Train starts to derail
During a press conference on April 8, Kemp was asked why he finally declared a shelter in place order. Kemp said, “What we’ve been telling people from directives from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for weeks now is that if you start feeling bad, stay home. Those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad. But we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours.”
The press corps was flabbergasted. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, had said in mid-February that asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus was possible. That was just the beginning of Kemp’s derailing.
Then April 20, Kemp announced, “Given the favorable data, enhanced testing, and approval of our healthcare professionals, we will allow gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools, and massage therapists to reopen their doors this Friday, April 24.” Kemp also stated, “This measure will apply statewide and will be the operational standard in all jurisdictions. This means local action cannot be taken that is more or less restrictive.” He delayed opening restaurants and other facilities until April 27.
All over the state, elected officials were flummoxed.
Members of Kemp’s coronavirus committees were caught flatfooted because he had not consulted them. Bernice King took to Facebook to say, “I’m not sure that we are understanding the importance of balancing the economy with a commitment to humanity.” Bottoms told CNN, “We really are at a loss, and I am concerned as a mother and as the mayor of our capital city.” Hardie Davis, Jr., the Mayor of Augusta, the state’s second largest city, told CNN, “If we move as swiftly as the governor’s proposing right now, we could find ourselves mashing the gas on the economy when in fact we need to be putting the brake on where we are right now.”
Bo Dorough, the mayor of Albany––an area the virus hit so hard that, for a time, it was second in transmission rates to New York––said, “We’re simply not ready to reopen. I mean, we have sixty-two people on ventilators. I think it’s rather imprudent to set dates as opposed to goals. I mean, even the White House says we’re going to do this in phases. And if you look at the four criteria for phase one, we haven’t met but one of those criteria.” Savannah mayor Van Johnson said, of learning of Kemp’s announcement, “To be absolutely clear, I was just as surprised as the rest of the world.”
Macon-Bibb County mayor Robert Reichert said, “He didn’t allow any flexibility for local government to add to or take away from his order so we are without the authority to pass any order or legislation that would be in conflict with the governor’s order.” Macon-Bibb sheriff David Davis said, “I hate to think that Georgia is part of a grand experiment to see how reopening things will affect the virus. You might say we’re the guinea pigs. It’s sad that we’re getting so many conflicting notices and conflicting statements from the so-called experts.” Dr. Keren Landman, a specialist in infectious diseases, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times titled, “Georgia Went First. And It Screwed Up.” She wrote, “For better or worse, the governor has made our state the nation’s canary in this particularly terrifying coal mine.”
Why she was there
On April 22, the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health meeting passed a resolution asking Kemp to rescind his order. The Board had just heard on April 20 from Navicent Health, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patrice Walker, “We expect our surge to be some time now in mid-May.” Board member Chris Tsavatewa said, “We are behind in this state. Our per capita testing is abysmal.” As of May 11, only 12.37 percent of the state’s population had been tested and the infrastructure for contact tracing was non-existent.
Liz Fabian, one of the most well-known and respected journalists in Middle Georgia, was the only reporter at that meeting. Fabian’s journalism career began in high school writing for the Georgia Military College newspaper. When she entered Georgia College and State University intending “to study theater and become a big star,” she did a morning news program on the campus radio station. She said the journalism bug hit the morning of November 5, 1980. When Georgians went to sleep the night before, Senator Herman Talmadge, a Georgia legend, was thought to be the winner over Republican Matt Mattingly, but they awakened to find Mattingly had won. Fabian, for the first time, heard the AP wire machine’s bell, a bell that only rings when there is a big story. “It was such an interesting feeling about having news you could share with someone right away, things they didn’t know.” The rest was history. The journalism bug had sunk its teeth into her and didn’t let go.
Fabian started her career in television and has done stints at all three local network affiliates. Her first, in 1982, WCWB, paid her $150 a week, but it was an important training ground where she learned to do weather. Those skills took her to the newly established Weather Channel, based in Atlanta. At each stop, budget cutbacks left her holding the short end of the stick. In 2003 she went to work at the daily newspaper, The Telegraph.
An excellent journalist and versatile writer, not common from someone making the transition from television to print, Fabian covered everything, from doing early weather podcasts for the paper to anchoring the news desk for a newspaper-sponsored morning talk show from 2007 to 2012 that aired on ABC and Fox affiliates and on the most powerful AM radio station in the market.
But once again, in February 2019, Fabian was caught in the budget vice. McClatchy, The Telegraph’s corporate owner, found itself squeezed after acquiring Knight Ridder newspapers in 2006. The paper had already jettisoned its sports reporters and editor, editorial page editor, senior news editor and executive editor, in 2017 and 2018. Now Fabian, along with 450 McClatchy employees 55 years of age or older with 10 years of service, were given the choice to voluntarily retire or stay. “They really weren’t interested in holding on to anybody with experience,” Fabian said. “And that was one of the things that stuck with me. ‘Do I really want to stay?’”
McClatchy CEO Craig Forman who, a year earlier, had received a $35,000 a month stipend for housing—up from $5,000 on top of his $1 million salary and $1 million bonus—said of this early retirement offer, “This will be a one-time opportunity. We do not anticipate another.’’ Famous last words. McClatchy filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.
“I worried about the things we reported about and cared about,” Fabian said about mulling over her decision, but she got some good advice: “They are paying you to leave, not paying you to try to stay.” After putting out a few feelers, she was interviewed by one of her former television employers to take the place of an anchor while out on maternity leave. Everything sounded good, so she signed her retirement papers. The budget gods would strike again. The station didn’t replace the anchor, laid off its sports staff, and reassigned other personnel.