The pandemic news from Britain, with a side of cultural appropriation

With English schools set to reopen in September, the papers are crammed with discussions about the safety of kids, of their families, and of school staff during the pandemic. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland make their own rules on this, so let’s keep it simple by pretending we’ve never heard of any of them. We’ll focus on England’s schools and preparations. Or lack thereof.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said there’s not much evidence of the virus being transmitted in schools. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has–hang on; I’m looking for a diplomatic way to say this–his head up his ass. But when you’re part of a government like the current one, that’s sometimes the best place to keep it, so we can’t entirely blame the man. 

As far as I can figure out, the evidence on how readily kids transmit the virus isn’t clear. Here’s what I think I know. Emphasis on think.

Irrelevant photo: Cotoneaster–pronounced kuh-tone-ee-ASS-ter, not cot-ton-EAST-er. The mysteries of English spelling.

One outbreak in a French high school ended up with 38% of students, 43% of teachers, and  59% of the non-teaching staff being infected. But a primary school in the same city had a much lower rate of infection in both students and staff. But don’t worry, Gavin. All of that happened in French and French isn’t a required subject, so we don’t need to worry about it.

Older kids seem to transmit it more often than younger ones. No one is sure why, since young kids, cute as they are, are usually little germ factories. It might be because younger kids are less likely to get sick, so they’re less likely to cough and sneeze. It also might not be. 

Before anyone sorts out how extensively younger kids transmit the virus, we need a better understanding of who’s catching it from who. Or from whom, if you want to be like that. The studies indicating that young kids don’t transmit it widely are still pretty limited.

There’s some discussion of opening schools and counterbalancing that by closing pubs and restaurants. The idea is to trade one place of transmission for the other, keeping the overall national rate the same.


The Association of School and College Leaders said that in the absence of clear guidance from the government, schools are making their own plans.


Why don’t younger kids catch Covid more often? One theory is that the ACE2 receptors that Covid uses to invade the lungs haven’t developed much in young kids. (Don’t I sound like I know what I’m talking about here?) But then kids get older and wiser and they make more of those nifty little receptors, because hey, that’s what grownups do, and in marches the virus until, lucky them, they have enough that they can get sick too.

Remember when we all taught ourselves to smoke because it made us look grown up? We never seem to learn, do we?


Would it help control the virus if staff and students were tested regularly once the schools reopen? Possibly, but the schools minister, Nick Gibb, said the government’s not going to do it. They’ll stick to testing people with symptoms. Because that’s the way they’re going to do it and by god it will work. 


But forget about the schools for a minute. Let’s talk about England’s world-beating test and trace system. It’s laying off 6,000 people.

Take that, world.

While the world lies on the mat recovering and the umpire counts, let me explain: The track and trace system was centralized and contracted out to mega-companies who know zilch about public health. It’s generated reports of people having been hired, minimally trained, and then given next to no work. It hasn’t done well at tracing the contacts of people who test positive for the disease. 

The contact tracers who haven’t been canned will now be assigned to work with local public health teams, who have a much better success rate and who (I’m speculating here) might offer them some training, since they actually know a bit about public health. 


We are, of course, all hoping for a vaccine that will make the rest of this nonsense irrelevant, which is a nifty lead-in to this next item: The trials of the Oxford and Moderna vaccines could be undermined by too monochrome a test group. The Oxford trial group was only 1% black and 5% Asian. In Moderna’s test group–and here I have to shift from percentages to numbers because that’s what the article I’m linking to did and I’m too numerically incompetent to shift them over myself, although mixing them is senseless and makes comparison harder–40 of the 45 participants were white. 

As researcher and surgeon Oluwadamilola Fayanju of Duke University explained it, “Diversity is important to ensure pockets of people don’t have adverse side-effects.”

Anyone who’s still countering Black Lives Matter by saying that all lives matter, please take in the implications of that. It might help explain why the focus is on black lives just now.

Based on the numbers, I think we’re talking about the safety trials there, not the larger ones that test for effectiveness.


Best of luck with that link, by the way. Several publications–New Scientist, the BBC, the Guardian–keep ongoing pandemic updates. They’re incredibly useful, but I’m never sure that the link I drop here will take anyone to quite the place where I found the information. 


It must be time for a non-Covid break here. We’ve been almost serious for long enough to have earned one.

A couple of Canadian businesses thought they’d swipe a bit of the Maori language to make their products look cool. Which is how a brewery and a leather store ended up naming their ale / entire outlet Pubic Hair–or huruhuru, in te reo Maori, the Maori language. 

The brewery’s cofounder said he thought huruhuru meant feather. 

To be fair–and I am sometimes–huruhuru has a number of meanings, and feather is one of them. I don’t speak Maori, but I’ve brushed up against it enough to wonder if everything doesn’t have a number of meanings. But according to  TeHamua Nikora, who used Facebook to explain the problem, the first thing Maori speakers will think of when they see the brand is not going to be feather. 

“It’s that entitlement disease they’ve got,” he said. “Stop it. Use your own language.” 


Heinz, on the other hand, was using its own language when it named its combined ketchup-mayonnaise Mayochup, but it put its foot in it anyway. Cree speakers went on–what else?–Twitter to say that in Cree that means shit-face.

Enjoy your burger. 

67 thoughts on “The pandemic news from Britain, with a side of cultural appropriation

  1. Closing the pubs to get kids back to school? What were they doing there in the first place? ;-)
    On unintended consequences of raiding language banks, the city of Melbourne in Australia has an annual Moomba Festival. When it launched decades ago, it was thought by white folk to be a local Aboriginal word for ‘let’s get together and have fun’. Unfortunately, it actually means ‘up your bum’, which is where the local Indigenous people have suggested white folk stick it ever since.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There really isn’t a diplomatic way to describe cranial rectal insertion. Wait, I just did it! :-D
    But seriously, very informed article, I learn a lot from your posts. I don’t always retain it, but that’s my hard cheese. A curious thing has happened where I live along the Monterey Bay. Monterey County, which is the southern end of the bay, has five times as many cases as Santa Cruz County (where I live) at the northern end of the bay.
    I would never buy Mayochup, but I have combined mayonnaise and catsup to improvise a quick Thousand Island dressing sauce.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know this isn’t the point you want me to take away, but Mayochup is a dreadful word for something that sounds pretty disgusting anyway. The person who came up with the idea should have been shown the door and the person who came up with the name should have been right behind them.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I see the Governments choice of using Serco in their previous attempt at Test and Trace is being vigorously defended by Health Minister Edward Argar on the media round this morning. Before he was an MP, Mr Argar was formerly the Head of Public Relations for a big company in the private sector… hang on, check notes… ah yes, it was a company called ‘Serco’.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I just looked up Maypochup – there’s a whole range of weird products in that line. Some of them are self-explanatory (I think). I presume that Mayocue is mayo and BBQ. Can’t for the life of me work put what Honeyracha is. It sounds like it’s probably rude in someone’s language though.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Back in april when schools here decided it was time to open again, I was all righteous, telling everyone who cared to listen that I’d rather have my kids flunk than possibly get infected by the virus. Now, five months of kids stuck at home and counting – not to say a head that is half bald with all the hair I’ve yanked out – I’m begging schools for a solution, which they may have. classes will be divided between morning and noon, with each kid 2 meters apart, and only 3 hours of classes – possibly only 3 times a week – and the rest online.
    The problem is that my oldest, who’s been lapping this so called vacation like cream, is now claiming that if I send him to school, it’s because I don’t care about his safety anymore. Give me that mayochup, please.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mayochup sounds daft in any language. They should have stuck to local contact tracing in the first place, as local authorities have lots of experience in this area – did you see the excellent TV mimiseries about the Salisbury poisionings? The local authority contract tracers were absolute heroes and probably saved many, many lives!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent – you are ongoing proof that facts can be fun.
    And yet, truth about Covid can be filed under No Longer Necessary since a new vaccine has been found, a vaccine that will eradicate the disease once and for all.
    Who, you might ask, has saved the world from extinction with this miraculous find?
    The always reliable for honesty Russians, of course.
    Hm. I’m wondering if we should try it first on the old people.
    Uh, no thanks. Do not put my name on the list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure they will. And because there are so many, we’ll just take a syllable from each of their names, combine then in some random and almost pronounceable fashion, and call them that. Without checking to see if we’ve come up with something insulting in one of the world’s many languages.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting about private schools not going virtual, since one problem with it for public schools is that there’ll be a core or kids who can’t get online–no computers, no internet, no money. Schools, kids, and parents–and governments–are up against a tough problem with this. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do trust most governments (not all, but we haven’t been doing well, world-wide, on the government-selection front lately) to get it wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank goodness for diplomacy. I think Gavin Williamson might want to rethink his position about using you on his resume.🤣 Don’t give these blowhards any sympathy, Ellen.

    Meanwhile, one week into school resuming in the state of Georgia, there are over 250 students, teachers, and other school personnel already in quarantine in ONE school district. Moral of the story: Let’s take a big ass problem and see if we can make it worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t heard about what’s happening in Georgia, but it seems like we can always make things worse. Speaking of which, I’m going to ask people to stop putting me on their resumes as a reference. It hasn’t been working out well.

      Liked by 1 person

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