Covid variants, vaccines, and all our clean hands

An assistant professor of food science says that all the hand washing, surface cleaning, and food washing we’re doing may or may not keep Covid in check but has kept us from spreading salmonella, e.coli, and listeria.

It’s not what we’re trying to do, but it is good for us.

There’s no evidence that Covid is spread through food, although that’s not the same as saying that it isn’t spread that way. 

But having (with her team) overdosed on US and Canadian internet videos telling us how to clean everything in sight, Yaohua “Betty” Feng reports that a bunch of them have it wrong. Of the videos telling people how to wash their hands, only 41% of the presenters used soap. The remainder, presumably, relied on good wishes and intense looks. Less than 33% mentioned hand sanitizer. And how many of us, since the start of the pandemic, can get through a day without mentioning hand sanitizer?

Like–I’m going to assume–you, I thought I knew how to wash my hands. I’ve been doing it for better than 70 years now, most of the time without supervision, but there’s no predicting what people will feel the need to learn in these difficult times. Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong. Maybe, for instance, I’ve mistaken my hands for some other body parts.

Irrelevant photo: The first spring violets.

Other videos were about washing produce, and 16% of the presenters used soap while 12% used other chemical cleansers. That sounds promising, but they’re both no-nos. If you don’t rinse them off completely, they can cause diarrhea.

Feng didn’t say this, but you might draw the conclusion that random internet videos aren’t the best places to look for reliable information. Or you might not. 


British and (eek!) foreign Covid variants

The British Covid variant, which to make things more complicated is now called the Kent variant, after the part of England where it was first found–

Let’s start that over: The Kent Covid variant has mutated since it was first identified. That’s standard operating procedure in the viral world. Every new infection is a chance for the disease to pick up a mutation. Some of those won’t work well for it and will die out and others will make the disease better at hiding from the immune system. Those are the ones that will spread.

So the Kent variant has picked up a new mutation, and it’s similar to one of the mutations on the South African variant. The going theory is that it evolved the change on its own rather than picking it up like an STD after a one-night stand with the South African variant. Which basically means that two strains of the virus have found the same way to partially evade the human immune system. 

There’s been a lot of focus on stopping, or at least getting control of, the imported Covid variants. In parts of the UK, house-to-house testing is looking for the South African variant.

But that may be a sideshow. Virologist Julian Tang wrote, “Unfortunately, the lack of control of these different variants in the UK may lead this population to become a melting pot for different emerging SARS-COV-2/COVID-19 variants–so we really need to reduce our contact rates to reduce the opportunities for viral spread/replication to reduce the speed with which these different virus variants can evolve.

“Closing borders/restricting travel may help a little with this, but there is now probably already a sufficient critical mass of virus-infected people within the endemic UK population to allow this natural selection/evolution to proceed . . . so we really need to stick to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions as much as possible.”

In other words, the more the people get infected, the more times the virus gets to mutate, and the more times it mutates the more chances it has of presenting us with a more difficult problem.

There’s something tempting about focusing on imported strains of the virus–Eek! South African! Argh, Brazilian!–but all Covid infections are dangerous. That’s what we need to focus on. 



In England–possibly in all of Britain, but don’t trust me on that; I’m at least as confused as you are–the only way to book a Covid test is to claim at least one of three symptoms: cough, loss of smell or taste, and a high temperature. But a GP and senior lecturer in primary care, Alex Sohal, writes that the list should include a runny or blocked nose, a sore throat, hoarseness, muscle pain, fatigue, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea. She’s seen patients come in with them and go on to test positive for Covid.

“These patients have frequently not even considered that they may have Covid-19 and have not self-isolated in the crucial early days when they were most infectious.”

She advocates telling “the public, especially those who have to go out to work and their employers, that even those with mild symptoms . . . should not go out, prioritizing the first five days of self-isolation when they are most likely to be infectious.

“This will help to get—and keep—us out of this indefinite lockdown, as Covid-19 becomes increasingly endemic globally. Ignoring this will be at our peril.”

As it stands, if you have good reason to book a Covid test and don’t have the magic three symptoms, the best thing to do is lie. And almost none of us recognize the full list she gives as possible Covid symptoms.


The bad news

Some of the recent Covid mutations have outpaced the monoclonal antibodies we’d all been counting on as a treatment in case we did catch it. 


Okay, if you have to ask, that says we haven’t all been counting on them, but let’s pretend we were so I can explain what’s happening.

Basically, monoclonal antibodies are human antibodies that have been cloned. In this case, they’re antibodies to Covid, and they’ve been used to treat serious Covid cases. The problem is that the humans who developed them did so in the presence of one form of Covid, not all of them. As the virus mutates, they can get left behind.  

They also have another problem, which is that they’re expensive and not easy to make. Other than that, though, they’re great.


The good news

At the beginning of February, after a 25-day lockdown, the Isle of Man (population 84,000) lifted almost all  its Covid restrictions. The exceptions are its border controls, which–well, I was going to say they take no prisoners, but in fact taking prisoners is exactly what they do. Someone who tried to get onto the island on a jet ski was jailed for four weeks. 

They seem to have eliminated the virus. Before the lockdown, the island had 400 cases and it’s had 25 deaths. 

The Isle of Man is in the water somewhere between Scotland and Northern Ireland. It’s a self-governing British crown dependency, and don’t ask what that means because it’s complicated and we’re running out of space here in the infinite internet.  


Two bits of news about the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

One, a single dose (which is what the UK is focused on at the moment, with the second one delayed for up to twelve weeks) is still 76% effective after three months. That’s not as good as the 82% protection it offers after the second dose, but it ain’t bad, and there’s finally some data backing up the government’s decision to focus on getting an initial dose to as many people as possible–at least for this vaccine.

Delaying the second dose may strengthen the protection, but that’s not definite.

Two, the vaccine may reduce the number of Covid transmissions by two-thirds. That’s not definite–it’s still preliminary–but it’s promising. 


A late-stage trial reports that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is both safe and 92% effective. It can be stored in a normal refrigerator and comes in two doses, but the second dose is slightly different than the first one. They use different vectors–the neutralized viruses that they ride on. The idea is that this will give the immune system an extra boost and protect people for longer.


The little-bit-of-both news

Britain’s vaccinated over 10 million people with at least one dose of one vaccine or another, and the number of hospitalized Covid patients is coming down, but it’s still higher than it was during the first peak of the pandemic. England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said infection rates are also coming down“but they are still incredibly high.” That may mean, in the American tradition of Groundhog Day, that we get six more weeks of winter. Or lockdown. 

61 thoughts on “Covid variants, vaccines, and all our clean hands

  1. OMG, what’s next? I just got my first vaccination for the Original Covid five days ago and now variants are here, there, everywhere. Old McDonald had a farm, and on that farm he had what he thought was safe space. Wrong. Foxes in the hen house. He fired a shotgun in the air above the hen house – buckshot sprayed, foxes scattered, hens clucked, eggs rolled on the ground. Chaos reigned. Nothing was safe really.
    Better call Dr. Fauci.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Don’t panic yet. Where data exists, it says that either they’re still as effective or they’re somewhat less effective but far from useless. And even when they don’t offer full protection (as far as I can follow what I’ve read) they’ll still protect against the worst aspects of the disease. Pick up the eggs. Make breakfast. Sit. Enjoy.

      Damn, I miss American breakfasts. I mean, back in the days when we could eat out. British breakfasts just don’t do it for me, although the British love them madly.

      Liked by 2 people

        • Above everything else, for me, fried potatoes. Not the little frozen patties that you sometimes find here (and in the US if you’re not selective), but cooked, then either grated and fried (hash brown) or cut into small pieces and fried (American fries or home fries). Eggs. Buttered toast–and I admit the toast in most places will be tasteless, but it’s required. Sometimes they use bread that wouldn’t pass for cardboard. If you ask for it–and I do–tabasco sauce. One place I used to know made hashbrowns with scrambled eggs cooked right into them, with a tomato-y sauce on top if you wanted it. Mexican places make fantastic breakfast burritos–of course with salsa.

          Or instead, American pancakes, which are different than British ones and I think (no, of course I’m not biased) better. (Recipe joyfully provided on request.)

          Oh, hell, now you’ve gone and gotten me hungry.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Eggo pancakes are not nearly the delicious pancakes I had at our favorite Sunday brunch at DiPrato’s. Perfect coffee, pancakes with fresh peaches and whipped cream, sausage, grits, and the occasional mimosa. Damn, I miss American breakfasts.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Over here Dr. Fauci – now that the new administration is allowing him to speak truth- has pointed out repeatedly that the fewer victims the viruses can land in the less likely they are to mutate. Therefore wear a Mask (or two) wash your hands (not getting e. coli is a good thing anyway) and keep limiting contacts. So no immediate changes yet. Stay safe.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. We’ve vaccinated about the same number over here, but our population is slightly higher than the UK. Trump’s Operation Warped left the kind of legacy that is the Trump signature.
    Anyway, I got my first jab this morning, my advanced age came in handy.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pretty soon – someone’s going to have to give you an honorary medical degree! Dr. Sanjay Gupta (CNN) did a video on proper washing of hands when this all started. One of the points he mentioned either in the video or on air was that it was the soap and time that made the difference, not the temperature of the water.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Now that I didn’t know, although I’ll admit that I’ve never had to patience to warm the water up first. As an adult, I can come up with an argument for that, which is that if my hands can live in it, it’s not hot enough to kill germs, but as a kid it was because I couldn’t be bothered. It took 70 years, but I have been vindicated!


  5. ‘the endemic UK population’. I like that. Was this learned scholar referring to the loyal subjects of Her Majesty as an ‘epidemic’. There are some on the Continent who might agree. But then shouldn’t we say: ‘the pandemic UK population’?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve always tended to wash my hands with soap anyway and to wash them often, but the first information about dealing with the virus said that using soap was important, so I use a bit more now. In the days when we could go out and meet real people I was always surprised by how many of them didn’t seem wash their hands at all, ever, with soap or without.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. We had some one come into work, start feeling sick with digestive tract symptoms. They thought it was food .They had to be told to go home. Rapid test was negative, they sent it away for further testing and it was positive. Don’t think they ever lost their sense of taste or smell, but developed a fever that night.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Here in Portugal things are bad, very bad. Still around 250 deaths a day and 9000 new cases despite the three weeks of lockdown. Hospitals are full and here in Lisbon they are sending patients north to find space. Germany is sending army medics to help. I suspect that the three mutants have mutated again and are more deadly and virulent. My wife’s doctor cousin is working his butt off. The death rate is 1.8% here if you get the virus. Yes that the 9000 people testing positive every day, 162 of them will die. This is grim.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Ellen, I’ve stopped reading the news items about Covid, lockdown, mutations, etc. But I will still read yours. Only yours. I’m a handwasher from way back, so Covid did not change my habits at all. I didn’t have to step up my habits at all for this—my husband, who has always thought me a bit extreme about germs, said apparently I was just ahead of my time. Vindicated again! If I get it, it will go down in history as The Immaculate Infection!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Immaculate Infection. Now there’s a title to make a person stop and think.

      I’m careful about hand washing, but if anyone had told me that I’d be disinfecting my groceries I’d have laughed them out of the house, but here I am, still doing it, even though I don’t think it’s necessary. I just–well, what can I lose? Since I’ve been vaccinated (three days and counting), I’ll probably stop when I can assume my immune system’s at full strength, but hand washing? Yes. Absolutely.


  10. I just heard that in some states, smokers are given priority over non-smokers within the eligible class. The logic being that their lung capacity is more likely to be compromised. I am hoping it’s just another rumor

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I do like hand washing. I like sudsing up and daydreaming the length of a couple happy birthday songs. It’s restful. But water temperature doesn’t matter. Just washing in water without soap for the time you need (not sprinkling and dashing) is likely better than not washing. Soap just gets things off faster (surfactant). I think early on I read that soap made the virus come apart (heh, heh) so soap was indeed emphasized. Never been a fan of hand sanitizer, but I do carry it around when I’m not home now! Gosh, mostly bad news, but still light-hearted. So do you shred your potatoes or cut them up for the has browns? I like to add tomatoes and peppers to them…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I can’t believe it’s so difficult to get a COVID test over there if you’re not symptomatic with “The Big 3.” Here in MN, as a teacher anyway – not sure about everyone else – I can get a free COVID test every other week, even if I’m feeling at the peak of fitness.

    That runny nose symptom… first it seemed to be a thing, then it wasn’t, but sometimes it seems as if it is. I have a colleague whose uncle tested positive last spring and all he had was a runny nose. I, too, had a gusher for a while last spring, but since it was the early days of the virus, I couldn’t get tested so readily. I’ve always wondered if I had it and that was my only symptom…

    Liked by 1 person

    • The reason for the testing problems is that the government handed the testing program to someone with no background in public health, no background in public service, and a record of failing in private business but very good contacts within the Conservative Party. Who better could they choose? Then they gave her a shitload of money to spend and told her to contract the work out to corporations with a track record of failure, although it was at least in the field of government contracting. They then subcontracted–who knows who to–and here we are. Wheee. So yes, that’s been a great success.

      One of Covid’s many oddities is that it seems capable of setting off a wild variety of symptoms in different people. I’ve read about people whose primary symptoms are digestive. At some point I’m sure it’ll all make sense, but right now it’s like a connect-the-dots picture, only without the numbers.

      I’m glad the testing system for Minnesota–at least for teachers–is working so well.

      Liked by 1 person

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