2346: COVID Risk Comfort Zone

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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COVID Risk Comfort Zone
I'm like a vampire, except I'm not crossing that threshold even if you invite me.
Title text: I'm like a vampire, except I'm not crossing that threshold even if you invite me.


This comic is another comic in a series of comics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the major vectors for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is in sharing an enclosed space with someone who is infected, especially someone who is asymptomatic and not aware of being infected. Wearing a face mask, as both "Inside Cueball" and "Outside Cueball" are, will dramatically reduce the rate of transmission, perhaps by a factor of 30 compared to the "baseline" of neither wearing a mask, but given the limited volume of air available, it is likely that sooner or later one of them will inhale enough air with enough virus-bearing droplets to risk catching the disease. This knowledge leads Outside Cueball to refuse Inside Cueball's invitation to visit indoors, but (in a recurring theme of xkcd) leaves him feeling uncertain as to how he should refuse the invitation. The comic proceeds to depict a spectrum of options.

The first option is overly technical to the extreme, to the point where Outside Cueball is effectively giving Inside Cueball an in-depth lesson on common health advice during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Being overly technical is a common trope among xkcd comics -- in particular, Outside Cueball's fervent insistence that he made a spreadsheet so he doesn't "overthink every minor decision" is disproved by (a) the fact that he made a spreadsheet (cf. 1445: Efficiency) and (b) the events of 2330: Acceptable Risk. The second option that is presented is the most reasonable of the three, being an expression of reasonable concern, and a polite refusal to enter. The last option is simplified to the extreme, and successfully insults the owner of the building while still expressing a desire to avoid coming inside. The title text appears to be a continuation of the last panel. In it, someone, presumably Cueball, compares themselves to a vampire, because folklore has it that vampires cannot enter a building without permission. However, the speaker has no interest in coming inside, despite any invitations that they may have, whereas vampires usually want to come inside to drain the occupants' blood. Some vampires will even take measures to trick an invitation out of a hesitant "host", which is something that would be unthinkable to Outside Cueball under the COVID circumstances.

As a fourth option compromise between the second and third choices, Cueball could just flatly refuse: "No," or "No, thank you." We don't know the circumstances here (is Inside Cueball a friend of Outside Cueball, a shopkeeper, or just a passing acquaintance?), but clearly there's no urgent reason that Outside Cueball has to go inside, and so he doesn't owe Inside Cueball any explanation (nor any insults).

Other comics mentioning "COVID-19 risk" include 2330: Acceptable Risk and 2333: COVID Risk Chart (which might itself be the spreadsheet made or used by Outside Cueball).


Ways to say no when someone tells you to do something outside your COVID risk comfort zone:
[A comic with three panels is shown.]
[The first panel is large. There are 2 Cueballs each wearing masks. Inside Cueball appears to be in a doorway that leads into a building. Outside Cueball is showing Inside Cueball a phone.]
Label: Too Indirect
Inside Cueball: You have to come inside.
Outside Cueball: Ok, but... I've been trying to follow the science, and they're really emphasizing the transmission risk in enclosed spaces. I know you're wearing a mask, and I feel so awkward making a scene over a tiny risk. But I'm trying to keep my overall risk acceptably low, which means having simple rules so I don't overthink every minor decision. See, if you look at this spreadsheet-
[Second panel, smaller. Only the Cueball outside is shown now.]
Label: Direct
Outside Cueball: I'm so sorry, but I'm avoiding shared indoor spaces unless it's an emergency.
[Third panel, even smaller. Only the Cueball outside is shown.]
Label: Too Direct
Outside Cueball: I'm not setting foot in your haunted plague box.

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The current text seems more like a comment than an explanation. Darthpoppins (talk) 21:03, 14 August 2020 (UTC)

I see "explanation" crossing over into "comment". Comment often is a necessary part of xkcd explanation since Randall's mind works funny. In this case I think the comic shows *some* ways to say "no" in *one* situation, but neither is comprehensive. Also, in this case, Cueball isn't being "invited" but directed if someone says "You have to come inside", although we don't know if the context is "Come see the virtual reality room I just installed" or "Could you instead just tell me your electricity meter reading?" So you could say "No" but it may defeat the purpose of your journey. Better would be "What about the coronavirus?" although you are already not on the same page about that. Nevertheless, I think what's called for is negotiation. This can include exploring whether the other person has, or has had, the virus, and whether you have, or will pretend that you may have it. I also favour holding your breath while you pass close to someone. Robert Carnegie [email protected] 15:38, 15 August 2020 (UTC)

I'm just going to put the original explanation here: As a fourth option, Randall might consider taking the advice that "'No' is a complete sentence" -- we don't know the context of the situation presented here, but unless there truly is some urgent reason that he would ordinarily "have" to go inside but for COVID (and from the second option, we know there's no such emergency here), he's just being invited inside, and he doesn't need to provide any justification at all for refusing. 00:25, 15 August 2020 (UTC)

Mis-centered headline[edit]

I notice the comic's headline is inexplicably aligned over the first and second panels, rather than the full width of the comic, and it bothers me that nobody is talking about that. 05:02, 15 August 2020 (UTC)

Relative mask sizes[edit]

Inside Cueball's mask is much smaller/covers less of his face than outside Cueball's mask. However, neither the dialogue nor Title Text mention it. It seems that Inside Cueball's mask might leave his nose or mouth exposed. Perhaps Randall considered this as a topic in the comic, but later discarded it yet left the mask sizes different? -- special:contribs/

Only barrel boy and the girl in Spanish class have a nose and mouth, no other xkcd characters have faces, so that doesn't quite apply. -- special/contribs/
7 shows no face. 20:56, 18 January 2022 (UTC)