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.

In this episode of the True/False Podcast: a conversation from last year's festival between filmmakers Ursula Liang and Khalik Allah. Both were at True/False to show their latest features. Liang's film Down a Dark Stairwell documents the effects of a police shooting of an unarmed Black man. Allah's film I Walk on Water pushes the boundaries of the filmmakers' relationship with those they document. 

This week, we’re continuing our dispatches from True/False 2020 with a conversation between artist and filmmaker Rikkí Wright and programmer Jeanelle Augustin. Wright’s work is often deeply personal and offers commentary on how she interacts with and understands the world around her. “A Song About Love,” Wright's latest short film, showed ahead of The Giverny Document, and is a dreamy mix of vibrant, colorful images and archival material. As she told Jeanelle, Wright’s work started as a way to engage with her own family and document her life.

Many things about this year's True/False Film Festival have changed, but one that hasn't is our annual programmer preview. This year, programmers Angela Catalano and Amir George join the podcast to preview some of the films coming to this year's outdoor fest, which starts May 5. Angela and Amir preview Questlove's directorial debut Summer of Soul, Pete Nicks's Homeroom, and a number of other films and events fest-goers can look forward to. 

We continue our dispatches from last year's festival with the final True/False Podcast episode recorded in-studio during 2020. The guests were filmmaker David France and Maxim Lapunov, who was imprisoned and tortured as part of the Chechen government's persecution of its LGBTQ community. Lapunov and the subjects of France's 2020 film, Welcome to Chechnya were the recipients of the True Life Fund, the festival's philanthropic effort which provides monetary support to those documented in the select film. Welcome to Chechnya co-producer Igor Myakotin provided translation. 

Columbia/Boone County health officials announced Thursday that a Boone County resident tested positive for the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus. 

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services informed the county Wednesday it had found a case of the variant, first identified in the U.K., in a test from a Boone County resident. The state screens a sample of tests from around the state for variants on a regular basis.

Every year during the festival, True/False organizes field sessions: conversations between filmmakers about their films, experiences, and anything else that interests them. In this week's episode of the True/False Podcast, we’ll be listening in on one such conversation between filmmakers Meredith Zielke and Steve James. Zielke is an award-winning filmmaker and editor who co-directed A Machine To Live In, an impressionistic exploration of Brazil’s peculiar capital city that showed at True/False 2020.

Nonfiction filmmakers often end up with a lot more material than they could ever use. That's something Elegance Bratton ran into making his debut feature, Pier Kids. The film portrays life in New  York for gay and transgender youth living on the Christopher Street Pier. Producing the film involved capturing all kinds of people’s stories over the course of many years in order to portray Bratton’s own experiences with homelessness. Bratton spoke with True/False programmer Amir George.

Fashioning A Film Festival Amid The Pandemic: Part Two

Mar 24, 2021

The 2021 True/False Film Festival will look completely different from any previous fest. In the interest of social distancing and safety, all of the films will screen outdoors, at Stephens Lake Park in the fest's hometown of Columbia, Missouri. The True/False Podcast spoke with fest organizers to explain what festival-goers can expect at the new venue, and how it's tried to keep some vestiges of normalcy from festivals past. 

Fashioning A Film Festival Amid The Pandemic: Part One

Mar 17, 2021

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Missouri was announced on March 7. That was day two of last year's True/False Film Festival. During the festival, South by Southwest — one of the biggest film festivals in the world — announced it was canceling its March dates, and the world of film festivals plunged into a year of uncertainty. Now, the True/False Film Festival is returning, with a different look, a different size and a very different venue. The True/False Podcast sat down with festival leaders to track the long road that led to this year's upcoming festival. 

It's been a long break, but the True/False Podcast is coming back, and soon! Before the new season starts in earnest on March 17, though, we wanted to preview True/False's online film retrospective called Hindsight. The series runs over eight weeks leading up to this year's festival, and it features films from True/False's past. Virtual attendees can buy passes and tickets to the series on the True/False website to gain access to the films, as well as discussion questions and prompts to accompany them.

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.