Home brew Covid research meets Goldilocks

When Vittorio Saggiomo, a scientist in the Netherlands, couldn’t work in his lab during lockdown, he invented a rapid Covid test using the materials he had at home: coffee pods. You know, those pretty, nonrecyclable things that–well, if you use them at all, you have plenty of them.

The reason he wanted to do this is because Covid tests give you a choice between a slow but accurate one and a fast but inaccurate one. The slow ones take time because–

Oh, hell, do you really want to know this? They take time because tiny scientists have to take the swab you jammed up your nose, extract the DNA you left on it, and multiply it until they have enough to work with. And it’s not easy to find tiny scientists–they have to be small enough to fit inside a test tube. 

The fast one is inaccurate because it bypasses the tiny scientists and works with just that bit of DNA you left on the swab. 

Irrelevant photo: These are either what you think they are–dandelions–or one of the half dozen or so flowers that look just like them but aren’t. Damned if I can tell them apart.

Listen, if you want a serious explanation, you should follow the link. I didn’t flunk high school science, but that was only because I was hiding behind the bunsen burner when they handed out grades.

Onward. There’s a third way of testing, a process called Lamp, which stands for, um, loop-mediated isothermal amplification.

You just had to ask, didn’t you?

It does the same thing as the PCR test, multiplying that stingy bit of DNA you sacrificed, but unlike the PCR test it doesn’t have to be done at a bunch of different temperatures. One will do.

So Saggiomo’s problem was how to create the right temperature at home. He found a wax that would melt at the right temperature, so that would keep the DNA at a constant temperature. Next he needed something to put it in. At this point, he turned to the coffee pods. 

The final problem was finding a way to heat the pods. In the dishwasher, they got lost. In the microwave, they overheated and the lids popped off. Cups of hot water didn’t control the temperature well enough and the porridge was too cold. Or possibly too hot. The bears got hungry. 

A pan of water simmering on the stove was perfect, though, and Goldilocks and the three bears sat at the table together and said, “Yeah, but where’s our coffee?”

“Shut up,” the scientist said. “I’m on the verge of a breakthrough and all you can think of is caffeine.”

They ate him.

The tests can be made for .20 euros each (don’t miss the decimal point on the left), but whether anyone’s actually going to produce it is up for grabs. 

Anyone ready for porridge?

[For anyone visiting from a culture with a different set of folk tales, the references are to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. If I have to explain them, they won’t be remotely funny, but Lord Google will be happy to help you find the tale if you’re interested.]



More at-home research

From the start of the pandemic, a professor’s thirteen-year-old son watched his father disinfect the groceries and afte a while he questioned whether it really needed to be done. 

“I just told Anand, ‘If you want to do a science project, this is a perfect one,'” the father, Vishal Shah, said.

They took the project seriously enough to quarantine for fourteen days so they wouldn’t contaminate the test subjects, then gathered produce from ten stores in the Philadelphia area, where high levels of community Covid spread were reported, and they went at peak times. They took produce that people touch a lot–apples, avocados, bananas, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, lettuce–and swabbed them five times.

“One of the first things I realized once I told my dad I wanted to do this project was that I had no means of testing for the virus on my own,” Anand said. “My dad’s lab was closed, so I contacted labs across the country and gave presentations that discussed what the project was.”

He found one  in Tennessee that would do his testing. Of the 140 pieces of produce it tested, only one apple had traces of the virus on its surface. 

The study has been published in ACS Food Science and Technology.

Not bad for a thirteen-year-old, even if he did have help.


A bit about long Covid

At the beginning of March, the Office for National Statistics estimated that 1.1 million people in Britain had long Covid.

So gets long Covid? It was most common among people between 35 and 49 and more common in women than men. It followed Covid’s pattern of hitting hardest in the poorest areas, and health and social care workers are the most likely occupational group to have it. That could be because they–like people who live in the poorest parts of the country–are more likely to be exposed to the virus. 

People with preexisting health conditions were also more likely to get long Covid.

In round numbers, out of seven people who test positive for Covid, one will still have symptoms three months later. 

But there’s still no official definition of long Covid, and that leaves a lot of questions about what happens to people who get it, financially speaking. If they use up their sick leave and lose their jobs, do they have a medically recognized condition so they can apply for support? How is long Covid diagnosed when there’s no definition and no diagnostic code? 

You’ll notice I’m asking more questions than I’m answering, so here’s one I can answer: What’s a diagnostic code? It’s something terribly important that you put into a little blank square. If you don’t have one, please apply to the Department of Diagnostic Codes. As soon as you get it, your life will become more fulfilling.

So are people who get long Covid disabled? In practical terms, some are and some aren’t. Some will be able to work full time, some only part time, and some not at all. Are they officially disabled, though? Gray zone. The short answer is that it’s too early to tell, and figuring it out is going to be messy. If they become officially disabled, an employer’s expected to make “reasonable adjustments” for them. If not–

Gray zone. 

Among those 1.1 million people in Britain with long Covid are 122,000 people who work for the NHS, 114,000 teachers, and 30,000 social workers. I didn’t find statistics on what percentage of teachers that is, but it’s close to 4% of the NHS staff, and their illness is hitting the NHS hard. 

It’s also hitting the people with long Covid hard. Some haven’t been able to go back to work and have lost their jobs. 

Or I think that’s what the article I read is saying. The exact quote is about losing their “roles.” Maybe they’re talking about being downgraded to other roles, but I wouldn’t count on that. If you take enough sick leave–even if it’s your job that exposed you to the sickness–most employers will find a way to show you where the door is. 

One MP is trying to get long Covid recognized as an occupational disease, and to compensate and support workers in health care, social care, and key public services who catch it. I wouldn’t hold your breath, but it would be the right thing to do.

I should also mention the thousands of people who caught Covid in less prestigious jobs in transportation and meat packing and supermarkets–all those people who used to be cheered as key workers and who’ve now been officially reclassified as Remind-me-why-we-cared-about-you.


How not to break lockdown rules

An unnamed man broke the Covid rules by traveling from England into Scotland for no better reason than to camp out on Inchtavannach, an island in Loch Lomond. Once there, he didn’t sing “By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes” (as far as anyone knows, anyway). Instead, he lost his paddle and got his silly self stranded. 

(Again, if you’ve visiting from a culture with a different set of overused songs, that’s from “Loch Lomond.”)

What happened to the unnamed man isn’t quite the same as, in the famous American phrase, up shit crick without a paddle, but it’s close enough. (That phrase, by the way, is said to date back to the 1860s. You can take it back half a century or so to the days of Admiral Nelson, but you might or might not have to sacrifice the word shit. You needed to know that.)  

It’s not clear what happened to the paddle. The man went for a walk and when he came back he discovered that it had gone for a walk of its own. He and his true love never met again, and someone called the cops–probably him but the article I found doesn’t commit itself. A rescue boat picked him up. I don’t know if he was fined, but I’m reasonably sure that he was teased within an inch of his life.

25 thoughts on “Home brew Covid research meets Goldilocks

  1. It just had to be the apple, didn’t it? One bad apple.
    I am very familiar with shit creek – and have found myself up there without a paddle numerous times, but the 3 Bears have usually bailed me out. They’re on my speed dial.
    You just can’t hide your reservoir of Americanisms.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m waiting for someone to row in, using all you paddles, and tell me it’s not an Americanism, it was originally British. So far, no takers, though. Stay tuned.

      Why don’t I have the bears on my speed dial?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I find it mind-boggling how there are brilliant people, who in their very own homes create tests and solutions to the Covid problems – and the large, Self-Important Covid organizations aren’t rushing in to put those brilliant people in charge of everything! I certainly hope there are some fast solutions for sufferers of long haul Covid. It’s maddening that the poorest people who work the hardest and put their lives on the line every day, get nothing but a boot when they end up with the long-haul illness. Also, I think I may have been to that crick a time or two (not the one in Scotland, the other more unpleasant one). Your irrelevant photos make me smile – maybe it is or isn’t a dandelion – which I believe is a beautiful flower and not a weed (still trying to convince the neighbors of this).

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve been told–you may have been as well–that a weed’s only a wildflower that’s growing in the wrong place. (We have an awful lot of them growing in the wrong place. No matter how often we try to convince them that some other place would be better for all concerned.)

      Agreed entirely about the poorest people and long Covid. The whole damn country stood and clapped for them on Thursday evenings and then goes inside and forgets them when they get sick. It’s no way to organize a society.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Given how horrible many employers are – I used to work at a place which made you make up the time if you had to go to a doctor’s appointment, and now work at a place where the boss rang a colleague to hassle her whilst she was actually in hospital – I very much hope that something can be done for people with long Covid, but I can see that it’s very difficult to define a new condition which we know so little about, especially when it seems to affect everyone differently.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t want to be in charge of defining it. But when people have risked their health keeping the country running, we really do owe them our support–and it can’t be left up to individual employers.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Home brew Covid research meets Goldilocks – sport

  5. .”..And me and my paddle shall never meet again…”

    That is comforting about the grocery research- at least to me, as I was not about to disinfect the groceries.( I am more worried about bleach contaminating edibles, although you can usually smell bleach…)

    The coffee pods confused me – I use a Keurig brewer and don’t see how you could re-use those pods. And they are now made to be recyclable. You just clean out the coffee grounds…which, as any first grader (at least if you were in first grade ca. 1951-52) can tell you, can be put into empty eggshells and used to plant seeds to show little kids how seeds grow, You put the eggshells in the empty egg carton to keep them in place, This seems as worthy a project for lockdown as bleaching your produce.

    Now I’ve digressed so far I was going to close by saying it’s lucky there are no monsters in Loch Lomond but -surprise – Lord Google disabused me of that notion !


    Liked by 1 person

  6. It was nice to finally get confirmation from the CDC that COVID doesn’t live long enough on hard surfaces to really be a real threat. My guess is that it came too late for all but the most die-hard sanitizing fans. I work at Walmart, and we’ve had no problem keeping Clorox/bleach wipes in stock since the initial wave wiped the shelves clean last year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting. I stopped wiping the groceries–oh, some months ago, although I couldn’t really tell you when exactly. I’m sure I’ll find a small stash of sanitizing wipes at the back of a cupboard in five or ten years. I know I bought several packs at one point. You know those moments of oh-they’re-in-stock, better-buy-103. They’ve migrated to some dark corner by now.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Laughed out loud, as usual with this blog. In the US, hope American friends will set me right if I have misunderstood, diagnostic codes are also needed to persuade an insurer or HMO to fund particular forms of treatment. So people with symptoms that do not quite fit are crammed into a diagnostic code box, so that they can be treated. Making health care into a market or an industrial production line does not work well for those with the wrong bundle of symptoms. Increasingly that is happening in the UK too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yup, all true. When Ida was still working as a therapist, I heard a lot about the DSM III, and then the DSM IV, which at least as I understood them were all about diagnostic codes, including catch-alls like oppositional disorder, which translates to “this kid won’t do what I want.”

      (I think I’m remembering all that correctly, but a grain of salt wouldn’t go amiss.)


  8. The large number of health workers diagnosed with long covid makes me wonder if their sheer physical exhaustion before contracting covid is a major factor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not impossible, but so much about long Covid is still unknown that I expect it’ll be years before anyone teases it out. Working only from the numbers, though, we’d need to compare the percentage of health care workers who caught Covid to the number of other people and see if a higher percentage of them were left with long Covid. What we do know is that they were exposed at work in large numbers, and underprotected, especially at the beginning when protective equipment wasn’t available.

      I’m being hopelessly awkward in how I’m saying this. (In my defense, it’s not yet 7 am.) What I’m reaching for is that the high number with long Covid may be a result of how many became infected to begin with. (There, that wasn’t so difficult, was it, Ellen?)


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