Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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March 22

The Augusta Chronicle on finding new ways to worship:

Thankfully, America’s freedom of religion allows people not only to worship how they choose, but to choose not to worship.

Amid coronavirus concerns, it’s easy to do either one.

On March 18, a Connecticut man who died after being diagnosed with COVID-19 was given the sacrament of last rites. Mindful of “social distancing” during the epidemic, a priest delivered the rites over the phone as the man’s family listened from quarantine.

Even religion is finding creative workarounds as coronavirus spreads.

Worship in Augusta has taken on a completely different look amid precautions for COVID-19. With authorities cautioning to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, area churches at 11 a.m. Sunday looked more like they do at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday.

But many places of worship were prepared. Worshippers with Internet connections will benefit most.

Churches have been broadcasting religious services on radio and television for years, including in Augusta. But with the rise several years ago of online video and livestreaming, worship access over the Internet became an interesting alternative.

Now it’s a necessity.

If there is an upside to be found, it’s that online broadcasts give people an opportunity to “visit” other houses of worship they might have been curious about. So if you’ve never dropped into Reid Memorial Presbyterian, or Trinity on the Hill United Methodist, or Beulah Grove Baptist, fire up your laptop - now’s your chance. You can even stay in pajamas instead of putting on your Sunday best.

The Church of the Holy Comforter in Evans provided on its website a bulletin outlining the service. “This particular service of Morning Prayer has been set for use by nonordained persons (lay persons) and congregants to say either alone or together,” its instructions read.

On its Facebook page, the Islamic Society of Augusta Community Center posted a video “Sunday school intro” to virtual classes.

St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Grovetown broadcast its Mass on Saturday afternoon. Priests and deacons conducted formal rites of worship as if parishioners filled the empty pews.

Other churches’ videos showed empty pews, too. But for Catholics, attending Mass is a moral obligation that is literally considered sinful to miss. The bishop of the Diocese of Savannah, which includes the Augusta area’s Catholic churches, suspended all public Masses. That underscores the world’s current grave situation.

Spiritual leaders are watching for any changes that might affect how their flocks worship. Rabbi David Sirull told The Augusta Chronicle more than a week ago that he and his congregation are “just going to take this thing one day at a time. The scenario changes every five minutes.”

That was a lot of minutes ago.

Even in virus-induced isolation, we encourage everyone to find more ways to stay connected to others you care about. Full relief could be far, far away.

Online: https://www.augustachronicle.com

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March 21

The Savannah Morning News on legislators' stock transactions before the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.:

American Express has long reminded us “membership has its privileges.”

When it comes to the world’s most exclusive club, the privileges that come with membership in the United States Senate appear to have been grossly abused.

Several senators, including both of our own here in Georgia, made fortuitously timed stock transactions in the time between a late-January briefing to Senate members on the threat posed by the coronavirus and the sharp stock market declines that began in late February.

Trades by Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Georgia’s own Sen. Kelly Loeffler have drawn the greatest scrutiny. However, the financial actions of others, including Georgia Sen. David Perdue as well as California Sen. Diane Feinstein and Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, are also being questioned.

Sen. Burr made 33 transactions on Feb. 13, unloading a significant percentage of his stock holdings. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr has on-demand classified access to threats to America’s security and receives regular briefings from intelligence agencies.

Sen. Burr’s initial response to questions about his financial activities leaves more questions than answers. A spokesperson cited Burr’s concern for the “steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy.”

As for Sen. Loeffler, she made 29 transactions in the three weeks following the Senate briefing, including several the day of the closed-door meeting. Of those 29 trades, 27 were sales. One of her two buys was Citrix, a tech developer that specializes in teleworking software used by remote and work-from-home employees.

Loeffler has denied violating Senate rules regarding insider information. Financial advisers make stock decisions on her behalf, she said, and she labeled reports as a “ridiculous and baseless attack.”

This situation calls for closer examination. Financial advisers make their livelihoods on their ability to anticipate shifts in the markets, and this could prove to be a circumstance free of wrongdoing. This could be coincidence, but it would be irresponsible to just assume as much and not investigate.

Sen. Burr has called on the Senate Ethics Committee to review his actions, but an investigation by his peers in a highly partisan climate is not enough. The Justice Department and watchdog agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission should get involved.

INVALUABLE PREPARATION TIME LOST

As troubling as the senators’ potentially illicit profiteering is, another disturbing point revolves around the Senate briefing itself.

The closed-door meeting was open to all senators, regardless of party affiliation, and addressed coronavirus transmission rates. Specifics remain unknown, but the assessment and follow-up information clearly captured Sen. Burr’s attention, as evidenced by his words as well as his market activities.

He told a small gathering of his constituents the following in February.

“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history,” Burr said, according to a recording obtained by National Public Radio. “It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

Such a proclamation is chilling, especially now with the spiraling COVID-19 crisis. Why didn’t senators -- Democrats and Republicans -- and Trump administration officials sound the alarm sooner?

Instead of rising to the call, our public servants played politics. Consider these Twitter posts from Sen. Loeffler, the first on Feb. 28 and the second on March 10: “Democrats have dangerously and intentionally misled the American people on Coronavirus readiness” and “Concerned about the #coronavirus? Remember this: The consumer is strong, the economy is strong & jobs are growing, which puts us in the best economic position to tackle #COVID19 & keep Americans safe.”

Perhaps much like her stock market trades, Loeffler doesn’t manage her Twitter account either.

The real shamefulness in our elected officials’ living in coronavirus denial -- at least publicly -- is we lost weeks of preparation time. Those hours and days were invaluable given the ongoing dearth of test kits and the looming shortage of medical supplies.

Polls routinely show the immense distrust Americans hold for the Senate and the House. The most recent Gallup numbers put Congress’ job approval rating at just 23%. Expect that percentage to probe new lows in the weeks ahead.

And for good reason.

Online: https://www.savannahnow.com

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March 21

The Valdosta Daily Times on avoiding price gouging:

It is egregious that anyone would try to profiteer off of the COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic.

This is a national heath emergency and still there are unscrupulous people gouging consumers.

Price-gouging laws were activated when Gov. Brian Kemp signed a State of Emergency declaration.

Attorney General Chris Carr said, “Those who commit price gouging during this pandemic are not only being exploitive, they are interfering with consumers’ ability to obtain products that could help protect them from becoming ill or spreading the virus. Our office will not tolerate this and will hold them accountable.”

Basically, the law says that as long as Georgia remains in the State of Emergency, businesses may not charge more for products and services identified by the state than they charged before the declaration of the state of emergency, unless the increased prices accurately reflect an increase in the cost of new stock or the cost to transport it, plus the retailer’s average markup percentage applied during the 10 days immediately prior to the declaration of the state of emergency.

Violators of the price-gouging laws can be fined up to $5,000 per violation.

We want to share the attorney general’s advice to help protect our readers from coronavirus-related scams. Here are Carr’s recommendations:

— Watch out for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia Department of Public Health and World Health Organization.

— Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. It could download a virus onto your computer or device. Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is up-to-date.

— Ignore online offers for vaccinations. If you see ads touting prevention, treatment or cure claims for the coronavirus, ask yourself: if there’s been a medical breakthrough, would you be hearing about it for the first time through an ad or sales pitch?

— Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.

— Be alert to “investment opportunities.” The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is warning people about online promotions, including on social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure Coronavirus and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result.

We encourage our readers to report suspected violations of the price-gouging statute by calling 1-800-869-1123 or complete the online complaint form on the Consumer Protection Division’s website at consumer.ga.gov.

Online: https://www.valdostadailytimes.com

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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