- Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 2020

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The unrelenting coronavirus pandemic has been voted the top news story of 2020 in Kentucky.

Day after day, the deadly virus outbreak dominated headlines and inflicted widespread suffering and shutdowns in a year of historic turmoil in the Bluegrass State.

The pandemic was the clear-cut choice as the year’s top Kentucky news story in the annual Associated Press poll of editors, news directors and reporters.

Since Kentucky reported its first COVID-19 case in early March, the health crisis seeped into almost every aspect of life. By year’s end, after a series of virus surges, the statewide case count had exceeded 240,000 and virus-related deaths surpassed 2,400.

Health workers put themselves at risk to treat patients. Businesses struggled to stay afloat and students were taught virtually from home as many people hunkered down to await their eventual turn to receive a vaccination. NCAA college basketball tournaments were canceled and the Kentucky Derby was pushed back to Labor Day weekend - and run without the usual throng of spectators. Mask-wearing and social distancing became routines, touted as necessary steps to curb the virus.



The distribution of vaccines posed new challenges for government leaders and figures to be the dominant story well into 2021.

Barely into his term, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear pivoted quickly as the COVID threat became reality, orchestrating a statewide strategy to wage “war with the coronavirus.”

“This is the challenge of our times,” Beshear told the AP in a recent interview. “But I believe Kentuckians have responded, they have come together. They have made sacrifice after sacrifice and the result is that we have fared better than the states around us.”

Second in top-story balloting was Breonna Taylor’s death and the protests that ensued as people in her hometown of Louisville and across the country took to the streets to demand justice in response to the deaths of Black people at the hands of police.

Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical worker, was shot and killed in her home by police who were executing a narcotics warrant. The warrant was based on an investigation of a suspected drug dealer who didn’t live with her, and police found no drugs at her apartment.

The third-place story - also connected to Taylor’s death - was a grand jury’s decision not to charge any of the police officers involved in her death. Instead, one officer was charged with shooting into a neighboring home. The decision sparked more protests from people demanding accountability for her killing and put Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron in the national spotlight.

In fourth place was the legal fallout from coronavirus-related restrictions. In November, the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the governor’s authority to issue those restrictions on businesses and individuals to try to contain the spread of COVID-19. The ruling delivered a victory for Beshear in a legal fight with Cameron over the breadth of the governor’s emergency powers.

The issue is likely to resurface when the Republican-led legislature meets in 2021. Some GOP lawmakers signaled they will push to revise state law to curb the governor’s emergency powers.

The fifth-ranked story, also pandemic-related, stemmed from protests in response to the governor’s virus-related restrictions. One springtime protest boiled over when armed demonstrators gathered outside the governor’s home and hanged him in effigy near the state Capitol. Beshear referred to the protesters as a mob, condemned their use of “fear and terror” and vowed not to back down.

It reflected the all-consuming nature of the virus story, which some journalists noted during voting.

“Any time within the next 50 years, any mention of 2020 will bring the pandemic to mind,” said Bill Hughes of WKYX-Kentucky Star. “There will likely never be a full return to what society called normal before 2020.”

Bill Stephens, with WSON-AM/FM, ranked the pandemic as “not only the most important story of 2020, it’s one of the most important and multifaceted stories I’ve covered in my 40 years of broadcast journalism.”

Now, in the early stages of vaccine distribution, Beshear said there’s “light at the end of the tunnel.”

“We know that it will take months to get there, but in 2021 we will defeat this virus and we will move into our future,” he said. “But things are not going to be the same afterward. Our economy will be different, our opportunities will be different.

“So while 2020 has been the year that we battled this virus, 2021 is going to be the year we determine our future and our position in the post-COVID economy,” he added.

Other top Kentucky stories in 2020 included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection to a seventh term, which headlined a dominant performance up and down the ballot by Republicans in the November election. The GOP increased its overwhelming majorities in the state legislature.

Stories rounding out the top 10 included:

-The fatal shooting of barbecue stand operator David McAtee during a night of protests in Louisville.

-The governor’s decision to relaunch the state-run kynect web portal that will allow Kentuckians to request health coverage and other government support.

-The coronavirus-caused absence of fans at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, which was run in September instead of May.

-The removal of a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol, where it had been on display for decades in the Rotunda.

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