region saw an average of 142 new coronavirus cases per day in the week ending June 11. Health experts say the spike isn’t surprising as businesses across the region open their doors. Even though people are able to leave their homes, health experts say the coronavirus is still a threat — and protesters should take precautions to stay safe.

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.

Peter Raven is the president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
M. Jacob

In between all the news updates about the COVID-19 pandemic and protests against police brutality, a totally different story jumped out from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the other day. “Mass species extinctions are accelerating,” the headline began.

That’s the existentially disturbing takeaway from a new study co-authored by Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Examining the populations of nearly 30,000 vertebrates, and particularly the 515 species that are on the brink of extinction, Raven and his colleagues found that 20% of all species could be gone by the middle of the 21st century. From there, the numbers could grow far worse in the coming decades because of how “extinction breeds extinction.”

Missouri S&T is researching how residents and businesses like this bus depot in Rolla decide to use solar energy. 06-12-20
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA Missouri University of Science and Technology researchers are trying to find out what is blocking people from using more solar energy with the help of a federal grant.

The research will look at economic and psychological reasons for why a homeowner or business would choose or not choose solar energy.

“We want to understand the factors that affect electricity use and adoption of solar energy,” said Islam El-adaway, a civil engineering professor at Missouri S&T and the leader of the project. “This is one of multiple steps we hope to take.”