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No Hepatitis A reported in Kings County, so far

HANFORD — Outbreaks of Hepatitis A have occurred recently in areas like San Diego and Santa Cruz counties, but the outbreak hasn’t hit Kings County, so far.

The current outbreak is primarily spreading among people who are homeless and/or use illicit drugs in areas where toilets and places to wash hands are limited.

According to a press release from the Kings County Health Department, the county has not had any reported cases of Hepatitis A linked to the outbreak occurring in other areas of the state that have caused a significant number of hospitalizations and deaths.

Sharon Soong, the health department’s communicable disease surveillance coordinator, said Hepatitis A is a virus that spreads via the fecal/oral route.

“Hepatitis A is spread when an infected person does not wash his/her hands properly after going to the bathroom, and then touches food or other objects,” said a statement from the department.

Uninfected people who come into contact with contaminated food or objects may become infected.

At this time, however, the county health department said there is no increased risk of Hepatitis A to the general public.

Right now, Soong said the department is focusing on education about prevention for the virus. Thoroughly washing your hands with soap and running water after using the bathroom and before you eat can help protect against Hepatitis A.

“We really just encourage people to pay attention to their hygiene and make sure they wash their hands,” Soong said.

According to the California Department of Public Health, children have been routinely vaccinated for Hepatitis A since 1999, and Hepatitis A vaccinations are available for both children and adults.

The current priority for the adult Hepatitis A vaccine is for people in counties where there is an outbreak and Hepatitis A is spreading. People who are in ongoing, close contact with these populations are also recommended to receive the vaccine.

The California Department of Public Health said it is focusing its efforts in areas of Hepatitis A outbreaks and has administered thousands of the vaccines to help control spread of the virus.

According to the county health department, there is no additional public health vaccination efforts currently recommended for anyone in Kings County.

Health Department officials said they are closely monitoring the situation and will take appropriate action if there are any changes to the current recommendations for Kings County.

Usually, Hepatitis A is a mild illness; but for those with other health conditions that cause chronic liver disease, such as alcoholic cirrhosis or Hepatitis B or C infection, Hepatitis A can be serious and sometimes fatal, said the press release.

In 2014, 2015, and 2016, there were 146, 181, and 231 reported cases of Hepatitis A in California, respectively. The California Department of Public Health said the current outbreak is the largest outbreak in the U.S. not related to contaminated food products since the Hepatitis A vaccine was introduced in 1996.

Call the Kings County Health Department at 584-1401 if you have any questions or concerns about Hepatitis A.

Jennifer Vikjord, The Sentinel 

Casey McBride speaks at the Links for Life "Pink Passion Picnic" event held Wednesday at the Hanford Civic Auditorium. Links for Life is a nonprofit, volunteer-run, donor-funded breast cancer screening program in Kings County.

A 13.5-mile tunnel will make or break California’s bullet train
A 13.5-mile tunnel will make or break California’s bullet train

LOS ANGELES — When the first California bullet train pulls out of San Jose one day, a crucial part of the journey will be a 13.5-mile tunnel beneath the winding peaks and valleys of Pacheco Pass.

Trains will run at top speed along a straight and level route beneath the Diablo Range, shooting through the nation’s longest and most advanced transportation tunnel.

But the massive scope and complexity of the tunnel are at the heart of new concerns about the viability of the state project.

A Los Angeles Times analysis has found that tunnel construction could exhaust the $5.5 billion budget for the entire 54-mile segment from Gilroy to Chowchilla.

Some of the world’s top tunnel experts put the cost of the tunnel at anywhere from $5.6 billion to $14.4 billion, reflecting the high cost of boring through tricky geology and seismically active areas.

The Gilroy-to-Chowchilla route also requires a 1.5-mile tunnel just east of Gilroy, itself a major infrastructure project.

“This is not good news for taxpayers of California,” said William Ibbs, a University of California, Berkeley civil engineer who has consulted on similar rail projects around the world. “Tunnels are expensive.”

Engineers at the California High-Speed Rail Authority are cautious but not worried. “We don’t see any problem,” said Scott Jarvis, chief engineer.

The authority said it is too early to have its own cost estimate because it has not done enough geological investigation and engineering analysis, said Randy Anderson, the agency’s tunneling expert.

He added that engineering for previous tunneling for water lines shows they are in the ballpark.

But if construction costs grow and exhaust the project’s budget, it could jeopardize plans for building the initial operating segment from San Jose to the Central Valley.

State officials acknowledge that unless they demonstrate a financially successful starter system, private investors will not commit money to help build the rest of the line to Los Angeles.

At best, the rail authority’s existing funds are stretched thin. It has $21 billion to build the starter system. The funds include $6.8 billion from a 2008 bond, $3.2 billion in federal grants, $5.3 billion from California’s greenhouse gas fees through 2024, and $5.2 billion from bonds issued against greenhouse gas fees after 2024.

The plan to issue bonds supported by future greenhouse gas fees is the weak link.

Michael Thom, a public finance expert at the University of Southern California, said those funds are not “a reliable source of revenue. … I can’t imagine a reason why a rational investor would take that risk.”

The rail authority initially planned to start building from Los Angeles but abandoned that plan in 2016 because it was too costly — ironically because of tunnels under the San Gabriel and Tehachapi mountains.

Under the current plan, the state wants to begin the 240-mile starter system in San Jose and end in an almond orchard south of Wasco. The state estimates the system would begin operating in 2025 and carry about 3 million passengers a year.

The rail authority’s optimistic timetable estimates that the entire Los Angeles-to-San Francisco system, passing through Palmdale, Bakersfield and Fresno, will start running in 2029, requiring a 1.3-mile tunnel under the heart of San Francisco and potentially 36 miles of tunnels under the Southern California mountains.

The need to build the starter system’s 13.5-mile tunnel was identified earlier this year.

Until late last year, officials had considered building five shorter tunnels. But that plan cut too close to the San Luis Reservoir, according to federal records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The cost of the tunnel could significantly drain the available funds to build the starter system, based on estimates from outside experts.

Bent Flyvbjerg, a University of Oxford professor who has studied high-speed rail projects around the world, estimated the cost could range from $5.6 billion (with a 50 percent chance of a cost overrun) to $14.6 billion (with a 20 percent chance of a cost overrun).

He based his estimates on data from more than 500 international tunnel projects. On average, an equivalent tunnel would cost $7.6 billion, he said

An executive at one of the nation’s leading engineering firms, who was not authorized to publicly comment on the state rail plan but is knowledgeable about the project, estimated the cost would run from $10 billion to $12 billion, based on recent experience with long tunnels in difficult geology.

Herbert Einstein, an MIT civil engineer and expert on tunnel construction, put the cost at roughly $6 billion — saying that was on the low side, based on his experience in other projects.

The cost will be related directly to the construction schedule, he said, and “when time goes up, so does cost.”

Nobody — including state officials — disputes that the proposed timeline is ambitious.

Under the current timeline, according to some experts, the system will miss by more than a year the 2025 deadline to start carrying passengers, assuming there are no major problems.

The final environmental plan, which sets the exact route, is supposed to be adopted next year, and only then can the state begin soliciting bids and awarding a construction contract.

The contract process will take at least another year.

Once a contract is issued, the builder will have to order a custom-made tunnel boring machine, which takes about one year to build and set up at the site.

The authority would need at least three years to bore the tunnel, possibly much more, and then three more to outfit it with high-voltage electrical systems, ventilation, signals and track, according to outside experts.

Jarvis, the authority’s chief engineer, said the state’s timetable is aggressive and may have to be revised. “We are reviewing the schedule,” he said.

Meeting deadlines will depend on the geology of the route.

The rocks in the Diablo Range were left when the Pacific tectonic plate dove under the North American plate. It was like a knife cutting slices off a block of cheese, leaving a jumble of inconsistent rocks up and down the California coast.

The tunnel — which in some spots will be 1,000 feet below ground — will have to traverse hard sandstone interspersed with weak shale, a geological structure known as the Franciscan Complex.

Within that melange are hard boulders of metamorphosed basalt and chert, among other “knockers,” as geologists call them.

Darrel Cowan, a University of Washington geologist who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Diablo Range, said: “You can be tunneling through this and you can run into a knocker the size of a car or a house. It is like a fruitcake … a rock type that does not provide the stability you want for tunneling.”

As the route passes near the massive San Luis Reservoir, the tunnel will cross the Ortigalata fault, which is estimated to have the potential for a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Tunnels through faults require detailed and costly engineering.

Anderson said he is familiar with the Franciscan melange. The rail authority is not only doing exploratory boring along the route, but also reviewing the engineering records of two underground water tunnels in the area.

“We have looked at some of the production rates, and they are pretty good,” said Anderson, the rail system’s tunnel expert.

The engineers were able to dig about 70 feet per day, but in some places progress was slower, he said.

At 70 feet per day, two boring machines would take just over three years to complete the bullet train tunnel — based on operating six days per week without any breakdowns or slowdowns.

Outside experts, however, are skeptical that construction crews could keep to the current schedule and budget.

“Tunnels are more prone to sharp cost increases, because you have limited flexibility,” said Ibbs, the Berkeley engineer. “If you hit a gas pocket or sand or water, you have to fix that before you can go any further. You are basically boxed in.”

The rail authority is building bridges, viaducts, trenches and rail bed along a 29-mile stretch from Madera to Fresno, and has contracts for additional work to south of Wasco.

The rail authority recently disclosed cost estimates that showed its construction work on that stretch is headed for a $1.7 billion overrun. The Pacheco tunnel is not included in that cost increase.

It is also far behind schedule. Nine years ago, voters were told in a bond measure that the entire Los Angeles-to-San Francisco system would be completed by 2020. The date for a partial system later slipped to 2022, and then 2025.

Two arrested after Lemoore police car chase

LEMOORE — After allegedly committing several traffic violations Wednesday, two men led Lemoore Police officers on a high speed chase before ultimately being arrested, police said.

The driver of the vehicle was identified as 24-year-old Carlos Quair, who was wanted on a probation violation warrant. Quair’s passenger was identified as 21-year-old Luke Cline, who was found to be on post release community supervision.

The Lemoore Police Department said after observing several traffic violations, an officer attempted to initiate a traffic stop on Quair and Cline around 1 p.m. near West Bush and Vine streets.

Police said after Quair stopped his car and the officer began to pull behind it, he then sped off and traveled southbound onto Vine Street at a high rate of speed.

Officials said Quair made a U-turn on Ash Street, at which time the officer tried to block the car’s path with his patrol car in an attempt to stop the suspects from fleeing further.

Quair drove his car around the patrol car and continued northbound and police said they saw Cline throw something out of the car’s window. After this, police said Quair abruptly pulled over and stopped his car.

Police said they conducted a high-risk traffic stop on the car and Quair and Cline were taken into custody without further incident.

The items thrown from the car during the incident were later found to be beer bottles, police said.

Due to the proximity to the Lemoore Elementary School and for the safety of the students and staff on campus, police said there was a brief lockdown while the men were taken into custody.

Authorities said Quair and Cline were transported and booked into the Kings County Jail on suspicion of probation violations, with Quair receiving the added charge of suspicion of driving while unlicensed and fleeing from a police officer.

Due to the probation violation, officials said both men are being held without bail.