Phoebe Health

There are signs that healthcare workers in the COVID-19 hotspot in southwest Georgia are playing from a stronger hand than the one they were dealt at the start of the crisis — even if it seems clear the crisis is far from over.

Phoebe Health reported at the end of last week they had developed their own, two-hour turnaround rapid coronavirus test. They also released a patient who had at one time been on ventilator support and they had at least one day in which they released more COVID-19 patients than they admitted to the hospital.

Macon Hospital Leaders Say They're Ready For COVID-19 Surge

Apr 1, 2020
Liz Fabian / Center for Collaborative Journalism

As the surge of COVID-19 patients is expected to peak in about three weeks, the team at Medical Center, Navicent Health, is battling an unprecedented enemy.

“We’re able. We’re ready and positioned to do the right thing,” Navicent CEO Ninfa Saunders told board members Tuesday afternoon.

Saunders and the leaders of four of Georgia’s largest hospitals sent a letter last month asking Gov. Brian Kemp for a state lockdown for at least 14 days. She also has been pushing for Bibb County to do the same.


Dr. LaMont Smith still has a lot of friends at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany. It’s one of the places he practiced critical medical care before he retired. 


Coronavirus put retirement on hold, and sent him back to Phoebe Putney for an 80-hour week rotation. And he saw friends, as well as sights that shook him. 

“I saw people who I knew were going to die,” Smith said. 

The Phoebe hospitals spread across southwest Georgia need the help of doctors like Smith. COVID-19 has killed more people at Phoebe Putney than in Cobb County and Fulton County combined. In terms of per capita measures, the region has now joined the ranks of Lombardy, Italy; Wuhan, China, even New York as one of the world’s hotspots for coronavirus infections.

Owens Family

Leslie Owens will tell you: sewing is not really her thing.

“Full disclosure, I really haven't touched a sewing machine since Home EC in seventh grade,” Owens said. “That was a long time ago.”

But Owens’ home is in Albany, the same city that’s the heart of a southwest Georgia coronavirus outbreak where the per capita infection rate is the highest in Georgia. At the region’s largest hospital,  Phoebe Putney Memorial, the COVID-19 deaths account for about a third of the deaths across the entire state. Medical supplies to keep health care workers safe are running short.

So, lately, Leslie Owens has been brushing up on her middle school sewing skills.



A coalition of immigration attorneys, judges and employees of Immigration Customs and Enforcement, or ICE, are asking that the nation’s immigration courts be suspended until coronavirus is no longer a danger.  

Grant Blankenship / GPB News

Georgia schools are suspending standardized, end-of-the-year testing in the face of the coronavirus threat.

The suspension not only affects the federally-mandated Georgia Milestones test, but also other end-of-grade tests as well as tests aimed at evaluating the efficacy of teacher staff.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Cases of COVID-19 are now emerging in Southwest Georgia, far from the state epicenter of the outbreak in metro Atlanta.  

Officials at Phoebe Putney Hospital in Albany say they have seen eight confirmed cases of COVID-19. Five of those people are being treated in the main Albany hospital with the remaining three recovering in their homes.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

The social distancing advice around coronavirus that has stopped March Madness and closed theaters in the nation’s biggest cities has filtered down to festivals in the mid-sized cities and small towns of Georgia.  

The Forsythia Festival in Forsyth? Suspended. In Dublin in Laurens County, what is usually a whole month of St. Patrick’s Day festivities, including a parade, has been canceled. Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon? The same.  

In each case, organizers say it was simply the right decision to make to keep their communities safe.  

Grant Blankenship / GPB News

Several bills relating to the regulation of coal ash in Georgia made it through crossover day in the Georgia legislature and may still become law. But those bills did not include the high profile “lined storage bills” supported by the people of Juliette who live next door to one of the largest coal-burning power plants in the country.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

It was late on a rainy night when Fletcher Sams of the Altamaha Riverkeeper guided his truck down a long muddy road to Ken and Dorothy Krakow’s home on the banks of the Ocmulgee River. With him in a notebook were the results of their well testing. 

He laid out the bad news on their kitchen table after digging through his notebook with data from over 60 other homes.   

“It is tied at the very highest for the worst,” he said. 

Dorothy Krakow buried her face in her hands at the news. Ken Krakow cracked a joke.  

“Yeah. Wow. Congratulations to us,” he said. “What’s going on?”


CDC via AP

There are now 75  confirmed infections of novel coronavirus in the United States and experts say we can expect more. But a veteran of covering disease pandemics said this isn't time to panic.

Sanjay Gupta is a medical doctor who you probably know from his work covering Ebola, SARS and the H1N1 flu for CNN.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

A Georgia bill relating to coal ash management that fizzled last year has now passed out of committee.    


Chris Pizzello / Invision/AP

Joy Harjo says it’s not just that the South sometimes glosses over its Native history; it also misses its place in the Native American present.


That’s a major theme of the U.S. Poet Laureate’s new book, from which she will read this month in both Macon and Columbus. 

Ben Thompson / Ocmulgee Audobon Society

When Ben Thompson was a kid, he was like a lot of other kids in that he liked watching the nature shows on public television.

“And they would show specials every once in a while about the wildebeest migration in Africa or, you know, Caribou or reindeer in Alaska, and those were great migrations,” Thompson said. “You know, I may never go to those places I can see the great migration in my backyard.”

For a kid growing up in Perry, Georgia, the backyard meant a patchwork of cotton and peanut fields, wetlands and patchy woods that characterize middle Georgia farmland. As for his great migration, he meant the Sandhill Crane. 


Grant Blankenship / GPB News

Gloria Hammond remembers the day the man from Georgia Power came to talk about buying the home she shared with her husband Cason.  They were just back from the hospital. The man gone no farther than the front yard.


“I said, ‘Look, I'm telling you right now, we're not selling nothing right now,’” Hammond said. “Because I already knew Cason was terminal.”

By terminal she meant Cason was already sick with the cancer that eventually took his life. By then, most everyone else up and down Luther Smith Road in Juliette had already sold out to the utility. 


Grant Blankenship / GPB

When trash leaves your house and goes to the landfill, that landfill has features in place that keep liquids from the trash from getting into groundwater. Right now, those features are not required for Georgia landfills that store the toxic coal ash from power plants.

A bill filed this week in the Georgia Legislature would bring coal ash storage rules in line with the rules for your household garbage.

Government and community leaders are working to avoid an undercount of rural and minority communities in the 2020 census.
Robert Jimison / GPB

Of the more than 10 million people who live in Georgia, about 1.6 million residents live in areas of the state that do not have broadband internet. This creates a problem for these communities as the U.S. Census Bureau prepares for the 2020 census that will primarily be conducted online.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

The U.S. Forest Service is in the planning stages of a massive, perhaps even first of its kind forest management project at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains.

The Foothills Landscape Project takes in a little over 157,000 acres of the Chattahoochee National Forest, a little over twice the footprint of the city of Atlanta, running in an arc from the Tennessee border north of Chatsworth over to Rabun County.

The public has through Friday, Jan. 10 to weigh in.

For three decades, Georgia and Florida have been battling over how to share a precious resource: water. Georgia has it, and Florida, which is downstream, says it's not getting its fair share. The dispute is once again headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Florida wants the justices to cap Georgia's water use. But a court-appointed special master recently rejected that idea.

More than 6 million people depend on water that starts at Lake Lanier, a reservoir northeast of Atlanta. It generates hydropower as its water is released from a dam into the Chattahoochee River.

The 2020 U.S. Census will be offered in three formats: online, over the phone, or by mail.
Ross Terrell / GPB News

The end of another decade means the census, the national population count that happens once every 10 years. It takes place in 2020. The decennial count gives us a snapshot of who lives in the United States and how things might have changed since 2010. 

Numbers from the 2020 census will also be used to determine how and where billions of federal dollars for states, counties and local communities are spent. 

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Georgia has bears in the mountains to the north and in the swamps in the south, but there’s also a small population in the middle of the state, about 400 in total. 

Once a year, for a single day, hunters have a chance to take a bear from the middle of Georgia. 


NOAA/National Centers for Environmental Information

You may have enjoyed a warm Christmas around much of Georgia. Between 2 and 4 degrees warmer than average, in fact.


That caps off a record year for climate for Georgia and the South.  


Time To Move For Neighbors As Robins AFB Goes Big On Solar

Dec 23, 2019
Liz Fabian / Center for Collaborative Journalism

Robins Air Force Base in south Macon is about to go in for solar power in a big way.

That means many people have had to sell their homes and move to make room. But not everyone is ready to move. Ronald and Kristine Snyder moved from the Robins Air Force Base encroachment zone in the '90s and they vowed not to uproot themselves again.

“We’re too old to move and start over,” Ronald Snyder said Wednesday, just hours after the Central Georgia Joint Development Authority got an update on the 650-acre solar farm that Georgia Power is building north of the base.

Brian Wray / GPB

How do you design a building in the South to cope with 100 degrees in the summer and sub-freezing temperatures in the winter without pumping more climate changing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?

That’s a challenge being tackled in an experimental building on the campus of Georgia Tech.

The Macon Telegraph

A new study shows one Georgia juvenile detention center has some of the highest rates of what the study calls “coerced sexual activity”  among children in custody of any such facility in the country.

David Goldman / AP

Metro Atlanta has some of the highest rates of new HIV infection in the country right now, but the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the disease can be eradicated.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield Jr. on Monday visited an HIV clinic in DeKalb County, which is one of three counties in the nation chosen as pilot sites to run a federal program aimed at preventing the spread of HIV.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Some of the stalwarts of the ‘70s Southern Rock scene, and younger musicians inspired by their sound, will perform Tuesday in a concert to celebrate the Georgia recording studio where Southern Rock was born.   

The band was soundchecking onstage, but back in the green room of Macon’s City Auditorium Monday, a little after 3 in the afternoon, Tommy Talton and Duane Betts were meeting for the first time to play through the Allman Brothers classic "Little Martha".

“I’ll just play my dad’s part,” Betts said.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

The end of the year outlook for Georgia’s main nut crop is mixed. And you can blame both the weather and Chinese tariffs.

Southwest Georgia pecan growers are harvesting as little as 20% of their average crop this year thanks to Hurricane Michael, the storm that downed thousands of trees in 2018. That’s according to Lenny Wells, pecan expert with the UGA Agricultural Extension Service. And while he says, sure, that sounds bad, he’s says he’s still feeling pretty good about 2020.

Donna Lowry / GPB

The Georgia Department of Education has updated its list of Georgia schools that receive special academic support from the state.

 The federal Every Student Succeeds Act mandates that states keep track of high poverty schools or at-risk groups of students that struggle academically. That way state education departments can target extra aid to those schools or demographics within a school population.

The good news is that this year 47 Georgia schools rolled off the list, including five in Fulton county and two in rural Macon County.


Three former Washington County sheriff’s deputies will not go on trial for murder next month as planned. That’s because the officers won immunity for killing a man under Georgia’s stand your ground law.

The three white deputies, Henry Copeland, Michael Howell and Rhett Scott had been facing murder charges for Tasing to death 58-year-old Eurie Lee Martin, a black  man, on a sweltering day in July 2017, an act caught on cell phone video.