Two ways Covid isn’t transmitted

A study says there’s no evidence that Covid’s passed on by what researchers so delicately describe as fecal-oral transmission. 

Tell me I don’t need to translate that for you. 

Diarrhea can be a Covid symptom, and testing sewage is a way to track the presence of Covid and its variants in a community. And toilets really do send up a plume of aerosols when you flush them (unless there’s a lid and you close it–and sit on it to make sure it doesn’t open spontaneously and facilitate a jailbreak). But even so, there’s no evidence that a toilet’s to blame for anyone having caught the virus. 

It sounds like the only danger public toilets present is if they’re unventilated: You’ll be sharing air with other people. But then you would in a store. Or a workplace.  

Food is also looking like an unlikely way to transmit the disease. Several things work against Covid being transmitted by food. It can’t multiply there–it needs to be inside a host. It hates heat (although it likes cold). And it’s unlikely to survive in any place as acidic as the stomach. 

People whose Covid infections take the form of digestive problems probably didn’t get it from anything they ate. It’s a question of whether the virus turned right or left once it got into their bodies by way of the nose or mouth. 

Irrelevant photo: A cheery yellow flower to take your mind off toilets. This is a lesser celandine–one of the year’s early flowers.

To keep Covid out of our digestive tracts, we might borrow Britain’s idea way of foiling the German invasion they were afraid would happen in World War II: They took down all the road signs and railroad station signs. If Germany really had invaded, its soldiers would still be wandering around Cornwall and wondering if they were in Pityme or Splatt.

Yes, both towns are real.

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Last summer, a cluster of England’s beaches were mobbed by people who’d traveled from elsewhere for a day out. And we’re using elsewhere as a code word for anyone who in the middle of a pandemic isn’t welcome wherever here happens to be. The news was full of photos of people packed so close together that they looked like their heads were popping out of each other’s pockets.

Some of that, presumably, was the magical foreshortening that comes from using a telephoto lense, but never mind that. There were still a lot of people. 

We all talked about the photos. We tutted. We battened down the hatches–whatever that involves–and waited for the local outbreaks to hit.

We, you understand, means anyone who didn’t take a day off to go to the beach. Plus anyone who lived locally and could get to the beach without a day trip. Speaking as a lives-locally myself, we have a yes-no relationship with visitors. The economy depends on them. And it’s awfully nice when they’re not around. Especially during a pandemic.

But the outbreak never came–not from the beaches. Admittedly, the test and trace system here is beyond useless, but still. According to Dr. Muge Cevik, a lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology, “We have known for some time that only about 10% of transmission events are linked to outdoor activities. Even those events generally involve either prolonged close contact or a mixture of indoor and outdoor time.”

The message, basically, is that the important places for transmission are indoors.

 

Long Covid

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study tells us (and of course no one else; we’re their special friends) that 35% of people with mild Covid don’t get back to their earlier state of health within two to three weeks. That’s counting from when the symptoms started. That may not sound as scary as it is. It can go on for a hell of a lot longer than two or three weeks and may mean they can’t go back to work, can’t get back to what used to be normal life, can’t walk to the corner and back. 

That 35% isn’t just the old and the disabled. It includes previously healthy 18- to 34-year-olds: 20% of them end up in the category. And 33% of people who had Covid but weren’t hospitalized (I think at this point we’ve included people who had moderate Covid, not just mild) still have symptoms up to three months later. 

How are we supposed to read “up to” in this context? 

Beats me. 

How does that compare with the flu? 

Only 10% of people who catch the flu are sick after two weeks days. But if you’re determined to catch the flu as a way to avoid Covid, you should understand that (1) it’s not an either/or choice; you’re more than welcome to catch both, and (B) at least in Britain just now, the flu is hard to catch. Lockdown’s turning it into an endangered species. Or maybe that’s Brexit–it’s still wrestling with the customs forms. Either way, the stores are finding it hard to keep in stock.

The better news is that long Covid is starting to get attention from researchers, doctors, and scientists. And opera singers

 

The cost of Covid

The planet’s lost an estimated 20.5 million years of life to Covid. That works out to an average of 16 years of life per death.

 

Pubs and an end to lockdown

Is there a safe way for pubs to reopen? 

A British study from the last time they opened up leaves me skeptical. At least until you find a way to keep drinkers first from getting drunk or if they will get drunk, from acting like drunks. But that wasn’t the scientific answer, so let’s back up and take another run at it.

At the end of Britain’s first lockdown, pubs were given guidelines to keep everyone safe (or to at least gave the illusion that everyone was safe). And pubs did try to adapt. They made more room between the tables–that sort of thing. But in some staff didn’t wear masks and in others they wore them only until they needed to talk, when they’d pull them off. Which sort of defeats the purpose of wearing masks, but then customers weren’t wearing the when they ate or drank, so I could see why they might not have taken this thing seriously.

Lines formed because rooms were laid out and the way people moved through them. It created pinch points. And customers shouted, projecting the virus into the air if they had it. They hugged each other. They table-hopped. They sang. 

Give the British alcohol and they sing. 

Staff rarely intevened, or they made gestures in that direction but didn’t change anything. Maybe they didn’t take the issue seriously. Maybe they didn’t think they had much authority. Maybe they really didn’t.

The study didn’t address the underlying problem, which is that you can’t wear a mask and eat or drink, and if you get a bunch of maskless people in an enclosed space during a Covid pandemic you’re not running a pub, you’re running a germ exchange. 

 

Vaccine news

Research on the Pfizer vaccine reports that a single injection is 85% effective after 15 to 28 days, which means that putting off the second shot won’t be a disaster. That’s a relief for Britain, which bet its chips–every last one of them–on that. The study left some loopholes that a creative virus could wiggle through if it had the determination, but never mind, we’ll take our good news where we can find it.

Pfizer itself now says its vaccine will survive in a standard freezer for as long as two weeks–longer than it had originally thought. That makes it easier for pharmacies and doctors’ offices to work with.

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Our friends the scientists are working on vaccines that will target not just the spike protein but a new spot on the Covid virus, the N protein. Since the mutations we’ve been seeing–at least the worrying ones–are on the spike proteins, this may put us a step ahead of the virus, at least for a while. They’re hoping to start clinical trials soon. 

And a different group of scientists is working on a vaccine that would–if all goes well–create an immunity in the nose and throat, which are Covid’s superhighway. Convince the antibodies to set up shop there and you could keep the virus from infecting anyone else. Once that happens, you’re well on the way toward ending the pandemic.

Or at least slowing it down. Let’s not get too enthusiastic about this.

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Britain’s vaccination project has worked its way from the old and creaky to the somewhat old and not-yet-creaky, as well as to the medically vulnerable–people with diabetes, say, or heart conditions. People who are severely overweight. And it was the last condition that led a doctor’s office to contact Liam Thorpe and say he was eligible for a vaccination. They calculated that he had a body mass index of 28,000.

The body mass index? Oh, that’s simple. You take your weight in kilos and your height in meters and you square one of them and draw a line under the other and then do some terrifying mathematicky things with it all. Then you look grimly at the result, because whatever it is, if you’re part of the culture I live in, you’ll figure you need to lose weight. At least you will if you’re female. The ideal woman is so thin she’s invisible. 

Invisibility is sexy. And gets a lot of social approval. It’s the rare woman who–even if she knows this is bullshit–who’s completely immune.

If your body mass index is over 25, official statistics agree with you: You’re overweight. But a bmi over 28,000 is–should we say it’s unusual? 

How did Thorpe get to that size? Well, he’s 6’2”, but the computer system was speaking metric when his height was entered, so he ended up measuring 6.2 centimeters. Which (or so I’ve read) is roughly the length of your thumb. Or someone’s thumb. I haven’t met yours. For all I know, your thumb is 6’2”. 

It must be awkward buying gloves. 

Somehow during the phone call Thorpe unraveled the problem and said he should wait for his real category to be called before he got vaccinated.

In an article about it, he wrote, “If I had been less stunned I would have asked why no one was more concerned that a man of these remarkable dimensions was slithering around south Liverpool.”

After his story ran in the Guardian,a letter to the editor said that the writer’s daughter’s height had been entered into the computer as 1.7 cm. She figures that gives her the body mass index of five blue whales.