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."

 

 
 

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.”


marsyslaw.us

Unofficial results show Kentucky voters will again approve the constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law, aiming to expand and ensure rights for crime victims in the justice system.

The Kentucky State Board of Elections reports Kentuckians approved Constitutional Amendment 1 on Tuesday with 63% of the vote tallying 1,135,511 votes in total, in unofficial results with all counties reporting. The constitutional ballot amendment is designed to ensure rights for crime victims including the right to be notified and present at hearings including pleas, sentencing, and the consideration of commutations and pardons.

State Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Republican Whitney Westerfield co-sponsored the bill that put Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment on the ballot. He said voters’ approval is a win for crime victims.

AppHarvest

An eastern Kentucky agritech company is breaking ground on a third greenhouse in the region after cutting the ribbon on one greenhouse and breaking ground on another last week. AppHarvest said Monday that the planned 15-acre facility in Berea will use recycled rainwater like the company’s other facilities.

The company recently cut the ribbon on a 2.76-million square foot greenhouse growing tomatoes in Morehead and broke ground on another similarly-sized greenhouse in Madison County. The facility near Berea will be used to produce leafy greens.

AppHarvest

An eastern Kentucky agritech company that is cutting the ribbon this week on a massive greenhouse in Morehead is also announcing construction of another large-scale greenhouse in the region. 

AppHarvest said in a release Tuesday that the second large-scale greenhouse will exceed more than 60 acres when completed in Madison County, south of Lexington. The company states the greenhouse would double AppHarvest’s growing space for fruits and vegetables, to go along with the company’s freshly-minted 2.76 million-square-foot greenhouse in Morehead.

Rick Murdock drives past his neighbors on rural back roads in southwest Calloway County, Kentucky, most days in his pickup truck, where he’ll pass by some signs of the season — “Trump 2020” flags and signs.

Murdock said he’s never been the type to put up signs or banners himself supporting a particular candidate — “I would not want to offend my brother, or my neighbor” — but he does consider himself to be a conservative, a Christian. He recalled a past Election Day when he took his then 8-year-old daughter with him to the voting booth to show her what the process was like. He voted for former President George W. Bush that year. 

 


Aaron Payne

  Christian County Clerk Mike Kem in western Kentucky has already seen COVID-19 enter his doors — three of his employees are currently isolated with the virus. 

Since his office is in charge of coordinating local elections in his county, he says that up-close experience with the virus has emphasized to him the importance of having people vote early in person this election. Simply put, if more people vote early, fewer people are likely to crowd in line on Election Day and risk COVID-19 exposure.

Sydney Boles

A line of blue and yellow pop-up tents stand along the North Fork of the Kentucky River during a sunny September weekend in downtown Whitesburg, Kentucky, and Valerie Horn is doing her part to keep the Letcher County Farmers Market rolling. 

 

Pumpkins and watermelons fill tarps laid out on the ground next to a farmer, and another is offering bottles of maple syrup. As chair of the farmers market, Horn finally has a moment to relax after a busy week leading up to this day. 

“OK, the market’s open, we have good produce, we have customers, we’ve made our invite out, we’ve done what we can do to set up and create a successful market for today,” she said. “Just enjoy seeing who comes by, and stir a little when and if it’s helpful.”

 


Pages