How to turn a Covid cluster into an outbreak

Until recently, the part of Britain I live in had very few Covid cases. Now we have a cluster of them. Isn’t progress wonderful? It’s not a huge cluster, but then no outbreak starts out huge. It scares the antibodies out of me.

So how’s it being handled?

The nearby secondary school sent one whole year group home when I’m not sure how many kids tested positive. Following government guidelines, they treat each year group as a bubble, having them enter through different doors and eat at different times and keeping them as physically separate as possible. The theory is that if the outbreak’s in one year group, the others should be safe.

You can believe that if you like.

And after school, as my neighbor reminds me, they go home. Her kids are in different bubbles in school–a primary school, but the reality’s the same. The minute they get home, they jump on each other, wrestle their way across the living room floor, and hold a germ exchange.

Only she didn’t call it the living room. That’s American. She also didn’t say anything about a germ exchange.

Irrelevant photo: St. John’s wort, getting ready to bloom, but not at this time of year. 

The point, though, is that the bubbles leak–probably at school and definitely at home. And bubbles that leak aren’t bubbles. They’re something else. Cups, maybe. Things with sides and a bottom but no top because that’s how you pour the tea into yourself. 

Or not the tea, the germs.

When the school didn’t have enough teachers to keep going, it sent everybody home to keep up with their lessons online. At least, those who have internet access. 

Don’t get me started. You know what I’ll say.

Some of the kids were told to self-isolate–probably the ones who’d shared a leaky bubble with someone who was known to have the virus. Their families, though, were told they didn’t have to to self-isolate unless their kid became symptomatic. 

How are kids who share a bedroom supposed to self-isolate? Well, you take masking tape and make a line down the middle of the room, and you tell the germs, in the tone of voice you use when the kids have gotten into  your secret stash of chocolate, to stay on their own side.

One of the many problems with all this is that people are infectious before they become symptomatic. Some people never become symptomatic and they’re infectious anyway. And people are even more infectious if they live in a country led by an incompetent, corrupt government. I can’t explain that medically, but it does happen.

Back to the school, though: No one wants to tell all the students’ families, or even just the families with kids in that first infected age group, to go into quarantine. Because that’s be a lot of people. 

Which is why I worry we’ll be looking at a bigger local flareup soon. 

Meanwhile, the county government reminds us to wash our hands and maintain social distancing. Which is better than climbing into each other’s pockets and poking our heads out once a day to ask if the pandemic’s over but doesn’t take into account what it’s like to share a house or apartment or a life with actual human beings. We breathe the same air. It goes into our lungs and it goes out. If someone has the virus, the odds are good that everyone will trade it. It’s always looking for new lungs to explore and conquer, no matter how clean our hands are.

On the other hand, clean hands are very nice things to have.

No one knows for sure where our cluster of cases started, but someone told me today that it traces back to a kid who came home from university. His parents wandered all over town with no idea that they’d been infected and his mother’s sure she infected half of Bude and feels terrible about it. 

Whether she’s right or not doesn’t matter, really. It does remind us–or it should–that we don’t know if we’re infectious so we all need to act as if we are. Because we can feel great and still make people around us sick. 

And it’s yet another reminder that this lockdown has as many holes in it as the school bubbles. 


A third vaccine, the Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine, has reported its accuracy level: It’s 62% but could go up to 90% if the first shot uses a lower dose. (No, I can’t explain it either.) It’s also cheaper than the first two and can be stored in an average refrigerator, and Astra-Zeneca has said it will forgo any profit on it.

Even before that was announced, though, the health secretary told us that if approval comes in time the National Health Service would start vaccinating people before Christmas. Initially, family doctors will immunize the most vulnerable, and NHS staff will be vaccinated at work. Mass vaccination centers will be set up. 

That sounds startlingly as if someone somewhere had an actual plan, but the grapevine tells me that the local doctors’ office hasn’t been contacted about this. They have only the vaguest idea how it will work and what they’re supposed to do or how.  


Preliminary studies indicate that mouthwashes containing cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC to its friends) can, under laboratory conditions, kill the coronavirus in thirty seconds. But as Donald Trump so famously informed us, so can bleach. So can nuclear weapons, although that hasn’t been verified in a lab. You know what scientists are like about setting off nuclear weapons in their labs. The few who’ve done it have had problems reconstructing their notes. 

A darning needle could also, at least potentially, kill the virus, but viruses are small and stabbing them isn’t easy, as the human immune system has found to its cost.

Don’t think about that too hard. I do understand that the human immune system doesn’t come equipped with darning needles. Let’s call it a metaphor and move on quickly.

With all of this, the problem is what you do with the information. How do you get your chosen virus-o-cide and the virus to meet in the right situation? Take mouthwash: Do you pinch the virus between two fingers and dunk it in the mouthwash? Do you spend your day with a mouthful of the mouthwash and hope that anything you breathe in decides to go for a swim? This isn’t going to be simple.

As you may have figured out, I am–and the world is in my debt for this–not a scientist. Someone may yet find a use for mouthwash in humanity’s fightback against this invisible predator. It’s safe, it’s available, and as medical interventions go it’s cheap.


Finally, a piece non-Covid news: Donald Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit in a Michigan court claiming that Democratic-leaning parts of Michigan had suspiciously high voter turnouts. This was all supposed to link back to voting machines and computer programs and Hugo Chavez. 

And to prove they’d done their research carefully, they listed a number of localities in Minnesota instead of Michigan.

Chavez probably moved them before the election for this very purpose. If he wasn’t already dead by then. 

36 thoughts on “How to turn a Covid cluster into an outbreak

    • I’ll go inject a bit of bleach and see if it all becomes clear. Minnesota? Michigan? How much difference can there be?

      But now that you mention it, a doctor told me this morning that I’ve been on something closely related to cocaine. Not much of it, mind you, but I’ve been taking Sudafed every morning (never mind why–boring tale). Funny–I thought I have a bit more energy. So now I have to give that up. If my next post trails off halfway through, you’ll know why.

      Liked by 4 people

  1. Oh, it’s even loonier than Hugo Chavez in Minnesota. But you are spot on about clusters (hence the term cluster-screw) So all those people insisting on “defying tyrants” and celebrating Thanksgiving will have something else to do on Christmas. If you are in the refrigerated truck rental business, it’ll be morticians, not druggists, renting them,

    Liked by 4 people

  2. We are having the same issue here with schools. My kids are 100% virtual anyway so we have not had to deal with chopping and changing and disruptions to routines. Our schools opened on a hybrid basis to students a fortnight ago and there were positive cases within days. So far the transmissions seem to be happening outside of school rather than within school but that just underscores for me that I cannot rely on all members of the school community to be taking mitigation efforts as seriously as we are. After the first week of in-person schooling resuming, it was determined that all students would have to return to 100% virtual learning until 7 December. I think we all expect it to be much longer. This is good news for my kids since the quality of teaching they were experiencing had dropped significantly. Teachers were juggling too much trying to teach in-person and virtual students simultaneously while also keeping everyone safe and bleaching their classrooms between classes. One of my kids even had a teacher take his class outdoors to do something having forgotten the half a dozen virtual students couldn’t join them. They were left just staring at an empty classroom. So a return to teachers not having to split their focus will be a positive for my kids. Of course, many members of our community are sharpening pitchforks and baying for blood but the Venn diagram of families who are incandescent about schools closing to in-person students and families who are not taking mitigation efforts seriously enough is just a circle.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I can’t imagine what it must be like to teach these days. Or try to teach. Especially if they’re trying to simultaneously teach in person and virtually. What lunatic thought that was possible?

      Your comment about not being able to rely on other members of the school community taking safety seriously reminds me of the days of the AIDS epidemic, when you’d see reminders that you were never just sleeping with the person you were sleeping with, you were also sleeping with everyone that person had slept with. This is very much the same. We’re exposed to everyone whoever we’re exposed to has been exposed to.

      But there has to be a simpler way to say that. I keep trying to use the image and dumping it because it’s too baggy.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Kids don’t self-isolate. Every day, in the park, I see kids of school age in the playground. Today, I was forced off the pavement by a gang of teenagers on bikes. As they were of school age, presumably they’d been sent home to self-isolate because someone in their class had tested positive. Even during the strict lockdown earlier in the year, there were gangs of teenagers everywhere. I’m not trying to sound like a grumpy old woman having a go at kids – it’s a tough time to be a teenager – but, even if they weren’t at school, they’d still be hanging around in groups, and missing out on education as well. (And, if they’re at school, at least they can’t force people off the pavement, and into a busy A road!)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sigh.

      I do see your point, but I guess we shouldn’t expect them to take this isolation business any more seriously than the society around them is. There are countries–the ones that actually put a lid on the virus–that not only told people to stay home but enforced it. I don’t like the idea any better than anyone else, but the thing is, it works. I don’t like people dying or becoming incapacitated in huge numbers either–and I like that a whole lot less than I like enforcing quarantines and stay-at-home orders.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This part -they didn’t have to to self-isolate unless their kid became symptomatic. Well, once it becomes symptomatic, it’s usually too late because they have infected who knows how many people already. Besides, many people have no symptoms and still test positive.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. “How are kids who share a bedroom supposed to self-isolate? Well, you take masking tape and make a line down the middle of the room, and you tell the germs, in the tone of voice you use when the kids have gotten into your secret stash of chocolate, to stay on their own side.”

    This whole post was fun, but I laughed out loud at this section.

    You have a wonderful sense of humour. :)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for the mouthwash info. I can highly recommend.
    My grandfather used Listerine twice daily and lived to be 90.
    Of course, he also ate a fried egg, one piece of buttered toast with jelly, and two cups of coffee for breakfast every day of his life. Hm. I wonder if that could also be an effective Covid killer?
    Choke germs with high cholesterol intakes. Bazinga.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad he separated the Listerine from the breakfast. I’d be a shame to wreck the toast and the egg.

      I think it’s the jelly. It’s thick. It’s goopy. Germs bog down. By the time they get even halfway through, they’re exhausted and moving slowly and we can get out that darning needle.

      It’s got to be time for me to stop for the night. I’m getting distinctly strange here.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. You’re absolutely right, Ellen. My two granddaughters go to the same school, but are in different year groups and therefore are in different bubbles. They go to school in the same school bus and end up in the same home at the end of the day. Schools should be closed altogether and the kids do their work online. It’s lunacy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It does seem that the areas that did well in spring aren’t faring so well now and yes, I think that schools and universities have a big part to play in this. Just wait for Christmas – the media are acting like covid will be taking 5 days off over the festive season! Christmas is cancelled in my home and in my parents’ home. Just a digital Christmas for us!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes it feels like we are the only people taking the pandemic seriously round here. Ironically, the only other people I see wearing a mask outside (as opposed to in a shop) are the British-Asian students next door! Thank goodness we dont have the partying variety of student next to us this year!

        Liked by 1 person

        • That is a piece of good luck.

          I don’t wear one outside. There’s enough space between people here that I think it’s safe not to. Although, having said that, at the local produce stall we all agreed to wear them more to make the point that we’re doing what we can to keep it safe than because we think they’re needed. Indoors, though? Mask!

          I just read an article saying that wearing them offers more protection to the wearer than we’d all assumed. So there’s a bit of good news.

          Liked by 1 person

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