Sebastián Martinez Valdivia | KBIA

Sebastián Martinez Valdivia

Health Reporter

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia is a health reporter and documentary filmmaker who focuses on access to care in rural and immigrant communities. A native Spanish speaker and lifelong Missouri resident, Sebastián is interested in the often overlooked and under-covered world of immigrant life in the rural midwest. He has a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in documentary journalism at the same institution. Aside from public health, his other interests include conservation, climate change and ecology.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

COVID-19 vaccine education and outreach are hard enough without a language barrier. But for Missouri’s Spanish-speaking immigrant communities, these efforts are critical.

Many work in high-risk environments like meat and poultry processing plants. And while most still aren’t eligible for a vaccine, health officials and providers face a number of challenges to be ready when they are.

Starting Friday, bars, restaurants and entertainment venues will be able to stay open until midnight, under a new public health order. Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Director Stephanie Browning announced the change in a press briefing Wednesday, pointing to a steady decline in new cases in the county over the past month. 

Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

COVID-19 vaccine education and outreach are hard enough without a language barrier. But for Missouri’s Spanish-speaking immigrant communities, these efforts are critical. That’s because many work in high-risk environments like meat and poultry processing plants, in rural parts of the state where access to healthcare is already limited.

Dr. Kathleen Page is a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who co-founded Centro SOL in Baltimore. The center aims to increase education and access to care for Latinx migrants in the area, and its workload has increased since the start of the pandemic.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

Missouri’s vaccine rollout has been one of the slowest in the nation according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, the Parson administration is looking to change that by routing vaccine distribution through some 30 major hospitals across the state.

The state Department of Health and Senior Services is sending more than half of its weekly federal allocation of 76,000 doses to those hospitals in a bid to streamline the process.

Courtesy of MU Health Care

Last Thursday, Governor Mike Parson announced Missouri would enter Phase 1B of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, making millions of Missourians eligible for vaccination. But the vast majority of those eligible still have to wait to be inoculated. That’s because supply of the two vaccines approved for distribution — from Pfizer and Moderna — hasn’t mirrored the growth in eligibility. 

Sara Humm is with the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services department. She says the department is still prioritizing 1A — health providers and long-term care facility residents — and the first tier of 1B, which includes emergency responders. "“The state said that we could start working on tier 2," Humm said. "The reason we haven’t is we do not have enough vaccine to do so.” 

Courtesy of MU Health Care

Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced Thursday that the state was initiating the next step in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout: phase 1B. That phase is divided into tiers, the first and second of which will be active starting January 18. 

Bram Sable-Smith / KBIA

While health providers and public health officials across Missouri continue to work on getting people with the highest prioritization vaccinated against COVID-19, they are also preparing for the next phase. The 1B group laid out in the state's vaccination plan encompasses a wide variety of people, including high-risk individuals, first responders and a broad swathe of essential workers. 

Justin Kelley / MU Health Care

Missouri will receive just 58 percent of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine the state originally expected. The Missouri Hospital Association confirmed the figure, which will apply to shipments through December 28.

Instead of the 63,375 estimated doses projected for the seven-day period starting December 21, the state is receiving 37,050.

Courtesy of Scotland County Hospital

As vaccine distribution gets going, some rural hospitals are facing uncertainty when it comes to immunizing their staff. Dr. Randy Tobler, the CEO of Scotland County Hospital in rural northeastern Missouri, initially didn't expect to receive the shipment of the Moderna vaccine he ordered for his staff. While it ultimately showed up this week, he fears other rural providers won't be as lucky. 

MU Health Care's main campus, near Stadium Blvd. in downtown Columbia.
Nathan Lawrence / KBIA

MU Health Care has a tiered system for distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to its staff as soon as it gets its first shipment. The vaccine is still awaiting emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. 

Staff who work directly with COVID-19 patients and carrying out other high-risk procedures will be the highest priority for vaccination. After that high-priority group, support staff including custodians would be the next target for vaccination. 

Courtesy of Erik Martin

This is part one of a two-part report on how rural hospitals across Missouri are dealing with the surge in COVID-19 admissions. 

30 hours — that’s how long it took Erik Martin to find one of his patients a hospital bed.

Martin is an emergency physician who works in hospitals throughout southern Missouri. “It was pretty frustrating, because we had to call a lot of different hospitals and they just couldn’t help us," Martin said.

Bram Sable-Smith / KBIA

Local health agencies are seeing more delays when it comes to being notified of new cases in their jurisdictions. That delay is down to a change in how the state is handling the data, according to Scott Clardy, assistant director of the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services department.

While the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services had been directly alerting health departments of new cases via text and email, now public health officials have to check a database. Clardy says the change in approach came last week. 

Courtesy of CoxHealth

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise in Missouri, and unlike other surges earlier in the summer, hospitals in most parts of the state are filling up. At Cox Health, a health system in Springfield that operates multiple hospitals, expanding capacity over the past nine months still hasn't been enough.

Cox has added more than 100 beds, but the system has still had to turn people away. CEO Steve Edwards told the Health and Wealth Desk how the system is surviving the surge.

Columbia and Boone County leaders are extending the current COVID-19 public health order, amid a spike in cases and hospitalizations.

Health officials are not adding any restrictions, but are asking area residents to take precautions to help curb the current trends. Health Director Stephanie Browning says while her department is considering new limits, they can only go so far. She says many people are attending gatherings just outside the county, where its orders don’t apply.

Sara Shariari / KBIA

The University of Missouri announced Thursday the majority of its in-person classes will switch to remote instruction after the school's Thanksgiving break. 

In an email Chancellor and UM System President Mun Choi sent out Thursday afternoon, he wrote the main reason for the change was the surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the broader community, and the spike in hospitalizations

Wikimedia Commons

A month ago, there were fewer than 60 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Boone County. This week, there were more than 140. COVID-19 hospitalizations are up across the state, with more than 2,000 people admitted as of November 7, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.

The increase was enough to push BJC Healthcare to start deferring some scheduled procedures at hospitals in the St. Louis area. Columbia hospitals aren’t there yet, but it’s not out of the question.


Incumbent Republican Caleb Rowden narrowly won a second term in the Missouri State Senate Tuesday night with 52% of the vote. Rowden, retains his seat in state senate District 19, which comprises Boone and Cooper counties.


Incumbent Republican Caleb Rowden narrowly won a second term in the Missouri State Senate Tuesday night with 52% of the vote. Rowden, retains his seat in state senate District 19, which comprises Boone and Cooper counties.

Nathan Lawrence / KBIA

KBIA will be maintaining this post as a place to update you with the latest news on the 2020 local, state and national elections. 

As Missourians head to the polls on Tuesday, hundreds of thousands have already voted with absentee and mail-in ballots. KBIA will have more than a dozen reporters covering races across mid-Missouri all day and into the evening. Even before election results start coming in, you can follow our coverage on our official Twitter account and on our live blog, which you can find below.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

This story was updated on November 5, 2020 to include comment from Dr. Jonathan Heidt.

When MU Health Care closed one of its two drive-thru coronavirus testing sites in mid-September, it pointed to a drop in the number of people getting tested. At that point, drive thru testing appointments had fallen by more than 1,000 from the peak of nearly 3,200 at the end of August. Since then, appointments have fallen further, dropping to just 1,500 the week of October 19.

Dr. Jonathan Heidt is the vice chair of operations for emergency medicine at MU Health Care and oversees the system's coronavirus testing. He says demand has fluctuated, increasing in the summer, and spiked at the end of August, as university students returned for classes. Since then demand has tailed off, and Heidt says that's worrying, especially with the positivity rate increasing. "We really should be doing more testing to find those cases and intervene on them," Heidt said. 

MU Health Care's main campus, near Stadium Blvd. in downtown Columbia.
Nathan Lawrence / KBIA

Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are on the rise in Missouri, especially in parts of the outstate with fewer hospital resources. Smaller rural hospitals are referring patients to larger more resourced hospitals in major outstate cities including Springfield and Columbia.

For Steve Edwards, the earliest warning signs started popping up in July. As the CEO of Cox Health in Springfield, Edwards has seen hospitalizations spike since the start of September. Nearly 70 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at Cox as of Thursday and more than 90 people have died from the disease at Cox facilities.

MU Health Care's main campus, near Stadium Blvd. in downtown Columbia.
Nathan Lawrence / KBIA

Weeks after a major spike in COVID-19 cases in Boone County, hospitalizations are on the rise. The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services said the week of September 14 saw an all-time high of 61 total hospitalizations, with 11 patients on ventilators.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

In less than a month, more than 1,300 students at the university of Missouri have tested positive for the coronavirus. Case investigation and contact tracing are key components of controlling the outbreak, but students say the university is falling behind.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

In a press briefing Friday morning, Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Director Stephanie Browning announced new orders for the county, in light of an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases.

The restrictions apply largely to alcohol sales and restaurant and bar operations, as well as social gatherings. They come on the heels of two weeks of rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases in the county, which currently has a seven-day positivity rate of 44.6 percent, according to Browning.  The seven-day positivity rate is calculated by dividing the amount of positive tests by the number of overall positive tests during that time period.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

More than 160 students at the University of Missouri have tested positive for COVID-19, according to numbers MU published Monday afternoon. 

The university's online dashboard shows 168 students have tested positive since August 19. 159 are considered active cases.

Sara Shariari / KBIA

The University of Missouri will require students who test positive for the virus to report the results directly to the university within four hours of receiving them.

The requirement is part of a set of new policies MU issued on Monday, a week before classes are set to start on August 24. 

Courtesy of Angela Kender

More than 1,200 Missourians have died from COVID-19 since the first confirmed case back in March. With new data and every day, the human aspect of that loss can get lost in the numbers. Angela Kender is looking to change that.

After losing her mother to COVID-19 in June, Kender has decided to organize a project to commemorate her, and everyone else who has lost loved ones to the disease. She’s collecting photographs of those lost at Kender plans to take the photographs to the Missouri state capitol during the current legislative special session.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / KBIA

Francisco Bonilla is a pastor who runs a low-power radio station out of his church, Casa de Sanidad in Carthage, Missouri. On a hot summer day, he’s showing me around the studio.

Bonilla mainly uses the station to broadcast sermons and religious music. These days, he’s also focused on COVID-19, which has hit a lot of Latinx workers at the Butterball poultry processing plant.

Courtesy of Seth Thompson

Seth Thompson learned about COVID-19 early.  He’s an engineer in Carthage, Missouri, a town of just under 15,000 that sits along historic route 66 in the southwest corner of the state. The virus first came to Thompson’s attention in February, when the global firm he works for shut down its offices in China. Back then, the danger seemed remote.

“We were seeing the news; it looked terrible, and it was but it just wasn’t here yet," Thompson said. 

Joplin hospital
zensmom1 / Flickr

Southwest Missouri has seen the biggest spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state in recent weeks, and as local leaders try to address the outbreak, one measure that they’ve discussed is requiring masks.

While an increasing amount of research supports the use of masks in public to reduce transmission of the virus, masks have become polarizing, as Joplin Mayor pro tem Keenan Cortez found out when his city raised the possibility of a mask ordinance.