Editorial roundup: Views from around Georgia

Brunswick News: State right to crack down on impaired drivers

Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in this community and in this state remains a serious issue. Anyone who reads CrimeScene in The Brunswick News knows just how big a problem it is.

That’s why it is good to hear the state is stepping up the fight against impaired driving. Just this past week the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety received a $44,190 grant from the Governors Highway Safety Association to teach law enforcement personnel how to draw blood from motorists suspected of being impaired. A portion of the funding will be used to purchase the necessary equipment for drawing blood.

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety says that qualifying officers to be phlebotomists will provide toxicology evidence that will help in the prosecution of DUI cases because the blood sample would have been obtained sooner in many instances, notes Allen Poole, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

“Officers being able to perform blood draws should lead to more convictions and hopefully serve as a deterrent for more people to not make the selfish decision to drive when they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” Poole said when announcing the grant.

The state is to be commended for boosting efforts to catch impaired drivers who are playing Russian roulette with their lives and the lives of others when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Men, women and children are killed in this community and in so many others throughout Georgia by drivers who are supposed to know better.

Qualifying police to draw blood, however, is unlikely to be the deterrent highway safety officials might hope it will be. There are too many repeat offenders for it to matter. Nothing the state is doing now is stopping them, not even license suspensions or revocations. They drive anyway.

This is where Georgia legislators can be of assistance. They can adjust the penalties for those caught a third time. Right now, an individual nabbed driving while intoxicated a third time faces a sentence — but not necessarily receives — of 15 days in jail and a fine. Judges decide whether a three-time offender will actually spend time behind bars or pay a fine.

Penalties will have to be stiffer if the state ever hopes to deter impaired driving. While a tougher sentence would be no guarantee that a repeat offender would think twice before risking a fourth violation, a stiffer sentence will keep them off the roads for a longer period of time.

Highway travel is dangerous enough with all fast drivers, discourteous motorists and red traffic signal runners without adding impaired motor vehicle operators to the mix.

Valdosta Daily Times: More must be done to keep students safe

More must be done to keep students safe.

It is obvious the Lowndes County school district’s COVID-19 strategy is not working. Just two weeks into the school year, more than 233 students and more than 30 staff members have COVID-19. Hundreds are in quarantine because of exposure. Protective masks are not required by the Lowndes County School District.

The Valdosta City Schools system has been requiring masks. Still, Monday, we learned 78 Valdosta students have tested positive, 557 are in quarantine. At least 15 Valdosta school employees tested positive and 11 more are in quarantine.

The Valdosta numbers are concerning.

The Lowndes numbers are scary.

We do not intend to pit one school against the other. This is not a competition and we know that leaders in both school systems care about students but our concern is the health and well-being of all our young people, regardless of school or school system.

School officials and elected board members cannot play politics with our young people.

What happens during the course of the school day is one thing and then there is the fact that after-school functions, especially football games, are operating like there is no pandemic.

There are school systems across Georgia, like Valdosta, requiring masks — and for good reason. Some have paused in-person learning all together, while others are offering virtual learning options.

Let’s put the Lowndes County school numbers in perspective; one year ago, this same week, there were seven Lowndes County Schools students who had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the second weekly 2020 update released by the school system.

At that time, out of 10,381 students, with seven new positive cases,139 students were quarantined for possible exposure and there was one new employee positive case out of 1,390 school system employees, with 16 employees quarantined.

As of Aug. 20, after the first two weeks of school, there were 233 students who tested positive, 580 quarantined, with 31 school staff positive and 12 quarantined in the county school system.

Schools are doing far less this year to mitigate the spread of the virus but the surge in cases is far worse.

By the same token, a large swath of our community is doing far less to protect themselves and others, especially our young people, who are now contracting the virus in higher and higher numbers, many with bad outcomes.

While vaccination rates among the eligible are ticking up, the overall vaccination rate in Lowndes County is abysmal.

Only a small number of people are wearing protective masks in public spaces and, we fear, the majority of those who are wearing masks are the vaccinated, meaning the vast majority of unvaccinated people are the exact same people who refuse to mask up.

To be clear, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines change as the virus changes and the situations change.

Current guidance calls for masks in schools.

The CDC advice is not ambiguous: CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Lowndes County, especially, needs to do more to keep students safe, including following CDC guidelines by requiring masks and social distancing and going further by considering virtual learning options.

Our county schools teach science, now it is time to follow the science.

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