Culture Feature

The "Contagion" Stars' Guide to Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic

The stars of Soderbergh's prescient film Contagion have teamed up with Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health to offer a bit of science to help you get through this real-life pandemic.

Spy Culture / "Contagion"

If there's one thing to learn from the current coronavirus pandemic, it's that Steven Soderbergh is an underrated director.

Just kidding: Steven Soderbergh is a beautiful gift from the movie gods, and everyone knows it. The real lesson of today's upside down world is: Learn how to properly wash your damn hands. If you've yet to amass an entire playlist of excellent 20-second song clips to wash your hands to (we recommend the Friends theme song up until the chorus), then you've got plenty of time to learn while you play with your cats, count your cans of beans, and stare yearningly out the window like you're in a Baroque portrait.

But to help things along, the stars of Soderbergh's prescient film Contagion have teamed up with Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health to offer a bit of science to help you get through this real-life pandemic.

Contagion resonates for many reasons, from the film's chief medical consultant contracting the virus himself to the film's stark depiction of loss of life: Empty shelves in the grocery store develop into violent looting; bleary scenes of empty, trash-filled streets turn into scenes of mass graves. But then, through the miraculous work of the CDC and one female doctor's daring risk, a vaccine is developed within a year. Slowly, order returns to the world. Shopping malls resume the march of capitalism. Teens go to prom (sort of).

But the overarching theme of Contagion is that people need each other, and in times of crisis it's possible to honor our interconnectedness more than our distance (cultural, social, and economic, as well as physical). With that in mind, four of the actors who play the film's most poignant roles have these home-made messages for you (with all science coming directly from the scientists on the frontlines of this pandemic).

MATT DAMON: On Listening to Experts

"We can all do this together...just by staying apart."

#ControltheContagion - Matt Damon and the Contagion cast talk about COVID-19 youtu.be


LAURENCE FISHBURNE: On What We Can Do Right Now

"A pandemic means that the virus is everywhere, but it won't be every place at the same time. So, if it's not where you live today, you can bet that that's going to change. If you don't know anyone who's sick yet, you can also bet that that will change."

COVID-19 PSAs from the cast of CONTAGION: Laurence Fishburne youtu.be


KATE WINSLET: On How Stopping the Spread Is in Your Hands

"We all want a cure. But until we have one, we need to be that for each other. Starting now."

YouTube youtu.be


JENNIFER EHLE: On Vaccines

"Paranoia is a kind of virus, as well. It requires fear and misinformation to spread, and we don't need scientists to cure that–just compassion and common sense."

COVID-19 PSAs from the cast of CONTAGION: Jennifer Ehle youtu.be

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A holiday once dedicated to crowded beaches and the first BBQs of the summer season will be marred by social distancing restrictions and fear of spikes in COVID-19 cases if we don't stay the course. Americans, who after three months locked away are suffering from quarantine fatigue, will try their best to make sense of this new normal, but the threat of COVID-19 still looms large despite an uptick in warmer weather.

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Culture News

The Doctor Behind "Contagion" Has the Coronavirus–and He Has a Warning

"The very best tool we have is isolation and confinement. We need to protect ourselves," he emphasized.

Gizmodo Australia / "Contagion"

No one understands the horror behind Steven Soderbergh's eerily prescient film Contagion better than Dr. W. Ian Lipkin.

Dr. Lipkin was the lead medical advisor for the 2011 film, which tracks the global outbreak and devastation due to a novel virus that mutates from first infecting bats to pigs to humans. The film resonates with loss of life: Empty shelves in the grocery store develop into violent looting; bleary scenes of empty, trash-filled streets turn into scenes of mass graves. But then, through the miraculous work of the CDC and one female doctor's daring risk, a vaccine is developed within a year. Slowly, order returns to the world. Shopping malls resume the march of capitalism. Teens go to prom (sort of).

Amidst all the disturbing coincidences between Contagion and the real-world coronavirus pandemic, there is one that's dangerously missing. Dr. Lipkin, the director of Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity, appeared on Lou Dobbs Tonight to announce that he, himself, has contracted the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

"I have COVID as of yesterday," Dr. W. Ian Lipkin told Fox's David Asman. "And it is miserable, it is miserable." He added, "If it can hit me, it can hit anybody. That's the message I want to convey."

Lipkin urged Americans to continue to practice social distancing in order to curb the spread of the virus. "It's extraordinarily important that we harmonize whatever restrictions we have across the country," Lipkin said. "We have porous borders between states and cities and unless we're consistent, we're not gonna get ahead of this thing…What New York, Chicago and Washington have done has been very, very helpful and I would like to see that implemented broadly across the United States."

"The very best tool we have is isolation and confinement. We need to protect ourselves," he emphasized.

Globally, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have risen above 400,000, causing more than 18,000 deaths. Unless social distancing is practiced on a wider scale, those numbers will continue to escalate.

But one of Contagion's most glaring themes, aside from the ease of infectious transmission, is our human need for social contact. While we have tools to support that need without physical contact, too many people are ignoring the severity of the matter.

Another doctor who consulted on Contagion, Dr. Mark Smolinksi, warns that the message of social distancing is not being received. Smolinksi told ABCNews that he's disturbed by how many people who are still socializing and carrying on with business as usual. "It should look like it did in Contagion," he said, referring to the eerie scenes where "the streets are empty. People are sheltering at home."

When shown videos of young college students celebrating spring break in Florida, he said, "It was disheartening to watch," and I thought, 'Wow. How did the messaging fail to get out there?'"

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