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In the News - Friday, September 28, 2012





Hantavirus risk is low

Precautions always necessary

By Holly Gallo

  Yosemite National Park has confirmed a total of nine cases of hantavirus infection in overnight visitors since June. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a rare but rapidly progressing and potentially fatal disease that has claimed three of the nine infected this summer. Eight of the cases have been linked to the Signature Tent Cabins in Curry Village, while one was linked to the High Sierra Camps.
   After putting in considerable efforts to prevent the presence of deer mice in the Signature Tent Cabins, officials continued to find evidence of mouse activity. The area has been closed indefinitely on the advice of public health officials.
   The virus is most commonly spread to humans via airborne transmission from disturbed rodent nests or fresh rodent excrement and is not transferrable from one person to another.  Since the disease’s identification in 1993, cases have occurred sporadically throughout the nation, usually in rural areas and peri-domestic settings (sheds, outbuildings, barns, etc.). A total of 602 cases have been confirmed since ‘93, and 60 have been reported in California.   An estimated 12% of deer mice carry the virus. The mortality rate for HPS is 36-38%.
   The rarity of human infection is evident even in the Yosemite outbreak. The number of cases of HPS remain a small fraction of the at least 260,000 overnight visitors who have stayed in the park and 30,000 who stayed at the recognized disease epicenter lodging sites since June.  These visitors have since been personally notified of the potential exposure risk.
   Three Rivers and Sequoia— As the Yosemite situation stabilizes, the possibility of an outbreak in Sequoia National Park may seem a valid concern. The deer mouse, carrier of the particular strain responsible for the recent cases of HPS, is a common rodent found throughout North American woodlands and rural areas – including Three Rivers.
   Despite the prevalence of the deer mouse in the local region, however, park officials report that Sequoia is not necessarily in danger of following Yosemite’s lead.
  “The deer mouse is essentially everywhere,” said Paul Schwarz, public health sanitarian for Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks. “The potential [for hantavirus infection] is always there, but there are no known cases here.”
   Schwarz said that preventive measures outside of standard sanitation practices are not necessary for public safety in the Sequoia National Park, and that visitors should “just take the standard precautions.” As always, park staff will continue to perform proper sanitation efforts on all structures in addition to providing visitors with public service educational material to assure that they also maintain sanitary recreational environments.
   Dave Graber, chief scientist for the Pacific West region of the National Park Service, noted that the Yosemite outbreak was the equivalent of “a lightning strike,” and that an attempt at anticipating a similar phenomenon in Sequoia would simply be “a wild guess.”
   Yosemite outbreak ‘unprecedented’— The CDC website notes that tourist and travel destinations that have been reported to be sites of hantavirus infection do not typically pose major risk factors for other visitors. However, National Park Service spokesman John Quinley said that “the cluster in Yosemite is unprecedented,” and it was this anomaly that  most interested public health officials. Historically, HPS outbreaks have occurred in clusters of two to four people who had been exposed in a shared, enclosed structure.
   The NPS Office of Public Health is working with the CDC and state public health offices to “heighten public health awareness and detection of the disease.” Besides notifying recent visitors by public outreach online and through the mail, visitors are also provided with educational material at entrance stations on how to avoid contact with the virus and maintain a sanitary recreational space.
   Minimize exposure— The most common form of human exposure to the virus occurs when an individual disturbs rodent nests or excrement, which can stir up microscopic droplets containing the virus and contaminate the air that are then inhaled. Less common though still possible is that humans may also contract the virus by direct contact with fresh rodent excrement or saliva and then spread it by touching their nose or mouth.
   More uncommonly, being bit by an infected rodent may result in virus transmission.
   Anyone who comes into contact with rodents is at risk of infection. This includes but is not limited to those with rodent infestation in and around their homes, those who work in or access seasonally or rarely opened buildings, farm workers, utility and field lot workers, construction workers, and hikers or campers.
   It is also suggested that park visitors and residents alike take care to prevent rodent infestation in their living spaces. The National Park Service’s service announcement and CDC website say to avoid touching dead or alive rodents, disturbing rodent burrows, and stirring up dust. In addition, keep food in tightly sealed containers, set rodent traps or otherwise rodent-proof homes by sealing holes or other potential access points.
   Symptoms— Although the disease is rare, one of the dangers of HPS is that the initial symptoms of fatigue, fever, chills, and muscle aches mimic the symptoms of the flu. The disease progresses rapidly, however; if an infected individual does not receive medical attention early, their chances of survival decrease severely. Because there is no specific treatment or cure for HPS, the medical attention typically given to patients is “supportive in nature,” according to the CDC.
   Yosemite officials urge that visitors to the area who experience these symptoms to seek immediate medical attention. For a full list of precautionary measures or more information, go to nps.gov/yose/plantyourvisit/hantafaq.

Smart meters raise consumer complaints

  As complaints mount in numerous communities across the U.S. versus smart meters, Southern California Edison is going forward with plans to install the digital meters in Tulare County in the next several weeks. By the end of this decade, more than half of all homes in the U.S. are scheduled to be converted from the spinning analog meter to a digital one.
   Reasons cited in most complaints include health effects, intrusion of privacy, and that the monitoring of real-time energy use is not leading to a greener utility but may in fact be just another example of an industry’s attempt with a government subsidy to generate a more profitable bottom line.
   Smart meters are designed to give consumers and electric companies more accurate information about energy use. That two-way communication link with SCE and the consumer is designed to give both parties instant data on when electricity is being consumed for what uses.
   The data theoretically would allow the consumer to control these uses and save money on the electric bill. But so far experts aren’t seeing the savings – the main reason for converting to the smart meters in the first place.
   According to an article published last year in Consumers Digest when the furor began, smart meters might really be a dumb idea. From a consumer’s perspective, the potential negative consequences outweigh the benefits in three critical areas:
   Cost: the smart meter industry (the companies that make and install all the technology) have already received billions in government subsidies paid for by taxpayers – consumers still face monthly fees that cover the utility companies’ costs in the massive conversion program. Then there are all the new devices needed in the home just to make use of the data and control energy use – a huge windfall for hardware and software makers.
   Rate changes: Electric companies will change the way they charge for usage after the smart meters are installed. The rationale is that the consumer will be charged varying rates according to when the energy is used – think higher rates during peak afternoon hours. You’ll need the on-site monitoring equipment just to understand your bill.
   Energy savings: The biggest complaint here is that the smart meter industry is overestimating how much a consumer will try to save once they know what is being used when. To reap the biggest savings, the latest high-tech gadgetry will be needed and many consumers won’t want to go there.
   The conversion to smart meters is appealing, consumer advocates say, if you’re willing to pay a lot to save a little. Whether someone chooses to keep the analog meter or convert to a digital one, all the new appliances that one can set up at home or log in with remotely on the Internet to communicate with the utility company, represents a market worth billions of dollars.
   NEXT WEEK: A look at the health and security risks – what the experts are saying.

Assistant superintendent now onboard at WUSD

By Holly Gallo

  Having already welcomed a slew of new faces to both the teaching faculty and administrative staff, the Woodlake Unified School District recently hired Glen Billington, formerly of the Fowler Unified School District, to fill the position of assistant superintendent.
   While his official first day at WUSD is Monday, Oct. 1, Billington has already begun the transition from his current post as principal of Fremont Elementary. For the past couple of weeks, he was splitting his time between the districts. The transitional period at Fremont will be eased by an interim principal that will be replacing Billington.
   According to Billington, the transition is made considerably easier by the fact that his surrogate and ultimate replacement is a retired principal and familiar with the duties therein.
  “With any new position, there will be a steep learning curve,” he said of his new position. “I have a lot to learn, and I’m confident in the support here at Woodlake. I look forward to working with the principals and Drew [Sorensen], about whom I’ve only heard great things.”
Superintendent Sorensen said that one asset that Billington brings to the district and the leadership team is his professional background in K-8 education.
  “All my years have been at high school sites,” Sorensen said. “We need [Billington’s] extensive experience with K-8 to be the best district we can be.”
   Furthermore, Sorensen said that when it comes down to it, an administrative leadership position is really a two-person job.
  “The job consists of overseeing professional development; instructional technology; categorical budgets, state and federal; categorical projects; negotiations; working with board members and principals; meeting with contract groups.” Sorensen said.
   Billington’s position will help to more thoroughly cover those aspects of administration.
  “We always hope that when we have two leadership positions, they will be complementary,” Sorensen continued. “We are very excited, and now we can get on with business.”
   As for the new assistant superintendent, he has three main goals that he would like to focus on within the district. First, he said, he plans to focus on continuing to provide students the opportunity to achieve at high performance levels.
  “This is important for all students,” Billington stressed.
   Echoing the tune also put forth by Sorensen upon his taking position as superintendent, Billington said that he would also like to facilitate the district’s transition to upholding the Common Core State Standards.
   The CCSS is an initiative set forth by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers with the mission to ensure effective teaching models, to standardize educational expectations and skills, and to ensure that students complete their K-12 career fully prepared for both higher education and the workforce.
   Finally, Billington said that he aims to “facilitate in the continued expansion of technology in the classroom.”
  “It’s an exciting time for education technology,” he said.
   Billington noted that there are great prospects for interactive and learning-based technology as incorporated in teaching strategies.
   Before spending the last 15 years at Fowler Unified, Billington received a BA in History and Single Subject Credential at Fresno State. He started his career at Fowler as a history teacher and football and tennis coach. He continued on to serve as the activities director for another five years.
   Going on to receive his Master’s degree in Education Administration and an Administrative Services credential, Billington took the position of assistant principal at Fremont Middle School for three years until it was converted to an elementary school, at which point he served as principal.

Antiques store plans grand opening

By Holly Gallo

  John and Erin McWilliams have more to celebrate than their recent wedding. On Saturday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., the newlyweds will welcome residents, visitors, and 1st Saturday participants at the grand opening of their new Village Antiques shop at 41665 Sierra Drive. Village Antiques will join the string of businesses in the newly remodeled building adjacent to Anne Lang’s Emporium.
   Saturday’s festivities will include refreshments in addition to the opportunity to explore John’s collection of historic Americana antiques, jewelry, local art and ephemera, vintage photographs, maps, books, and postcards.
   While Erin is a newly indoctrinated antique enthusiast, John has been collecting since childhood. He purchased his first daguerreotype photograph when he was 12 years old.
   By the time he was 18, he had over a thousand in his collection. And for the 20 years since then, John has been making a living buying and selling vintage photographs as well as other unique antiques.
  “This shop will be a little different than most you’ll encounter, because I specialize in the things that museums and libraries would want,” John said. “The types of antiques I deal in make unique, one-of-a-kind gifts for all occasions. It’s a great place to find something unusual.”

TRUS Reunion will only come around once

  The first ever, one and only Three Rivers Union School Reunion will be held Saturday, Oct. 6, beginning at 2 p.m., at Lions Arena in Three Rivers. If you graduated from TRUS at anytime during the 20th century, or were a teacher or member of the school staff, you are invited.
   Tickets will remain on sale only until Monday, Oct. 1. They are $25 per person; spouses and guests are welcome to accompany a graduate for the same price ($25/person).
   The event will feature live and silent auctions, dinner, and live entertainment. What is notable is that all of the above is being provided, prepared, and/or performed by TRUS alumni.
   For example, the auctions will include handmade art and crafts created by TRUS alum or their families (Wendy Maloy McKellar has donated her original painting used for the Reunion’s promotion poster, which will be auctioned off).
   A barbecue dinner will be prepared by Greg Dixon (Class of ‘73) and his wife, Nataliya. A no-host bar will be available.
   Steve LaMar (Class of ‘73) and wife Elizabeth will emcee the event. And entertainment will include descendants of the McDowall family (Mary McDowall was TRUS’s first principal), which contains too many alumni spanning three generations to mention here.
   To donate an auction item, call Valerie Simmons Abanathie, 561-4880. To attend the Reunion, send check or money order ($25 per person) — along with name, address, and year of graduation — to TRUS Reunion, P.O. Box 103; Three Rivers, CA 93271.

Register to vote online

  The deadline to register to vote in the November 6 general election is Monday, Oct. 22. A voter needs to re-register to vote when they move to a new permanent residence, they change their name, or they change their political party choice.
   Watch for voter registration drives in Three Rivers. In addition, voter registration cards may be obtained at the county Elections Office at the County Civic Center in Visalia, at Three Rivers Post Office, and Three Rivers Library.
   And, prospective voters in California may now register online at https://rtv.sos.ca.gov/elections/register-to-vote/.
   At the upcoming Town Meeting on Monday, Oct. 1, several ballot issues will be addressed to educate voters. The Three Rivers Union School board will provide an informational PowerPoint presentation about Measure I.
   Due to redistricting, Three Rivers will become part of the 23rd Assembly District as of January. Those candidates, Jim Patterson and Bob Whalen, will address the meeting. The state propositions will also be reviewed.

Keeping mariachi music alive, one bite at a time

Meet Dora of Dora's Restaurant in Woodlake

  Dora Luz Orozco is a talented mariachi singer who has lived in Woodlake a great part of her life. She is also the owner of Dora’s Restaurant in Woodlake.
In 1979, Dora’s family immigrated to the United States from Uruapan, Michoacan, in Mexico when she was 15 years of age.
   Woodlake was the chosen land to raise young Dora, better known professionally as Maria Jose. When asked how she has been able to pursue her singing career she stated, “The path has not been easy but I continue because I would like to inspire others to follow their dreams.”
   Dora counts on the unconditional support of her family, who not only encourage the development of her musical career, but also work tirelessly helping her operate Dora’s Restaurant. Dora’s Restaurant, which serves authentic Mexican food, was born due to the financial constraints the family has faced while “Maria Jose” chases her dreams of success and fame in the world of mariachi music.
   Recording is costly, yet she has managed to record not one, but five records without any financial support from a manager or promoter. Although her career as a performer has spanned more than three decades, she has many goals in the music industry yet to achieve.
   As a restaurant owner, she has also made her mark. Dora’s Restaurant is well known for their chile verde and chile relleno plates made with a secret family recipe, and the delicious enchiladas and molé. The restaurant atmosphere is inviting, friendly, and family oriented.
   While dining at Dora’s, one can often find those who give her the courage and inspiration to continue. Her daughter, mother, sister, niece, and friends work at the restaurant and have been her source of strength to carry on in her show business career.
   Hard work and dedication have provided Dora (Maria Jose) the opportunity to perform on stage with renowned Latin celebrities like Celia Cruz, Selena, Pepe Aguilar, and Pedro Fernandez, to name a few.
   One of the truly great moments of Dora’s life was when she had the opportunity to meet Juan Gabriel, one of the singers who has inspired her own music.
  “If you enjoy singing mariachi music, never change to please anyone,” advised Gabriel.
   Looking at the faces of those who experience live mariachi music for the first time is priceless, Dora said. It is the true payoff for the time she has devoted to her music and the promotion of the Mexican culture.
   As her way of inspiring others to dream, she began karaoke night at Dora’s Restaurant every Friday evening. Many young adults come by and ask her for advice on how they can improve their techniques.
  “Do not abandon your education,” says Dora when asked for career advice by up-and-coming performers. “If you want to develop a career in music make sure you have a backup plan because the road can get very bumpy.”
   Article contributed by Reyna Castellanos.


Class of ’73 – Our year with Bill

By Jay O’Connell

  It’s back-to-school season, which inspires reflection by many of the school days of yesteryear. Inspired by the upcoming all-school Three Rivers Union School Reunion on Saturday, Oct. 6, Jay O’Connell has written a four-part weekly series on his memories of TRUS as part of the Class of 1973.


  He was the teacher who influenced me more than any other. And, without a doubt, I learned more in that one year than in any before or since. I’ve long wanted to write about my time in sixth grade, to put that remarkable year in focus and ultimately to pay tribute to a most effective and memorable teacher.
   The year was 1970, but it was still in spirit the 1960s. Or maybe it was just that the ‘60s had finally made it to Three Rivers.
   When we met our sixth-grade teacher, it was immediately apparent that the times, they were a changin’. In a word, our teacher was, well, a hippie.
   As a kid, I really dug hippies. I think my Halloween costume the year before was a hippie. But a hippie teacher? Even I knew that was an oxymoron!
   This was the era of the “generation gap,” and our new teacher was definitely on the south side of that gap… way south. He must have been only in his early to mid 20s. Our new teacher had long hair. Well, not really that long, especially on top where he had very little. But it was certainly longish.
   And our new teacher dressed unlike any teacher we ever had. I can still picture that Mickey Mouse pajama-top shirt. And then he told us we could call him by his first name: Bill.
   I remember with remarkable specificity that directive, and here is the important thing to point out, the part that no one ever talked about. Our new teacher carefully explained to us that kids should always address any adult by Mr. or Mrs. That was the proper and respectful thing to do, he said. But if an adult gave you specific permission to call them by their first name, you should feel free to do so.
   He told us we could call him Bill. That was, in fact, his personal preference. But he also made it clear that if anyone was not comfortable with that, we should call him Mr. Chivers. Either way was acceptable.
   Our new teacher — our hippie teacher — was basically treating us like adults. Now there was something bound to backfire.
   It wasn’t long before the whole town was in a minor uproar over sixth graders calling their teacher by his first name. “He’s making the kids call him Bill! He is forcing innocent kids into his anarchist ways!”
   Okay, perhaps no one used the word “anarchist.” Indulge me a little poetic license.
   But that is how I remembered the town’s reaction. Even as an 11-year-old kid, I felt people were overreacting and misconstruing. And the name controversy was only the tip of the iceberg.
   Early on that year, Bill instituted a new policy concerning the Flag Salute. The Pledge of Allegiance. Something kids said everyday in school but never really thought about.
   Heck, most of us didn’t even know what it meant or even what the actual words were. To little kids, it just becomes one long run-on sentence with something about being invisible in the middle.
   Bill declared that reciting it would be optional. He had his reasons, but no explanation he could offer would buffer this heresy.
   And in the spirit of pre-pubescent rebellion, many of us boys puffed up our chests, loudly recited the Pledge, then launched into a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.” I may have even taken part in that gesture of ostentatious nationalism, but only because my true political colors hadn’t yet come out. (Any issue I have about the Flag Salute to this day has only to do with the 1954 addition of two words I don’t believe should be there.)
   Still, you can imagine the reaction when parents found out we “weren’t even allowed to say the flag salute.”
   Nearly every other tradition and convention of grade school decorum flew out the sixth-grade class window that year. Homework became essentially optional. We had an “expression wall” that we could freely cover with graffiti.
   We learned macramé and how to make sand-cast candles. Bill even let us do away with desks. We could create our own “spaces” from orange crates or old parachutes or whatever. We were living the hippie dream!
   But it was a dream that didn’t go over too well in the greater community. It was also a dream that was drastically misunderstood.
   To this day I marvel at just how drastic the change at Three Rivers School was that year. And it wasn’t just isolated to the sixth grade.
   I don’t really know how much was influenced by Bill directly, as there were other changes in the school’s staff and administration right about that time— an influx of other younger (some might say “hippie”) teachers.
   I remember, for example, the entire grading system changed. No more simple letter grades, but more parent/teacher conference based reports. We had a school-wide “Play Day.” There was a general air of progressiveness (and some might add permissiveness).
   Even as a kid, I realized the perception of the community didn’t jive with the reality in the classroom. It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the town probably assumed Bill had done away with all rules and all schoolwork and was indoctrinating the town’s impressionable youth with his left-wing radical dogmas.
   After all, hadn’t he even played us Woody Guthrie recordings? Never mind we’d been singing “This Land is Your Land” in school since first grade.
   I imagine many parents asked themselves: what if this over-zealous, free-thinking revolutionary succeeded in influencing some of our kids?
   Well, I for one offer, some 40 years later, an answer to that question. Thankfully, for at least one kid that year, Bill succeeded spectacularly.
   In next week’s installment, I will show how despite the perceived lack of rules and assignments, I learned more and was more positively influenced that year than any other. I owe Bill a great debt of gratitude, and I’m most thankful I was able, many years later, to tell him that.
   Jay O’Connell’s first book, Co-Operative Dreams: A History of the Kaweah Colony, tells the story of a local utopian experiment headed by a group of socialists and Marxist-inspired reformers in the late 19th century. The Kaweah Colony was a doomed and misunderstood endeavor despite being based on grand ideas, not unlike Jay’s sixth-grade year.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
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