Friday, April 16, 2021

COVID wristbands


I’ve had my first COVID vaccination shot, and more and more of my friends and family are getting theirs. It feels like there’s finally an end in sight. It’s so tempting to give in to this or that temptation, such as to finally ditch the mask. Of course I won’t yet, for two reasons. One, with variants etc. it’s still possible for a vaccinated person to spread the coronavirus. Two, from a social perspective I don’t want to scare anyone. That’s what this post is about: signaling to others when we’re no longer a threat. Is there a simple way of doing this?

Mask as token

A face mask prevents the spread of two things: airborne virus-laden droplets, and fear. Much of the time, this second thing is arguably more important. When I go for a walk (whether on a trail in a regional park or just in my neighborhood) and encounter another person, it’s almost comical how much evasive action we both take. If our masks aren’t already on we swiftly apply them in a practiced motion, and then we greatly alter our course so as to put at least ten feet between us, even when it means going out into the middle of the street. Most of the time this is unnecessary. It’s just a social gesture that says, “I respect your right to not get COVID.”

The fact is, three conditions must exist for the virus to spread: close proximity, lack of good air flow, and prolonged exposure. If you’re indoors, maskless, and talking loudly in someone’s face for several minutes or more, sure—that’s dangerous. A five-second encounter on a fire trail isn’t. Nevertheless, I always pull up my mask because not everybody understands this, or believes it, or feels comfortable tempting fate. It’s easy enough to wear a mask and I’m happy to do it.

Still, I get dirty looks. Sometimes I’m a little slow pulling my mask over my face, or somebody appears to resent my practice of only having my mask in place when I encounter others. (These are the folks who wear a mask while driving alone with their car windows rolled up.) One time I was at home and stepped across the sidewalk, unmasked, to get something out of my car and encountered somebody whose stroll brought her unexpectedly into my death zone. She scolded me, “You should always wear a mask when you go to your car because a person might be coming!” I replied, “Oh my god, thank you so much for pointing that out. I never would have put that together.” She smiled smugly and continued on (either oblivious to my deadpan sarcasm, or even deader-pan than I).

Why are safety-minded people so prickly? It’s because as babies they were given all the routine vaccinations against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, etc. and they’re all autistic.

Note: that was a joke, and if you got all excited because you’re an anti-vaxxer, you’re a joke and should go somewhere else for your “news.”

So once I’m fully vaccinated, will I still wear a mask and give everyone a comically wide berth? Sure. After all, that’s preferable to irking people wherever I go. But wouldn’t it be nice if people could be that much more relaxed around me because they could tell, somehow, that in addition to my mask I have all the antibodies I need to keep the virus from turning me into a highly infectious disease-spreading machine?

How about I’ve-been-vaccinated wristbands?

So I got to thinking: what about a rubber (well, silicone) wristband, like those yellow Livestrong bands from the early aughts? A color-colored wristband worn by those lucky folks who have had the COVID vaccine could suddenly become all the rage, and overnight would come a universal symbol for greatly reduced contagiousness. Next time somebody gave me stink-eye for being a little slow on the mask-draw, I could flash my wristband on they ass, and then they’d be like, “No worries, my bad!”

Once I had this idea, I figured I’d write a blog post about it which would immediately go viral, and we’d be well on our way to wristbands being standard for everyone who gets the vaccine. Five seconds later I realized that if I’ve had this idea, of course countless others have as well. Sure enough, a cursory Google search turned up countless heartwarming stories about how “two Seattle techies,” a “Carpenteria man,” an “RIT alum,” a “government contractor,” and a “father and son” came up with this ingenious idea to promote vaccination while reducing social anxiety through been-vaxxed wristbands. All these news stories seem to have been written in a vacuum, taking it on faith that nobody else had thought of this simple social signaling mechanism.

Do these wristbands work?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never actually seen anyone rocking the I’ve-been-vaccinated wristband. For now, it looks like a movement that’s just spinning its wheels. So what’s missing? Well, think about this: why didn’t the Livestrong wristbands come in a variety of colors? It’s because they had to be instantly recognizable in order to convey the message “I support Lance Armstrong’s amazing cancer foundation.”

You can chuckle and roll your eyes all you want now, but the Livestrong Foundation sold 80 million of those wristbands before Lance got popped. They were all the rage and the various knock-offs, like the grey “APATHY” wristband I somehow acquired, never saw significant sales.

I don’t think the current COVID wristbands will ever be adopted because they’re not distinctive enough to mean anything. It’s like if a wedding ring could be made of any material or worn on any finger … how would we know what’s merely decorative vs. declarative?

On top of this, the current crop of COVID vaccination wristbands are pretty ugly and/or cheesy. Let’s look at a few. Here’s a pretty revolting color:

Compared to this awful green, the maillot jaune color of the Livestrong wristbands was like the new black. Now look with these orange-white numbers:

They remind me of Creamsicles. Yuck. Here’s an even grosser color, with an embarrassing label, “I AM A COVID WARRIOR,” into the bargain:

This plain white one is just poorly executed, like the bottom-of-the-barrel swag from a trade show (remember those?):

This one is particularly ugly in color, and “GOT THE SHOT” with the silly coronavirus-shaped Os is just unforgivably tacky:

Now, this fancy bracelet version is particularly problematic: it can’t be read without glasses or myopia; wouldn’t be popular among dudes; and could cause skin problems for those who require 14-karat gold jewelry.

The father/son team wristband, stating “Vaccinated and Proud,” looks like the cheesy toy from a Cracker Jack or cereal box, and is not only unwisely political but kind of arrogant. Proud that you were lucky enough to get a vaccination appointment? Proud of believing in science? Proud of braving that scary needle? Give me a break. Meanwhile, who could read the text from over six feet away … Superman?

On top of these aesthetic concerns, I’m not about to fork out real money for a cheap rubber wristband. Prices look to be in the $1.30 to $5.00 range (or $34 for the bracelet) and you often have to buy a 5-or 10-pack. This seems like a ripoff, particularly if these wristbands don’t become ubiquitous among the vaccinated, so I just look like a random solo douchebag wearing one.

My analysis of the problem here? This is one of those times when the private sector just isn’t up to the job. It’s time for the government to step in.

Hey CDC – you make the wristbands!

The solution is obvious. The CDC needs to develop a totally standardized rubber wristband, embossed with a non-embarrassing label like “C19 VACCINATED.” They should manufacture them by the millions, and ship them to vaccine distributors to give away to everyone who receives a shot. It wouldn’t be an indicator of anyone’s personal style or fashion, but more like a government-issued ID of sorts so it’d simply be a matter of public health to wear one. The color should be something muted but also completely distinctive. I propose Celeste #227, the strange milky blue-green created by Bianchi, the Italian bicycle company. Here’s a swatch:

Understated, distinctive, and utilitarian … so much easier to adopt than the current tacky hodgepodge. Get some major celebrities to sport them, and you’d have a nationwide phenomenon in no time.

So if anyone reading this is close personal buds with Dr. Fauci, or if you’re some kind of big shot Internet influencer, please get this going. My second shot is only a week away…

More reading on the pandemic

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