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Everything we know we learned from the norovirus:

The present writer considers himself fortunate not to be numbered among those who suffered from the dreaded viral outbreak that swept across the county last week. From what we can gather, norovirus plays out like a scene from 28 Days Later — disease-crazed infectees running around the streets of the city at high speed, tackling friends and passersby to puke contaminated blood into their faces. Unlike in the movie, though, everyone picks himself up a day or so later, evidently no worse for wear and (knowing Humboldt County) possibly even somewhat gratified for having taken part in such an interesting experience. If you were one of the 166-and-counting who were afflicted you have our sympathy or congratulations, whichever the case may be.

It must be said that the folks at Baywood Golf & Country Club, the source of the irruption, handled themselves with class throughout. Though it must have been uncomfortable, they were thoroughly forthcoming with the press and the public. The same could not exactly be said of the county's public health department. The department's first press release on the outbreak, dated Dec. 6, warned people to be on the lookout for symptoms, but did not disclose that the primary risk factor associated with the disease was having dined at Baywood between Dec. 1 and Dec. 5. Why not? If you're looking to stem the spread of the disease, wouldn't that information be rather useful?

In the aftermath, some people assumed that the county was simply covering up for Baywood. As it turns out, those people are more or less right.

"It's our role to investigate the outbreak," wrote Public Health Director Alexandra Wineland in an e-mail. "Revealing the name of the facility may give a false impression that there is something wrong with the facility, and that is not necessarily the case. We would only reveal the name of the facility if it was necessary to inform people that they should seek treatment. There is no treatment for the suspected norovirus."

If Wineland or anyone else within the Byzantine halls of the county health department had made themselves available to talk, which they did not, we would have asked the obvious follow-up: What does "investigation" or "treatment" have to do with it? What we're talking about is an effort to control a threat to public health. Some of those who had eaten contaminated food at Baywood may not yet have become symptomatic. Wouldn't it have been helpful to let them know to watch out for symptoms and to take care not to spread the disease to others?

No, as per usual the county simply chose the bureaucratically safe course. Of course they knew that the secret would not be kept, not in a county this small; it's just that top county brass feared taking leadership or responsibility, or even fulfilling their charter. Par for the course, as it were. Contrast their actions with the full-on menschiness of the Baywood staff. It's kind of sad.

Everyone's all fired up for the big railroad right-of-way clearing this Saturday morning. At the time of this writing, those eager to build a Eureka-Arcata pedestrian trail are sharpening their clippers and tuning their weed-whackers and walking around in a gleeful stupor, giddy with the prospect of claiming the moribund railroad right-of-way for their own. Aux armes, citoyens! Aux armes! Meanwhile, over at the railfolks' final redoubt, the Altamont Press online bulletin boards, the ancien régime throws itself a great big pity party, one member suggesting that the board of directors of the North Coast Railroad Authority, a public agency, should be hauled off to federal prison if they allow the event to proceed.

But the North Coast Journalhas become aware of a potential problem, and has been asked to send a message to Saturday's volunteer weed militia. The plan called for crews to meet at 10 a.m. at three locations along the railroad corridor: the Arcata Marsh, Eureka's Target store and a mid-way point, Bracut Lumber. But Bracut owner Rick Hess wonders why he wasn't approached. Though he says he's all for trails, it is his position that the railroad right-of-way is not "public" at all, as is commonly assumed. He owns the property the railroad runs over, and he maintains that the railroad easement passing through his land reverted back to him after the North Coast Railroad Authority stopped running trains for two years. He has a deed of trust that seems to corroborate his claim.

That being the case, Hess says he'd like a courtesy call from the trail-clearers. "I would appreciate it if they could contact me and set up a formal meeting," he said. "I think that to have them on my property ... I need to make sure I'm covered." Message delivered. Trail people, you can leave a message for Hess at 822-1288.

And while we're at it, we'll note that there may not be much work left to do at the Arcata end of the line. An inmate crew from the High Rock Conservation Camp recently swept through town, and one of the tasks given them was to whack down weeds along the railroad by the Arcata Marsh. The place is looking clean. Interesting timing, eh? Not really, says Arcata Environmental Services Director Mark Andre. "We aren't in concert with any activist or community group," Andre said. "We do it every year."

Last month we noted that Steve Harris, district representative for Operating Engineers Local No. 3, was considering entering the already crowded field of candidates for next year's Second District (Fortuna to SoHum) Board of Supervisors election. Well, it was not to be. Just recently, Harris was tapped by his union to take over the engineer's San Jose office, roughly 10 times Humboldt's size. He'll be permanently installed down there next month.

But before leaving, Harris wanted it to be known that he was personally endorsing former KMUD News Director Estelle Fennell. "She really wants to do right by labor here, and she's taking an active role," he said.

Meanwhile, in the same district, the campaign of Fortuna apple farmer Clif Clendenen is picking up the pace. Clendenen, who is aiming for roughly the same demographic as Fennell, announced that he would be holding a town hall meeting at the Garberville Civic Club at 7 p.m. on Friday.

And incumbent Roger Rodoni made it official last week: At a press conference at Fortuna's River Lodge, he said that he'd be seeking a fourth term in office.

Yet another production of The Vagina Monologues is due to hit Humboldt County next February. The director of the play, Helena Class, thought she had a good thing going last month when she put down a $500 deposit — half the total — to rent Eureka's Arkley Center for the Performing Arts for the production. She thought the venue was beautiful. The Arkley Center had given her a date: Feb. 23. She went out and got liability insurance for the event.

But when she returned to give the second half of her deposit and to sign the paperwork, she was told that the show was off. According to Class, the reason given was that the show was "political" and not appropriate for the Arkley Center's audience. After much back-and-forth with the management of the Arkley Center, she was given a final no on Sunday.

Class said Tuesday that she objected to the characterization of the community that she allegedly received from Arkley Center management. She noted that the play was a benefit for several local domestic violence organizations.

"Don't make the assumption that our community — even the conservative community — doesn't want to support a project that helps end domestic violence," Class said. "That's really presumptuous of you."

Judy Barkett, vice president of VenueTech, a San Francisco company that manages the Arkley Center, said that from her point of view, Class never had a contract with the Arkley Center. Barkett said that the reason the Center ended up declining the show was not for political reasons, but because Class was amateurish in her negotiations. She said that Class threatened the Arkley Center with bad publicity if they refused to put on the show.

"She was just very threatening in her approach to this," Barkett said. "And it made us think that this was not going to be a professional production." Barkett did acknowledge, however, that the Arkley Center did take Class' deposit — after Class "forced" it on them, she said — and had given her a potential date.

Class said that she was now talking with the Eureka Theater.

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Hank Sims

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