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Photo: ‘Contagion’/Warner Bros/Instagram

The term “pandemic” is now heard on a daily basis. We are all too familiar with the restrictions involved with attempting to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Schools are closed, many are working from home, gatherings of more than ten people are discouraged. Daily lives have been disrupted. People are fist-fighting over toilet paper. Despite our “first world problems,” such as seeing the grocery store close two hours earlier than usual to restock, we all need to take a minute to be thankful for our health. It’s the only thing that really matters at the end of the day, especially when humanity is threatened with a virus straight out of a Stephen King novel.


The virus was first seen in Wuhan, China, and quickly spread across the globe, now effecting nearly every country. If this nightmare gives you déjà vu, it’s because Hollywood has used this storyline in some of their creepiest sci-fi thrillers. From Outbreak to Contagion, let’s examine the similarities between these worrisome films with the uncertainty of COVID-19.

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Pandemic Movie 1: Outbreak (1995)

Currently streaming on Netflix and trending as one of the top 10 streaming choices in the United States, Outbreak has been thrust back into relevancy due to the grim, now relatable subject matter. The film stars Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland and Patrick Dempsey. Based on the nonfiction “Hot Zone” by Richard Preston, this viral tale spreads the story of an Ebola-like virus carried to humans by a host monkey. While it sounds so far-fetched, it is comparable to our society’s current reality. People in hazmat suits wouldn’t be a weird thing to see now. Despite the synopsis carrying commonalities with the current COVID-19 virus, Outbreak was decried as a fictional depiction of a pandemic that carried no accurate facts. One of the similarities in the film as compared to COVID-19 is the fact that medical researchers are scrambling for a solution to “flatten the curve” of this fast-spreading virus. 

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Pandemic Movie 2: Contagion (2011)

Contagion is another pandemic film starring Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Winslet. Returning from a business trip in Hong Kong, Beth (Paltrow) feels weak and attributes the feeling to jet lag. Two days later, Beth is dead, and no one has an answer. The film weaves in and out of uncovering the cause of the mysterious illness which eventually becomes a global pandemic.

The film’s logline, “Nothing Spreads Like Fear,” is both apropos and alarming. Compared to Outbreak, Contagion was praised by the CDC for its accurate depiction of a virus transmittal. Although scientists argued that a virus could never spread and infect quite as fast as the fictional MEV-1, it is not completely unlikely that a disease could spread and devastate quite like it did in Contagion.  

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Pandemonium Fear

The fearmongering commonly seen on social media since COVID-19 spread in the United States and elsewhere is unnecessary in this time of crisis. The entire globe is banding together to battle this heinous virus. China, where the virus was first identified, has vowed to donate $20 million to the World Health Organization to quell the spread of the virus. The COVID-19 virus is more transmissible than the seasonal flu, but much less transmissible than diseases such as Measles. Staying home and supporting the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines on how to prevent the spread of this unprecedented illness. China issued draconian measures after COVID-19 ravished the country, and thankfully, it seems to have worked.

After a rough period at the peak of the virus in Wuhan, the breeding ground of the virus saw only one new case today. At present, there are over 181,000 confirmed cases worldwide with over 7,100 deaths. More than 81,000 of those cases were recorded in China, with over 3,200 deaths. The United States now has more than 5,600 cases with over 100 deaths reported.

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As of March 17, 2020, COVID-19 is officially in all 50 states. News is covering the virus non-stop, where state officials across the country have issued “shelter in place” orders, such as in San Francisco, California. Cities are issuing stricter lockdowns as virus cases are continuing to grow. 38 million children are forced to stay home and learn online. Grocery stores are opening their doors early exclusively for the elderly population. 52 million Americans over the age of 65 are the most at-risk group to the virus, so the early hours may mean the difference between life and death.

The elderly is not the only group of individuals who can suffer from this virus. NBA Star Kevin Durant announced he has tested positive for COVID-19, as has Tom Hanks, his wife Rita Wilson, and actor Idris Elba. While the impact on the entertainment industry is already clear by the closure of movie theaters around the world, how will the virus affect the political climate in the United States? Five states have already suspended presidential primaries. It will be interesting, and worrisome, to see how the virus ultimately impacts the economy as well. With all of the mandatory closures, the economy could very well be on a fast track to a surprise recession. 

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You can’t spell HUMANE without HUMAN. Let’s all remember, we are all pursuing the same goal here; survival. Let’s stop hoarding supplies we don’t need and check on our friends, families, and neighbors even if through phone call or video chat. Listen to the CDC’s guidelines, advice from the Federal Government, and follow advice closely. All we can do is abide by the guidelines and hope we will see less cases, less fatalities, and less transmission of COVID-19. This pandemic is sure to be a header in history books as the defining event of 2020. Let’s help to shape the narrative with footnotes about how the people of the world stuck together during this trying time, rather than provide paragraphs about how we antagonized fists fights over toilet paper. We will get through this TOGETHER.

*The COVID-19 data is fluid and changes by the minute. For the latest information, please visit the Center for Disease Control website and the World Health Organization

By Raquel Kokkoros

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