Liam Niemeyer

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."

 

 
 

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

Louisville EMS paramedic Don Scheer wasn’t halfway through his shift when he helped restart a man’s heart in an ambulance en route to University of Louisville Hospital. 

It was an overdose. 

“Today hasn’t been too bad of a day which means I probably just ruined that,” Scheer said after they arrived at the hospital and the patient was taken inside. “We just had a 35-year old cardiac arrest from a drug overdose. We see a lot of those calls.”

Scheer’s standing beside a pile of multicolored spine boards, the kind paramedics use to transport patients. Some of them are used to carry people overdosing on drugs, some are for victims of violent crime, and some are for people struggling to breathe.

 

  

Glynis Board | WV Public Broadcasting

The Biden administration announced Monday the expansion of a nutrition program, born amid the start of the pandemic, that could provide more food to nearly 2 million children throughout Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia this summer. 

The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or P-EBT, program started last March to provide money to low-income families whose children were missing meals normally received at school, programs that were disrupted by the pandemic. Funds are loaded onto a card for individual families to purchase food for their children. The program is now being expanded through the summer, providing food dollars for families alongside the existing food distribution programs run by districts.

Liam Niemayer

Phyllis Gibbs wasn’t sure until recently that she’d be here, just a few moments away from receiving a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Do you feel sick today?”

“Nope,” Gibbs said to the receptionist.

“And you give consent for Pfizer to give you a shot today, correct?”

“Absolutely.”

Gibbs then walked over to one of the nurses inside the Kentucky Dam Village Convention Center in rural western Kentucky — a place that once held a pre-pandemic political rally for statewide Democrats — that has now been transformed into a regional vaccination site designed to dole out hundreds of Pfizer vaccines a day. 

  

President Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Kentucky following February winter storms that left more than 150,000 thousand Kentuckians without power at one point and killed four people.

The declaration announced Thursday will free up federal funds to local governments and some nonprofits working to repair  facilities and move debris with an estimated total damages of $30 million dollars by the winter storm. That includes public assistance for 44 counties in central and eastern Kentucky that saw landslides, mudslides, freezing rain and bitter cold temperatures.


Aaron Payne

Major unions and one of their leading allies in the U.S. Senate are hailing tens of billions of dollars allocated for shoring up struggling union pension funds

The funding added to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, dubbed the Butch-Lewis Act, would provide $86 billion to dozens of failing union pension plans across the country, including the Teamsters, carpenters, builders, and more. Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown said Tuesday the funding will save tens of thousands of Ohioans their pensions “earned over a lifetime.” He said he called some of those with pensions last weekend.

“The relief in their voices, the excitement, the tears. They had thought their retirement, what they had planned on might have been destroyed,” Brown said.

illustration by NPR

After an extraordinary inauguration ceremony marked by heightened security and coronavirus safety measures, President Joe Biden started his first day in office signing executive actions on climate change, immigration, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even before taking the oath of office, Biden was already addressing the nation about his ambitious plans to fight the twin crises of a pandemic and a flagging economy.

“We understand what you are going through,” Biden said in an address about what he called a rescue plan for the nation. “We will never ever give up and we will come back. We’ll come back together.”

 

  

Hopkins Co. Schools

More than 969,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to long-term care workers, teachers, and additional frontline health care workers around the Ohio Valley. But a surprising number of workers in some key sectors are hesitant or are refusing to get a shot, including some rural school staff in Kentucky, nursing facility workers in Ohio, and correctional facility employees in West Virginia.

In western Kentucky, some school districts are finding 50% to nearly 70% of school staff are declining the vaccine, for example, and some Ohio nursing facilities struggle to get more than half of the staff to get a shot.

Ohio Health Care Association Executive Director Pete Van Runkle said nursing facilities have begun peer-to-peer counseling to help staff encourage each other to get vaccinated.

Screenshot/SHARK

Members of an Illinois-based animal protection group say one of their members was assaulted and another was driven off the road recently after confronting a suspected cockfighting event in southeastern Ohio. 

Animal rights activist Steve Hindi said his group Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, or SHARK, received a tip from the group’s hotline about a cockfight planned in Lawrence County, Ohio. It is a felony in Ohio to engage in a cockfight. Hindi and another member approached the rural property on Jan. 3 where the suspected cockfighting event was said to be happening. 

Brian Gibson

Owensboro, Kentucky, pastor Brian Gibson spoke at an event in Washington, D.C., Tuesday that combined religion with support for President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the election.  

“How many of you all believe that the people we elected are going to do what’s right tomorrow?” Gibson asked the crowd at Washington’s Freedom Plaza, as flags emblazoned with Trump’s name fluttered behind him. “And they are going to stand against all of the injustice and the fake votes?”

Gibson was among the dozens — perhaps hundreds — of people who traveled from the Ohio Valley to attend events planned to coincide with the Congressional session on January 6 to certify the results of the Electoral College.


Liam Niemayer

He asked her if she was cold. A wind whips around the park in western Kentucky a couple days before Christmas. He puts his arm around her as they move closer together on the bench.

Blake Livesay, 27, met Laura Brooke, 31, online earlier in 2020, and they’ve been inseparable since. She liked his way with words, “like a walking, talking Hallmark card.” He fell in love with her two kids from a past relationship. 

With the hardships they’ve been through this pandemic, the couple said they at least have each other. But their struggles have been crushing for them.

  

Andiamo White

A new billboard in a western Kentucky town calls for the termination of a local school district superintendent after an old photo of the school official in blackface resurfaced.

The billboard in Paducah, Kentucky shows a picture of Paducah Public Schools Superintendent Donald Shively in blackface and states “race is not a costume.” The billboard is paid for by a Louisville civil rights organization, All of Us or None, and a group of local parents of students and community members calling for Shively’s termination.


Liam Niemeyer

Holiday light displays are spread out across Bob Noble park in Paducah, Kentucky, lighting up the barren trees at night for the community to drive by. The park has long been a gathering place for the small city, with performances at an amphitheater and swimming during the summer.

Shirley Massie, 76, sits at one the park shelters, proudly wearing a Paducah Tilghman High School football hat — her son was quarterback and wore the number “1”. She points out to the direction where her mother’s house was, saying how the park was nearby in her childhood.

“I never went to Noble Park as a child because I couldn't come over here as a child,” she said. “Jim Crow was really out there during the time that I grew up. But I think my parents protected me from it.”


Alice Welch

A study published Thursday in a prestigious scientific journal links significant increases in COVID-19 transmission rates to meatpacking plants, especially those facilities that the federal government has allowed to speed up processing lines.

Researchers found evidence that linked meatpacking plants to a “high potential for community spread” in the surrounding areas. The findings have implications for the Ohio Valley, where Tyson Foods plants in western Kentucky and southern Indiana received waivers this spring to increase work line speed even as dozens of workers were falling ill to the virus.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

David Meinschein’s teachers, staff and students have sacrificed a lot this year amid the staggering challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. 

He opens the door heading inside Ballad Memorial High School’s basketball gymnasium — known locally as the “Green Palace” for its school colors. The school’s emptiness is another reminder of COVID-19’s impact. But as assistant superintendent of his school district, he’s proud of the resilience his teachers, students and staff have shown. Meinschein thinks the pandemic could compare to another historic event. 

“I think in a decade from now, we will see that this will be similar to going through the Great Depression,” Meinschein said. “That stoicism and that mentality that came out of the Great Depression, I think you will see that in people as we move forward.”


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