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Control the Contagion: Film cast reunite to offer advice about COVID-19

30 Mar 2020
Contagion film cast partnered with scientists from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health to share PSAs about COVID-19. (Columbia)
Contagion film cast partnered with scientists from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health to share PSAs about COVID-19. (Columbia)
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Updated 01 Apr 2020
30 Mar 2020

The cast of Contagion: the 2011 global action thriller reunited to release a series of public service announcements regarding the current coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.

Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, and Jennifer Ehle filmed themselves at home, speaking about the importance of the evidence-based precautions, which include, social distancing, staying indoors, and hand washing, while simultaneously defining what each word entails.

The purpose of the “Control the contagion campaign” is to curb the spread of misleading, inaccurate messages and advice about the COVID-19 pandemic being shared across both traditional and social media platforms by sharing evidence-based information about from experts in the field, through public service announcements.

The four videos from the ensemble cast were compiled to form public service announcements, which were released in partnership with scientists from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health for a campaign called ‘Control the Contagion’.

The video “Matt Damon on listening to experts”, features the actor discussing his role in the film, reiterating the differences between the “hypothetical virus” the COVID-19, and the importance of social distancing.

Damon says that the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University contacted the film’s cast to form a virtual reunion that would be delivered as a series of public service announcements.

“We readily agreed. So everything you’re going to hear from us has been vetted by public health experts and scientists,” said Damon, who played the role of Mitch Emhoff, a character who was immune to the hypothetical virus spreading across the world, featured in the film.

“That was a movie, this is real life. I have no reason to believe that I am immune to COVID-10, and neither do you. No matter how young you are,” he says. “This is a new virus and it’s going to take some time for our bodies and doctors to understand it, and to understand the best way to protect us,” Damon said.

He then explains that although the timing for how long the pandemic will last is unknown, what is known is the ways in which people can collectively contribute to streamlining the longevity of the virus.

Stressing the importance of social distancing, Damon explains that “Social distancing means staying six feet (two metres) away from another person and avoiding group gatherings, not gathering in groups, and staying home or sheltering in a place.”

The video “Kate Winslet on how stopping the spread is in your hands” features the actor discussing her role in the film, the different ways the disease can spread, and the importance of handwashing.

“In the movie Contagion, I played the role of an epidemiologist. To prepare for the role, I spent time with some of the best public health professionals in the world. And what was one of the most important things they taught me? Wash your hands like your hands depend on it, because right now, it just might,” said Winston, who played the role of Dr. Erin Mears, a member of CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, who is deployed totrack the outbreakand find a vaccine.

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, a little bit powerless at the moment, here’s something we can all do to make a difference, and it doesn’t require a medical degree, or a microscope, or a ton of knowledge. Soap and water is all you need,” Winslet said as she scientifically explained how the virus is literally ‘washed away’ in the process of  handwashing with soap.

Winslet then reminds viewers that the only way to get COVID-19 is from direct contact with a droplet from a cough or a sneeze of an infected person that finds its way to one’s body through the eyes, nose, or mouth.

The video “Laurence Fishburne on what we can do right now” features the actor discussing his role in the film, and how stop the spread of coronavirus.

“The virus in the movie was created by a screenwriter, COVID-19 is very real,” Fishburne, who played the role of Dr. Ellis Cheever, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, responsible for containing the spread of the hypothetical virus.

“The virus travels through human contact. Let’s not give it any help. One of the best ways to prevent yourself from getting COVID-19 is by behaving like you already have it. Which means, social distancing, staying at home, washing hands often, and listen to your public health officials,” Fishburne said.

Fishburne then briefly defined the meaning of the word ‘pandemic’ and highlighted changes that people around the world will be experiencing as a result of the outbreak.

“We can beat this thing together,  just by staying apart,” Fishburne added.

The video “Marion Cotillard on the choice we all have to make” features the actor discussing her role in the film, sharing her experience from France, and why it’s crucial to learn from one other in order to have a healthy future.

“Like everybody else I want nothing more than to help stop Covid-19. It is a choice but a choice we all have to make together,” said Marion Cotillard, who played the role of Dr. Leonora Orantes, a doctor at the World Health Organization, responsible for investigating the origins of the pathogen.

“There are two futures for those of you who have not seen the worst of this virus. There is a future where you listen to your public health experts and that means you go home now and stay there until it’s safe. A future where you take care of yourself by observing social distancing, working from home, not gathering in crowds and washing your hands with soap and water as often as possible,” Cotillard said.

“Then, there is is the future where you ignore the experts who are trying to help us. In that future, we watch our medical systems collapse as the virus spreads uncontrollably and the most vulnerable among us die in unfathomable and unnecessary numbers,” she added.

The video “Jennifer Ehle on what you need to know about vaccines” features the actor discussing her role in the film, and answers essential questions about the creation of a vaccine for COVID-19.

“The scientists who helped me prepare for the movie want us to know things that will help keep us safe. First, this is not a Chinese virus, or a virus that has no effect on the young and health.” Ehale said, who played the role of Dr Ally Hextall, a virologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the creator of a vaccine for the virus in the film.

According to scientists, Ehale said, “the vaccine will take anywhere from 16 to 18 months” to be produced. Ehle then explained why the production of a vaccine will require that much time.

A vaccine is a tool that teaches our immune system to attack a disease before it makes us sick. It works by safely exposing out immune system to a small part of the virus and doing that allows our body to manufacture antibodies…It is critical that a vaccine is safe and effective, and that means it needs to be tested, which takes time,” Ehle said.

Paranoia is a kind of virus as well, it requires feel and misinformation to spread. We don’t need scientist to cure that, just compassion and common sense. So until we have a vaccine or a cure, we need to be there for each other, ” Ehle added.

The videos have gone viral in the last three days, with some receiving more than 107,000 views on YouTube, 4,200 retweets and 9,700 likes on twitter. Additionally, fans have praised the concept of the campaign under the hashtag #ControltheContagion, which utilizes the platforms of celebrities to spread critical evidence-based information about the virus.

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