Aliens Attack! Humanity, devastated by invasion from above, forms a resistance and fights back, reclaiming the Earth!
Asteroid Impact! People from all nations come together, forgetting past differences, to rebuild society!
Coronavirus Spreads! People wash hands and stay indoors!
Yeah, the pandemic has us all feeling a bit helpless.
COVID-19 isn’t like a Bond villain aiming nukes at us. It’s not a sudden disaster from beyond the stars. It’s a disease, a microbe that doesn’t have an agenda or belong to a political party. It isn’t out for revenge or trying to make a philosophical point. It doesn’t hate us and there’s no rough-shaven action hero who’s going to stop the countdown just at the last second. Unless, maybe…
But seriously, getting through COVID-19 is going to be a slog, a trudge, a ponderous, elephantine march putting one foot in front of the other. It’s about tracking data and doing the simple yet vitally important things that make a tiny bit of difference. It’s about hoping the cynicism with which we’ve come to view our fellow humans isn’t justified.
Fortunately, there are many wonderful people who’ve stepped up to help. Some are working in multi-billion-dollar laboratories, but others are inventing new ways to saves lives out of their home workshops. Companies, big and small, are retooling to make ventilators and protective equipment. An effort like this has not been seen since WWII.
I love to make things, and I love stories about other people making things. I have no degrees and my workshop consists of my Dremel tool and a chair on my front porch. But I wanted to do my part, so I came up with an idea. I don’t know if I’m the first or the thousandth person to have this idea, but it was new to me.
I was with my wife at Walmart for our grocery restock. We’re conscientious about not touching anything we don’t need to. My wife made some DIY masks that, while not N95, are pretty good, aside from making us look like we’re about to rob every store we enter. We stand six feet away from people in line and we do our best to avoid crowded aisles. We do what we can. But at the self-checkout kiosk, I noticed something.
After all those precautions, all that effort to avoid contact with other people, the kiosk itself forces people to touch buttons that hundreds of people touched. If you want to use a debit card, there is no way to avoid it. In theory the store staff are supposed to be disinfecting the devices regularly, and maybe they do, but how often is “regularly”?
In a crowded Walmart, during the best of times, the staff seem a bit overwhelmed. In a paradigm-changing global pandemic, the pressure hasn’t exactly eased up. But even if they are on top of it, it’s just not functionally possible for every kiosk to be thoroughly cleaned after every single use. My wife used a pen instead of her finger to poke the buttons, but that’s not really a solution. In fact, it might be worse than just using a finger.
COVID-19 can stay on some surfaces for a long time. On plastic, COVID-19 can remain viable for 72 hours. What happens when that pen goes back into a purse or pocket? It carries microbes from the buttons to everything it comes into contact with. Even a few drops of precious sanitizer on a pen before putting it away is still a gamble.
As I described in my last post, hand sanitizer really needs to be used liberally. Too little and the sweat on our hands, or even the condensed moisture from the environment, can dilute the product below its required 60% alcohol by volume. With hand sanitizer in such short supply, it’s not practical. No matter how careful we are, being forced to interact with buttons of all kinds, from store checkouts and security keypads to elevator buttons and unfamiliar computers, is going to be a problem.
Recall in my last post I wrote about copper’s inherent germicidal properties? Microbes on a copper surface have been shown to endure for far shorter times than on almost any other material. One reason for this is that copper ions are constantly being ejected. These charged particles tear apart microbes like tiny machine guns. So, when a virus comes to rest on a copper surface, it doesn’t last long – four hours max.
“So,” I thought, “let’s use a copper rod to push the buttons instead of a plastic pen.”
But that only solves half the problem. It still leaves the issue of continuing contamination. Viruses may die quickly on copper, but the effect is not instantaneous. If you put the copper rod in your pocket or purse, you still give the virus a chance to spread. After use, the copper rod needs to be isolated from everything else while the copper does its thing. The answer – a copper sheath. The finished thing looks something like a thin glue pot. There is a video at the end of this post showing the thing.
I slapped together a couple for my wife and I, and I’ll be making some for others. I suppose I might have waited, made a bunch, and sold them, maybe made some money toward the van and all. But I figure little things like this are needed right now, not after the time it takes to bring a product to market. I invite all do-it-yourself types to take the idea and run with it. My goal is to share this idea with as many as I can in the days ahead. Hopefully it will make one of those tiny bits of difference that, together with many other tiny differences, will bring this crisis to an end.
If you like the idea, I’d appreciate a follow of this blog.
Here is a link to the C110 copper rods I used. C110 copper is the highest-grade commercial copper readily available. I’d love to see some pics of what you make. Also, if you see flaws in this idea – keeping mind that I am not claiming to be a scientist, metallurgist or engineer – let me know.
As always… EMBRACE YOUR WEIRD!