Covid, the Great British Bake Off, and other pandemic news

Every country has cultural institutions that it can’t function without. In Britain, one of them is the Great British Bake Off, a TV show where, um, people bake. 

It’s riveting.

So how are they handling filming during the pandemic? The entire cast and crew went into isolation together in a hotel. That meant 20 hotel staff, 80 members of the cast and crew, and 20 kids, chaperones, and dog walkers.

So yes, they’d pared it down to the essential roles. 

Everyone involved had to isolate themselves for nine days beforehand, taking three Covid tests, and then the producers had to work out ways to get everyone to the hotel without using public toilets. 

Dirty dishes. The part they don’t show you on those baking shows.

How’d they do that? I’d love to know. I’ve walked enough public footpaths to know that Britain’s full of hedges. Admittedly, they hide you from only one half of the country at a time, but at a certain point you convince yourself that that’s good enough. I doubt the Bake Off resorted to that, but whatever they did, their precautions meant everyone could crawl all over each other if they wanted to, although that’s not really what baking’s about. Or the show, come to think of it. But all that care did allow them to pose shoulder to (gasp) shoulder and to appear maskless. 

These days, that’s quite shocking.

They shot for six weeks, working two days on and two days off. I don’t know if the dog owners walked their own dogs on their days off.


No Covid update would be complete without the latest mention of England’s test and trace system tripping over its own feet: In a short stretch of time between late September and early October, it lost track of 16,000 cases. The people were informed of their test results, but not only weren’t the cases counted as part of the national statistics, their contacts weren’t notified. 

But don’t let’s get grumpy about it. We’re only dealing with a life-threatening disease that we don’t have any effective treatments for, and everyone makes mistakes. Look on the bright side, as Money Python so wisely counseled: As the number of Covid cases rises, a health minister and hereditary peer, Lord Bethell, assured us that when Britain looks back on this time it will be “extremely proud” of its response to the pandemic. 

Not to mention amazed. Absolutely amazed.


Meanwhile, to prove he was fit to work, Donald Trump appeared in photos from the hospital, maskless and signing what looks like a blank sheet of paper

As of a week or so ago, more Americans had died from Covid than died in World War I.


As seems to be true of everything about the pandemic, nothing’s certain yet, but a large-scale study is looking into whether antibodies to those colds that kids trade with such enthusiasm might be protecting them against Covid. Covid is a coronavirus. So are  a fifth of those boring old colds, which may mean there’s some cross reactivity between them. 

Adults get coronavirus colds every two or three years. Kids get them five or six times a year, so some 60% of them have coronavirus antibodies. But even before the British population had been exposed to Covid, some 6% already had antibodies that recognized Covid–possibly because of those cold germs. 

The question is whether the antibodies protect against Covid or whether their presence explains why some patients’ immune systems overreact to the disease in life-threatening ways. The study’s looking at both possibilities.

If they’re protective, that raises the hope of finding a vaccine against all coronaviruses, covering Covid, colds, and the next pandemic.

Assuming the next pandemic comes in the form of a coronavirus.

The scarier possibility is related to a small number of kids who get the virus, get better, and then have intense inflammation and multi-organ failure. If their antibodies are the problem, what’s happening is called antibody dependent enhancement. It happens with dengue fever. If you had one strain and got better but then catch a different strain, you can get seriously sick. Your immune system, instead of being primed to fight the disease, makes things worse.

It’s gotten in the way of efforts to make a dengue vaccine. 

Can we go with scenario one, please? I like scenario one.


The British plan for vaccinating the population–whenever that becomes possible–is to vaccinate something less than half of it. The priorities will be first care home residents and workers, second people over 80 and health and social care workers, and third anyone over 75. After that come people over 50, then everyone else goes in a grab bag and Boris Johnson will reach in and pull them out one at a time. We’re all grateful that it won’t be Donald Trump. God only knows where those hands have been.

No. The part about the grab bag isn’t serious. I’ve learned not to take anything for granted. I’m still recovering from a couple of people who thought I was serious about the Druids worshiping the Great Brussels Sprout. 

Kids will not be vaccinated. 

The plans are still preliminary.

Problematically, any vaccine’s likely to be most effective on the young–and all or most of them are being tested on younger people. It’s unclear how much they’ll protect the old and the frail, so social distancing will need to continue. 

38 thoughts on “Covid, the Great British Bake Off, and other pandemic news

  1. I wondered how they were doing bake off. I heard the words “bake off bubble” but didn’t think about it very hard.
    I feel that if I was on the show, some of the people in the bubble might annoy me so much that I’d get thrown out just to avoid them…

    in baking related news, it was cinnamon roll day (in Sweden) yesterday so I almost baked some. For some reason I feel like telling you this is more important than any of my Coronavirus related observations…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ellen, all logic stream of consciousness (SOC). That’s how creative minds work. Interesting to note the different strains of a coronavirus and how they work against one another. Do we know how Covid-19 is changing? No. The vaccine may not be able to keep up. Like the flu strains that change within the season, and every season. That’s my biggest concern. Forgot all about the bake off. Not being a baker! Have a good week, Ellen. Keep the UK news coming. 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    • What with Brexit and a massively incompetent English-centric government, the Celtic fringes of Britain are looking seriously at leaving the UK. The Great British Bake Off may be the only thing that’s keeping the country together. So forgetting about it probably isn’t a good idea right now, however well meant.

      From what I’ve read (and I haven’t seen anything about it for a while now) Covid is evolving more slowly than your average virus. I assume that if a vaccine is found, they’ll be able to tweak it and with luck adapt it each year, although the flu vaccines rely a lot more than anyone would like on educated guesses and pure dumb luck. Still, that’d be better than what we’ve got now.


  3. You raise intersting points about vaccination at the end – there was a study (done in pre pandemic times) that vaccinated lots of very young children and it found that infection rates amongst the elderly (ie their grandparents) stayed low…so possibly the strategy is all the wrong way around. I also came across this very interesting article about Covid 19 and clusters. It explains a lot about wgy some places are harder hit than other

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m afraid you’re behind the times. Unfortunately, we have reached the point where more people have died from COVID than died from all the wars from Korea through the present day (including Afghanistan). Needless to say, we were all thrilled that Donald Trump says he know understands the virus.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The British Baking Show is a favorite in America, too. Amazing how they got this done. I am troubled that Covid is labeled as the cause death, while the real cause may have been a heart attack, or many other things. If a person has Covid and dies, please let the cause of death be accurate. Super post, Ellen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jennie. Good to hear from you.

      The question of how to count Covid deaths is difficult and from what I understand of it, inaccurate no matter how you do it. For a while, Britain was counting anyone who’d had Covid and died as a Covid death, even if they died from a piano falling on them from a fourth-floor window. Then they changed to anyone who had Covid and died within (if I remember right) 28 days, which is equally inaccurate but gives a smaller and more politically palatable number. Some places only count people who have Covid written on their death certificates, which means that the results vary with doctors’ judgment. A fourth way is to count excess deaths–a comparison between what could be expected in the past and what’s happening this year. It will include, say, strokes in people who died at home because they couldn’t or were too afraid to get to the hospital. All of them are imperfect, and it’s generally agreed that even the count of Covid cases, never mind Covid deaths, is incomplete.

      In short, it all comes down to which set of errors you want to make.

      Isn’t it all just fun?

      Liked by 1 person

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