Covid, singing, and the London Marathon: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

The London Marathon was supposed to happen last April but it was postponed until October 4 because of the pandemic, and somewhere in between those two dates they decided to make it a virtual marathon. A handful of top runners will follow the marathon’s route and have what used to be called a race. 

What do we call it now? I’m not sure. The language tested positive the other day, but it’s a beautiful, beautiful language and it’s only in the hospital because there were some people here who wanted to be cautious. Very, very cautious. 

The test’s fake anyway. The virus is a fake. 

But with all that hospital equipment beeping, it’s hard to remember words. So never mind what we call it these days. It used to be a race. A very beautiful race.

Where were we? 

All the other runners will do their miles wherever they happen to be–Cornwall, Australia, it doesn’t matter–and log their time onto an app, which will take their word for it and give them a medal. 

Okay, the app won’t give them the medal. It has humans to do that for it.

This being Britain, a certain number of the participants will run in costume, which could be anything from a tutu to a telephone box. If you’ll click the link, you’ll see someone running in a 10 kilo a rhino costume. That’s 22 pounds, or to put it simply, a shitload of weight to go running in, especially since she has to hunch forward inside there and can’t see very well. And that’s just when she’s in training. On the day of the actual marathon, her husband will be on hand to steer her around trash barrels and gawping kids. 


Irrelevant photo: This flower is orange. You’re welcome.

A third of Britain is living with tighter-than-the-national Covid restrictions because of a localized rise in case numbers. And what really matters in all of this is who’s to blame.  

Boris Johnson blames the public’s “fraying discipline.” It has nothing to do with the government having encouraged people over the summer to travel, eat out, drink out, get out with their wallets in hand, or with guidelines and laws so murky that Johnson got them wrong when he explained how simple they were. Or with its own advisors (and more recently an MP) breaking them. Or with a heroically useless test and trace system. 

The mayor of one affected area, Middlesbrough, said the new measures were based on “factual inaccuracies and a monstrous and frightening lack of communication, and ignorance. . . . We do not accept these measures.”

Cases have managed to double in the majority of cities and towns under the tighter restrictions. I don’t have a start date for that–the restrictions started at different times in different areas–but it ended on September 20.

The best educated guess on why they haven’t been effective is that the rules are confusing and that the communities and their leaders haven’t been involved and don’t support them. Plus that when you try to talk about what’s wrong with the test and trace system the discussion quickly falls off the edge of the English language.

Okay. The expert whose opinion I’m paraphrasing, Chris Ham, said the test and trace system was “still not working well enough.” But I’m channeling what he really thinks. You know I am.


Serious, labor-intensive contact tracing in two Indian states shows that just a few events were responsible for a disproportionate number of Covid infections. It also suggests that, contrary to what’s generally been thought, children transmit the virus quite efficiently, thanks. Every time I read a study about kids and transmission, it contradicts that last one, so let’s not rest too much weight on that frail bridge, just acknowledge that it’s all still preliminary.

Still, this is the biggest epidemiological study of the spread so far. 

What they found is that 8% of the people they followed caused 60% of the infections. The things that seem to separate an event from a superspreader event are how close people are to someone who’s infected, how long they’re close, and how good the ventilation is. 

Contact tracers followed 78 people who’d been on a bus or train with one lone infected person, sitting within three rows of them for more than six hours, and found that 80% of them had gotten the virus. In lower-risk environments–being in the same room but three feet away–only 1.6% got the virus.

Kids between the age of five and seventeen passed the virus on to 18% of the close contacts in their own age groups. That’s not exactly parallel information–how close, how long, how well or badly ventilated, or what percent of adults passed it on to close contacts –so it doesn’t tell us whether they’re passing the bug along as efficiently as their older, wiser, creakier relatives, but what the hell, it’s information. I thought I’d throw it at you. 

The study also doesn’t answer the question of whether any biological factors separate your average infected person from your superspreader. 


Back at the start of the pandemic, the British government set up a loan program to help businesses survive. The British Business Bank warned that it was vulnerable to being scammed by people setting up fake businesses. 

Actually, not just vulnerable to: at high risk of. The British Business Bank is state owned and was supposed to supervise the program, and it sounded the warning twice.

And surprise, surprise, exactly what they warned of has happened, although I don’t think anyone knows yet how often, or how much money the government’s on the hook for because of it. What I’ve seen so far is anecdotal–the ”someone stole my name to steal money from the government” sort of thing. But I thought you might need cheering up by now, so I wanted to mention it.


A new study of Covid spread and singing is drawing from “faith communities” to find its participants. I’m putting that in quotes because on the one hand it manages to include every religion you can think of and several you can’t, so it’s useful, but on the other hand it sounds so prim and tippy-toed that I want to throw crockery at it.  So I’ll use the phrase and disown it at the same time. 

I just hate when people do that. Which is why I’m spending more time explaining it than I am talking about the study.

Other than its focus on religious groups, the study’s inclusive: It’ll involve people from a range of heights, sizes, sexes, ages, and ethnicities. Also with and without hairy faces in case any of that affects things. They’ll sing at different volumes, chant, or hum, using assorted face coverings, while lasers measure the aerosols they spray out. 

These days I do all my singing from inside the large plastic wheelie bin that the county supplies for green waste recycling. With the lid down. As long as the green waste guys don’t come when I’m singing and the neighbors don’t get together to push me down the hill and into the ocean, it’s perfectly safe. 


It seems to be accepted at this point that Covid can catch a ride on the aerosols that we breathe out when we do all those noisy, communicative things that human evolution has given us, but it’s not clear to what extent aerosol-borne germs actually spread the disease. 

What is known is that aerosols travel more than six feet–the magic distance that’s supposed to keep us all safe from other people’s germs. The six-foot recommendation was based on the larger particles–droplets–which fall to the ground relatively close to the breathing, singing, humming source. But aerosols can hang in the air for hours. They hold dances up there. They run marathons in rhinoceros costumes. 

Okay, we don’t know what they do up there, or how dangerous it is to us. All we know for sure is that ventilation is a good thing. So are air purifying systems.

Mind you, I don’t know what qualifies as an air purifying system and I’m not in a hurry to take any non-expert’s word on it. I do know that open windows work. I also know that in a Minnesota January open windows aren’t as simple a solution as they are in June.


An article in Journal of General Internal Medicine surveyed 28 experts in vaccinology (yes, there is such a thing) and on an average they thought a vaccine would be available to the general public (this would be in the US or Canada) at the earliest in June 2021 but more probably in September or October.

For people at the greatest risk, the soonest would be February but more probably March or April.

But as the great Yogi Berra may or may not have said, “It’s hard to make predictions. Especially about the future.”

Berra also may or may not have said, “I never said half the things I said,” which is why I’m being cautious about attributing that quote to him. Someone will, inevitably, let me know that someone else said it. And they’ll probably be right.


Having Neanderthal genes, as 16% of Europeans, 50% of south Asians, and 0% of Africans do, can make a person three times more likely to need ventilation if they’re infected with Covid.

But Professor Mark Maslin added a however to that: “Lots of different populations are being severely affected, many of which do not have any Neanderthal genes. We must avoid simplifying the causes and impact of Covid-19. . . . Covid-19 is a complex disease, the severity of which has been linked to age, gender, ethnicity, obesity, health, virus load among other things.”

I only mentioned it because it’s so damn weird.

50 thoughts on “Covid, singing, and the London Marathon: It’s the pandemic news from Britain

  1. My GP surgery was giving patients their flu jabs outside this morning, which was very efficient and safer than having a lot of very at risk people go inside. The downside was that it was raining (heavily), but they had erected a marquee-type thing to keep the rain off.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. No sympathy for joggers. They come barrelling along from behind us on our walks, out of nowhere, with that pained grimace, as if someone forced them to run. They wear no mask, puffing out their possibly covid-laden breath freely, and expecting people to get out of their way.
    The experts say we need extra distance from those exercising, whose exertions force more air out of the lungs. Runners, just put on a mask and take a brisk walk. And give others wide berth
    In passing.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Okay, that was kind of cranky on joggers. Don’t get me started on “faith communities” singing together in church without masks, and then running into our shops and stores like missionaries for Covid–a virus about as nice as their fundamentalist God.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I’m in an area which has been under local lockdown for over 2 months. The virus hit London first and then spread, so the other big cities in the country, which are mostly in the North and Midlands, weren’t as far along “the curve” when restrictions were lifted, which is one reason for the problem. Also, people in the south are more likely to work in the service sector and able to work from home. Short of locking everyone up indefinitely, the virus was bound to spread when things reopened. The same thing’s happened everywhere: it’s far worse in France and Spain than it is here, and even places like Poland and the Czech Republic, which did OK in the spring, are suffering now. I don’t know why people keep blaming governments, when it’s the same everywhere – except for Germany, which seems to have done remarkably well.

    Liked by 2 people

      • You could be right, but I know a good number of people who care passionately–not because they sing in places of worship but because they sing. When you sing with other people–or for other people–it’s very different than singing alone or for yourself. For some people it’s about joy, for others it’s the way they make their living. And by tracing this, I expect they’ll also learn a lot about the spread of aerosols.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been wondering how much of this has to do with workplaces that haven’t changed the way people work: Amazon, food production…. For all the attention that’s been given to separating tables at cafes and pubs, I haven’t read a single word about doing anything like it in workplaces that are out of the public view. In the US, 20,000 Amazon workers have tested positive.

      Liked by 1 person

        • If the government conveyed any seriousness about workplaces, I suspect the picture would change. In the same way that if they enlisted communities in tackling the epidemic (we do all have a stake in this) they’d find a different response. I’ve never been so aware of a government’s role in leading a country–or of its failure to lead.


    • I do know what a Minnesota winter does to the air. Years ago, my parents–Native New Yorkers, both, and born in the era before antibiotics, when sleeping with a window open was the most important thing you could do–

      Okay, that went on so long that I’ll start over. They stayed with us in a Minnesota winter, and my mother wanted to sleep with the window open. I remember saying, “Mom, if you do that, you’ll die.” I don’t think she believed me, but she was kind enough to humor me. I’m sure she spent an uneasy night, but she woke up without frost on her eyebrows.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Hmm. Dear Leader’s diagnosis has infected many of his staff…and brought out a sudden desire in all his foollowers [honest typo there, but too good to correct !] for compassion and understanding from the rest of us. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

    The Biden-Harris campaign has dropped all their negative ads for the moment. The Trump-Pence campaign continues theirs apace. All who are surprised please wave all four feet in the air.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Another entry for the gem file: “so prim and tippy-toed that I want to throw crockery at it”. Moving right along, given that the Neanderthal-In-Chief has now got the ‘China virus’ it appears he just added a risk factor but never mind, I’m sure the faith communities are singing their lungs out for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I couldn’t agree more! We were encouraged to support businesses and return to schools, as a way of boosting the economy and returning a sense of normality. But we were still category 3 then and showing no progress. Unsurprisingly, as interactions increase, so have the number of cases. I don’t trust the app either

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t have the reference on hand, but I did read somewhere that apps haven’t been great successes elsewhere either, although the one the government isn’t behind does seem to be picking up a good deal of useful information from people–probably because it isn’t dumbed down. I don’t know if it’s intended to alert people if they’ve been in proximity to anyone with the virus–I don’t think so–but without a testing being available, the information isn’t a hell of a lot of use anyway.

      Why aren’t we all in New Zealand, where they’ve actually managed to keep control of the virus?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more! I’ve heard that even those who test negative for the virus still come up positive on the app. It’s also a way of monitoring the whereabouts of those people who test ‘positive’. While it’s a good way of stopping mass gatherings and parties, it feels like a complete invasion of privacy.

        New Zealand have handled it very well, my cousin lives there and he is practically living a normal life, sigh

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, we have family in NZ as well and hear the same thing. It’s amazing what sane, thoughtful leadership can do.

          I’m not sure about the app being an invasion of privacy. My understanding–which doesn’t reach very far–is that the information isn’t centralized, it’s only designed to let people know if they’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive. But it seems to have a lot of glitches.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I second that, it seems that the majority of the world are lacking this kind of leadership 😂 Really, it just goes to show how powerful early action could have been. NZ shut their borders and whilst it was detrimental for their tourism and economy, it was a small price to pay, as the rest of the economy is up and running and people’s health wasn’t badly compromised. A lot of European leaders ignited early warnings of the virus, thinking that the problem would be limited to Asia. In a global world, it is so easy for these things to spread and we need to get with the times.

            Ahh right, I see. I may be wrong but I heard that apparently, they can use it to track peoples whereabouts and see if those who have tested positively are following the isolation procedures. It definitely does have a lot of glitches!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Absolutely. Globalized world. What (if anything) were they thinking? I remember seeing pictures of tourists returning from Italy, where there’d already been a serious outbreak, and they were being taken to a sort of quarantine in buses. Okay. Health people were wearing hazard clothing. And the driver? He was wearing a shirt and tie. Not even a mask. As if he couldn’t catch the bug and pass it on. Lunacy.

              I really don’t think the app reports on people. I don’t think it’s capable of it.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I agree, there were absolutely no measures taken for tourists and people returning from their holidays. Meanwhile, in other countries they were measuring people’s temperature and confining them. I know of many people who’s temperature wasn’t checked after returning from overseas, despite it being ‘standard practice’. Not to mention one of our own politicians going from Scotland to London via public transport, after being fully aware that she tested positive. How can they expect people to take them seriously and follow the rules, when they fail to do so themselves? It’s ludicrous.

                Liked by 1 person

  8. Some part of my brain is keeping a running tally of how many days are left in 2020, and another part of my brain keeps telling the other part that this insanity isn’t suddenly going to go away on the 1st January 2021, we’re stuck with it for a whole lot longer than that. : (

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A friend of mine was devastated when the Boston Marathon, that she had qualified for, was cancelled. Devastated by not having to run for 26 miles? Shake my head. But then Boston did a virtual marathon too, and she ran in it with all her friends and family cheering her on–it was kind of cool, tbh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t understand the appeal of running 26 miles either–especially if you’re dressed as a rhinoceros, which I’m going to assume your friend wasn’t. Being cheered on by friends and family, though? Yes, that I can understand.

      Liked by 1 person

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