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Surplus and Minuses: Donning a gas mask is no guarantee that the wearer can survive a bioterrorist attack.

Who's Ready For Bioween?

With the news that local residents are buying up gas masks and chemical warfare suits faster than George W. Bush can say "Wanted: Dead or alive," Nu-z wondered to what extent Santa Cruz County is prepared for bioterrorism. The answers were far from encouraging.

According to the chair of Dominican Hospital's disaster-planning committee, Dr. John Fust, who has conducted training for hospital medical staff, the hospital is "relying on doctors and health-care providers for early detection."

But as one ER doctor Nu-z spoke with admitted, the average doctor is probably clueless about bioterrorism symptoms. Seconding the point is Santa Cruz County Chief of Public Health Betsy McCarty, who says, "They don't see diseases like this."

According to McCarty, about a dozen people in the County Health Department received three days of satellite video training on treating victims of biological warfare--but no field training. And though training manuals are available at hospitals, this information hasn't been provided to doctors, so they may not know enough to report suspicious cases. And even if they do, treatment may not be available.

Anthrax symptoms apparently resemble flu signs. Patients improve, but then--unless they get immediate antibiotics--they develop severe breathing problems and die within days.

Your only hope? That sick people have already shown up in local hospitals or doctors' offices and that these centers have already alerted the Health Department to indicate a possible attack.

If not, the Health Department would have to drive your sample to Berkeley for testing, then wait a few agonizing days for the results, before they could request antibiotics from the feds--another delay. And if other communities were already reporting problems, the wait could be even longer.

According to the experts Nu-z talked to, there are no anthrax or smallpox vaccines available to the public. Ditto for ebola and other fatal diseases. As for gas masks, they are a bad joke. Bacteria are invisible, so unless you wear your Darth Vader look everywhere--including to bed--your chances of being protected at the right moment aren't good.

Even with 24-hour masking, you'd need the right filters and professional fitting to prevent leaks around the edges. And since improper use of a mask can result in death and since surplus mask filters are worthless (the rubber seals may have tiny cracks, and the masks may actually have been used in war and thus be contaminated), no mask is definitely better than an ill-fitting, toxic one.

Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and author of the scary book Living Terrors, says that the government reportedly only has 400 tons of antibiotics and other medical supplies in centers around the country--and no organized way to distribute them.

In the meantime, the Santa Cruz Red Cross has no recommendations except the usual earthquake preparations, according to Director of Disaster Services Barry Anderson, who has heard nothing from headquarters and doesn't expect a plan for a year.

So what can you do, other than hold your breath and pray for peace? Check out Chem-Bio: Frequently Asked Questions ($18 from www.chem-bio.com or 703.370.2962), which suggests watching for unusual dead or dying animals, unusual casualties, unusual spray or vapor, unusual swarm of insects or suspicious devices or packages, in which case don't touch them, but call 911.

Tale of Two Campers

The Sept. 25 Santa Cruz City Council meeting got off to a musical bang with an emotional audience singing along as Camp Paradise residents played a tape of "God Bless the USA." But though many citizens in attendance pledged their support to finding a way to keep the drug- and alcohol-free camp intact, the councilmembers did not give their unconditional blessing.

Emphasizing that the riverbed is not feasible as a long-term location, but acknowledging that there is as yet no relocation site for Camp Paradise, the council voted unanimously to give its residents a 30-day stay of execution, at which point their situation will be reviewed.

The council also voted in favor of giving Community Housing Land Trust secretary Tom Shaver 90 days to complete a comprehensive report about how his organization and others would help a pilot Conservation Corps-style camp maneuver a series of bureaucratic hurdles.

Before the final vote was taken, Councilmember Emily Reilly questioned the honesty of acting as if the council was endorsing Camp Paradise when the camping ban is still in effect. And Councilmember Keith Sugar asked if a 30-day extension would also mean a ban on ticketing or police enforcement, to which Councilmembers Scott Kennedy and Mark Primack, who have both expressed support for the camp replied, No, not if such enforcement action was deemed necessary.

Meanwhile, San Lorenzo Urban River Plan (SLURP) task-force member Kathleen Abood remarked that the city's decision to let Camp Paradise stay reminded her of the 1930s, when the then City Council agreed to let the Seaside Company have private use of the tidelands.

Suggesting that Camp Paradise and Seaside Company are both possibly illegal campers is a useful comparison--with a couple of differences. Whereas Camp Paradise has been parking its tents on a riverside site for nine months, the Seaside Company has been parking cars on a tidelands site for four decades. And while Camp Paradise residents have been ticketed and constantly scrutinized, while having open discussions about their current and future plans, Seaside Company representatives continue to meet city officials behind closed doors to discuss their options.

Funny face

"It's a tough time to be a comic," declared Aussie Jim Short as he MC'd the first round of the 26th Annual San Francisco International Stand-Up Comedy Competition at the Crow's Nest, just 12 days after Sept. 11. Tough, but essential.

Self-avowed sexual liberator Auggie Smith--who shared the finalist slots with Virginia native Rob Cantrell, larger-than-life Latino Bill Santiago and the streetwise Sadiki Fuller, Art Roseman, Floyd J. Phillips and Cain Lopez--confided to Nu-z that the key to doing comedy at this time is to be reverent.

Explained Smith, "We all have the same thing on our mind, so it's almost impossible not to bring up Sept. 11, but we're not demons or sociopaths, and there are details, especially as regards the media, that are funny."

Us, funny? asked a shocked Nu-z, sounding a mite defensive.

"Very. Suddenly shark attacks and the sex lives of politicians no longer seem very important," replied Smith, who criticizes the media for having lived off frivolous stuff for years.

"Suddenly, the media has to prioritize and deal with stuff that matters," said Smith, who encourages people to attend stand-up comedy--particularly now.

"What could be better than watching 10 people share their different views on the world," said Smith, who has been doing stand-up for 10 years. What better, indeed.

The Sept. 23 lineup had a laugh for everyone, ranging from Jonathon Thymius' dazed and confused avoidance of plate-spinning (a local favorite) to Julia Jackson's hysterical (blush) impersonation of feminine personal aroma. Laughter is the great integrator, and the comedians all showed heart, soul and a quirky mirror on life.

The comedy competition continues on Oct. 11, when the Darwinian struggle toward the perfect joke will see the fittest wits slugging it out at the Rio Theatre in 20-minute sets. Call 415.383.4759 for details.

Date Line

Two other dates well worth considering:

The Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women is holding its 20th anniversary celebration at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium at 8pm on Friday (Oct. 5), a free event that features Bettina Aptheker and Women in Black, with music by high-energy Latin rhythm group SambaDá and the Falva Unit and Friends, a hip-hop troupe. Call Laurie McWhorter at 420.6297 for information.

And the Santa Cruz City Council is hosting a town meeting on Oct. 17 at 6:30pm at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium to give residents a chance to discuss the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Hotline

The newly formed Anti-Racist Action of Santa Cruz is establishing a hotline to deal with a rise in racism in the wake of the Sept 11 attack. If you have been racially targeted or would like to volunteer, please call 831.818.4705.

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From the October 3-10, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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