Eric Schmid | KBIA

Eric Schmid

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East area in Illinois for St. Louis Public Radio. He joins the news team as its first Report for America corps member and is tasked with expanding KWMU's coverage east from the Mississippi. Before joining St. Louis Public Radio, Eric held competitive internships at Fox News Channel, NPR-affiliate WSHU Public Radio and AccuWeather. As a news fellow at WSHU's Long Island Bureau, he covered governments and environmental issues as well as other general assignments.
 
Eric grew up in Northern Colorado but attended Stony Brook University, in New York where he earned his degree in journalism in 2018. He is an expert skier, avid reader and lifelong musician-he plays saxophone and clarinet.

EAST ST. LOUIS — Dozens waited outside the Casino Queen on Wednesday morning, eager for the first day of gambling in Illinois since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The Illinois Gaming Board announced last week all 10 casinos and more than 37,000 video gaming terminals in the state could resume operating Wednesday, nearly a month after casinos in Missouri reopened.

More businesses and public places in Illinois opened Friday as the state moved into its next phase of reopening since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Under phase four, movie theatres, zoos, museums, bowling alleys and some other establishments were able to open their doors to patrons for the first time since March. Restaurants and bars could also start offering indoor dining, too.

Illinois’ economy is now open after months of strict coronavirus lockdowns, but traditionally underserved, majority black communities in the Metro East are at a disadvantage when it comes to slowing the spread of the virus in the future. 

Residents in and around East St. Louis, Granite City and Madison face barriers to finding protective equipment, like masks, and accessing preventive measures like coronavirus testing.

FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — Justin Gough’s house hit the market on April 8 during the height of the coronavirus restrictions. Three days later, the house was under contract for $135,000. 

The speed with which the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home went under contract wasn’t that surprising to Gough. He said a friend listed a similar home weeks earlier and had a contract almost immediately. 

Gough was more surprised that eight people had looked at his property in the first days it was on the market in early April, when Illinois and Missouri residents were under stay-at-home orders.

Nearly all businesses in Illinois are now able to open more than two months after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s initial stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

There are still some restrictions and guidelines on how stores should operate, but they’re no longer closed to the public. Generally the state requires workers wear masks, and maintain a six feet social distance when possible.

Nearly all businesses in Illinois will be able to reopen in some capacity on Friday as the whole state moves into its next phase of reopening following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order in March.

For businesses in the Metro East, the wait is over, after feeling pressure to reopen when their counterparts in Missouri could weeks before them.

The state issued guidelines and requirements for how businesses in the retail, manufacturing, fitness, office, restaurant and personal care sectors will be able to safely reopen.

As economic activity resumes in the St. Louis region, business owners in the Metro East are feeling pressure to reopen even though they can’t until at least next week.

Nonessential businesses and manufacturing, barber shops, salons and retail stores will likely be able to reopen in Illinois after May 29, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s phased reopening plan. Bars and restaurants in the Metro East can only continue offering delivery or takeout until the end of June. 

Collinsville’s marijuana dispensary is offering the city some insulation from economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak. 

The city can depend on the sales tax revenue it collects from Illinois Supply and Provisions since cannabis sales in Illinois are not slowing down even during the coronavirus pandemic. The city currently collects a 2.25% sales tax on recreational marijuana sales, and that will jump to 5.25% on July 1.

Business owners in Madison County are weighing their options after the Board of Health passed guidelines that allow them to reopen.

Those guidelines allow all businesses, including gyms, stores and bars, in the county to reopen at 25% capacity, in defiance of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders that close them. 

EDWARDSVILLE — The Madison County Board of Health voted 26-2 on Tuesday night to immediately start allowing businesses in the county to reopen.

The move by the health board, which is made up of the county board members, defies Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s phased plan for how the state’s economy will reopen. Pritzker has said he doesn’t expect limited reopening to start until May 29, at the earliest.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson has released detailed guidelines for how certain industries will be allowed to reopen and operate starting May 18.

By next week, city businesses in the retail, restaurant, hotel, construction and manufacturing, transportation and personal services sectors will be able to reopen and start serving customers in person again.

EAST ST. LOUIS — Two former Casino Queen employees have filed suit against the casino’s old owners over the 2012 sale of the property that made it employee-owned.

The plaintiffs, Tom Henseik and Jason Gill, allege the former owners of the Casino Queen Inc. sold their stake in the company into an employee stock ownership program (ESOP) at a vastly inflated price and then kept the true value secret for years. The proposed class action lawsuit was filed last month in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.

Businesses across the country are losing sales because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Illinois recreational marijuana dispensaries are not. 

The state on Monday announced consumers bought more than $37 million of recreational cannabis in April.

BELLEVILLE — The U.S. Census Bureau will extend the deadline for when people can respond to the census by three months. The revised schedule was pushed back last month because of the coronavirus outbreak, according to an updated schedule provided by the bureau. 

Nearly every aspect of how the census counts people living in the U.S. is impacted by this extension. The self-response window and in-person follow ups for households that do not respond will now wrap up at the end of October instead of July.

The extension presents both challenges and opportunities for Illinois, which has relied on local community organizations across the state to promote census engagement with state funded grants, through local in-person outreach, physical and social media advertising and events. 

EDWARDSVILLE — The coronavirus outbreak has forced classes at nearly every local university and college in the St. Louis region online, and students and faculty face the challenges of learning or teaching through a screen.

Some courses, like larger lectures, can transfer online with relatively few hiccups. But others don’t translate so well, because they’re designed to be hands on or geared toward experiential learning.

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. 

EAST ST. LOUIS — The city will have its first coronavirus testing site up and running by the end of the week, Mayor Robert Eastern announced this morning. The testing facility comes to East St. Louis weeks after many others opened in the Metro East and Missouri.

The city is behind on testing its residents even though the coronavirus poses more of a risk for many residents. African Americans have high rates of asthma, diabetes, hypertension and obesity — all conditions that make COVID-19 deadlier, according to the CDC.

There is less traffic moving around the St. Louis metro region since Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page ordered people in their respective constituencies to stay at home in mid-March.

In the three weeks that followed those orders, nearly half of the traffic the region normally sees day to day has disappeared, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

BELLEVILLE — Illinois’ new recreational marijuana market is off to a hot start even amid the spread of coronavirus. Earlier this week, the state announced nearly $36 million worth of legal cannabis was sold in March — on par with numbers from February.

Updated 6:25 p.m., April 3 

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson issued a statewide stay-at-home order on Friday to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

The order goes into effect on Monday, April 6, and remains in place until Friday, April 24. 

Parson, a Republican, experienced mounting pressure from top Democrats, local officials and medical groups throughout the state to put an order in place. Parson maintained for weeks that the decision should be left up to community leaders. At his press briefing Friday evening, he said the decision weighed heavily on his mind. 

EDWARDSVILLE — College students should respond to the 2020 census as if they were still living on campus or in their off-campus apartment, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The coronavirus outbreak has added confusion to this question because most college students are now back at home, finishing their semesters online. 

The decennial headcount tracks where people in the U.S. live and sleep most of the time. 

BELLEVILLE — The actions Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker took to curb the spread of the coronavirus are having an impact on local organizations trying to ensure accurate census counts in the Metro East.

The orders to close schools and stay at home came at the height of many local outreach efforts only weeks before census day on April 1. 

BELLEVILLE — Thousands of retail stores and other businesses have shuttered across Illinois under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “stay-at-home” order, which was issued on Friday. But there is one notable exception: Marijuana dispensaries are open to both medical and recreational customers.

Medical cannabis facilities are classified as essential health care and public health operations under Pritzker’s order. While other businesses have seen steep drops in customers, sales at cannabis dispensaries remain solid.  

BELLEVILLE — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced he filed for a federal waiver to expand Medicaid coverage for COVID-19 illnesses in the state at a press conference on Wednesday.

“We’re working both with the insurance companies as well as with Medicaid with the federal government to try and make sure everything around COVID-19 is covered,” he said. “So that nobody has to go without treatment for a [coronavirus]-related illness.” 

BELLEVILLE — Voters in Illinois went to the polls on Tuesday to decide whom they wanted to see on the ballot in November. A few cities and villages also put referendums to their voters. Congressional races in three Metro East districts were in play for the primary.

Here are five things to take away from the results.

Former Vice President Joe Biden won the 2020 Illinois Democratic Primary. The Associated Press called the race for Biden at 7:23 p.m., shortly after the polls in Illinois closed.

Biden won the vast majority of Democratic voters in the Metro East, capturing between 60% and 70% of the primary vote in St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, Washington and Clinton counties.

Local organizations and governments have worked to avoid an undercount in their communities in the months leading up to the 2020 census. The U.S. Census Bureau started collecting responses to this year's headcount en masse, sending individual letters requesting a response to the headcount homes across on March 12. The survey, which happens once every decade in the U.S., collects the most comprehensive data about the demographic makeup of the country. 

One small but vulnerable population in the U.S. won’t be counted in the survey this time around, however. That’s because of how the question that asks about people’s sex appears on the form. The 2020 headcount only asks if people are “male” or “female.”

BELLEVILLE — The Illinois primary election is moving forward as planned on Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during a press conference on Thursday.

“Free and open elections are the structural support of our democracy,” he said.

Concern about the novel coronavirus has postponed the Louisiana primary, but in a joint statement, officials from Illinois, Ohio, Arizona and Florida affirmed their primaries would go on as planned. 

Updated May 4 with more answers to audience questions

Coronavirus has disrupted many aspects of everyday life. Sporting events are postponed, businesses are closed and schools are empty as the region feels the impact of the pandemic. All of the changes lead to understandable confusion among residents in Missouri and Illinois.