Original Posting: May 12, 2020
A recent post outlined a novel system that would allow large segments of the population to achieve much greater degrees of freedom with little or no cost or bureaucracy. At the heart of the system is a set of color codes. You find your color, and follow the guidelines for people in that color group. For businesses, colored flags are used to indicate whether to come in now, or wait till later. There's even a way for people with the some business sense and arts-and crafts-skills to make a little money.
The idea behind it is that there are different risks for different groups of people, and these groups are assigned colors. Those who are most at-risk have to be cautious and treated with care, while those who are least at-risk need, mainly, to look out for those who are more vulnerable. As social distancing has taught us, this can be done simply by staying clean, keeping your distance, and staying at home if you have signs of illness. Yet, provided we take these measures when dealing with those who are at-risk, why can't those who are not as vulnerable interact with each other, taking their chances with the disease, and making progress toward building 'herd immunity'? The color codes allow this greater degree of freedom by letting you know whether or not it's necessary to take extra precautions.
In order to find the group that you belong to, you first need to know your own situation in regard to COVID-19 (Do you have it now? Have you recovered from it? Didn't get it yet? Are you in a high-risk group?). Because the virus is so contagious, you also need to know the same things about the people you spend time with. So, for example, if you are young and healthy and haven't had COVID-19, you might not feel very threatened by it, and feel like you'd like to go out and socialize, but if you live with your frail grandmother, or visit her on a regular basis, the odds are pretty high that you'd pass the virus on to her, so, for her sake, you either have to forget about the socializing, or take measures to insure her safety. It's the responsible thing to do.
Once you know your color (and there's a handy chart to help you find your color), you have to know what it means, and what to do with it. This also applies to businesses, houses of worship, and any place people gather. The idea is to have these gathering places display colored flags. One flag indicates that precautions are currently being taken to protect the vulnerable. This is the time for those who want or need to take special precautions to gather there. Another flag indicates that the precautions are no longer in place. This indicates a time for those who are not taking special precautions to gather.
The flags, then, function like a traffic light: letting you know whether to go in now, or wait till later. For example, a house of worship may have a service in the morning for those who are taking precautions, and then one in the early afternoon for those who are not. For the first service, they should sanitize the building and provide plenty of ventilation. For the second, they can relax these standards. By hosting the at-risk group first, the facility only has to sanitize before the first event, saving on materials, cost, and effort. If the services are only held once a week, most of the virus in the building will die off even without a special effort to sanitize.
The group that attends the second service, of course, stands a pretty good chance of contracting the virus. Those who have survived the virus (and are now presumably immune) can attend without worries. Those who currently have the virus (but are not so sick as to be laid up) can attend as well—there's no point in them being worried about contracting the virus, they already have it. Lastly, there are those who are young and healthy, and think they can handle the disease. This group can also attend this service—though it would be wise for them to consult their doctor first, just to be sure they aren't fooling themselves about their own hardiness. The members of this last group will probably get sick sooner or later, but, if reports are accurate about most hospitalizations and deaths occurring to people in the at-risk group (the elderly and those with compromised immune systems), the vast majority of these people will recover (and many will experience no symptoms at all), and so increase the number of those who are presumably immune. The important thing is to keep these people from interacting with those who have compromised immune systems, and so are likely to get very sick from the virus.
The goal of the system is to get as many as people as possible into the camp of those who are presumably immune, and to get them there safely, quickly, and economically. If everyone waits for a vaccine, then we fail on two of those criteria (quickly and economically: we don't know when a vaccine might become available and affordable, and putting the economy on hold indefinitely will end up being very costly). On the other hand, letting people who are not in the at-risk group contract the disease is less safe, but it allows immunity to develop quickly (since the disease spreads quickly), and at low cost (since, presumably, most of these survivors will have mild symptoms, and none of them will need a vaccine). This path will also have far less impact on the economy since the growing pool of people with immunity will be able to open the economy more and more each day. As the economy gradually returns to normal, compassion dictates that we use a portion of money generated to find a way to support those who are at-risk until we develop a vaccine for them.
In order to do this with a reasonable degree of safety, special care has to be taken when interacting with people and going to gatherings—you wouldn't want to accidentally interact with the wrong group. One way to prevent this (other than posting flags) is to post a dated sticker or a small sign on your car, your apartment door, your office or cubicle, or any other space where you might meet up with someone, and where a flag might be too large or out of place. Using a dry erase marker to mark the date makes updating quick and easy. And updating regularly shows that the information is current.
Another option is to consider wearing something color-coded (a hat, a pin, a scarf...) that alerts others as to your personal status, and let's them know that you are participating in the system. For example, people won't know, just by looking at you, that your roommate is at-risk, but an armband could alert them to be cautious without requiring you to explain the situation. The advantage of an armband (as opposed to a hat, a bracelet, a pin, or other item) is that hardly anyone wears them these days, so the chances of somebody wearing one as a fashion accessory and accidentally sending the wrong signal are quite slim. Still, as long as an item bears and indicator, such as the Band together™ logo, it should function as a way to alert others.
Whether we are talking about flags, stickers, or armbands, the requirements of the system are low-tech, and so easily implemented and affordable. A child with a crayon and a piece of paper can quickly copy the design they need. And bit of tape can post it on a door. Or a pin, a bit of yarn or string, or even a stapler can be used to fasten a band to the sleeve of a shirt. Do-it-yourselfers are welcome to use the free templates, though there's room in the market for the luxury brands as well. Those in the clothing industry, as well as anyone who can organize a business (however small) for manufacturing and distributing these items are encouraged to consider becoming a licensee.
In addition to being easy to implement, the system does not require an app or an army of detectives to trace the details of everyone's life. Some tracing will have to be done in order to figure things out when an at-risk person contracts the disease, but the job becomes simpler when you are only concerned with a small portion of the population, and that portion is already limiting their contacts. Also, while large numbers of people will quickly contract the disease, hospitals should not be overwhelmed with cases as a result, because spread to at-risk groups should remain minimal.
That's the theory, at least. As is stated in a disclaimer, the system has not (as of the time of this writing) been approved by any medical or civic authority, so we'll all have to wait to see what they have to say on the subject before moving forward.