‘Contagion’ Writer Scott Z. Burns Calls Out U.S. Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

     March 12, 2020


Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, the man behind 2011’s Contagion, is putting his research for the film to good use in calling out the United States’ response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Burns recently spoke to Slate about the renewed interest (for lack of a better word) in Contagion as people flock toward it to find some comfort or sanity in these uncertain times. In response to this, Burns began by saying, “Well, obviously, you know, it’s very upsetting to see people getting sick and dying. The part of me that is a human being is more struck by this than the part of me that is a filmmaker,” and continued,


Image via Warner Bros.

“That being said, it has been very strange to me, whether on social media or in conversations with friends, that people will say to me, ‘This is uncanny how similar it is.’ And I don’t find it to be that surprising, because the scientists I spoke to, and there were a lot of them, all said that this was a matter of when, not if. So, I guess my feeling as someone who believes in science is that when scientists tell us those things we would do well to listen.”

Burnss continued by recalling how his 2009 and 2010 research for Contagion, which includes protocols set in place by the CDC and study of the Department of Health’s response measures to a pandemic like the one seen in the film, are actually extremely useful right now. As such, it’s beyond lamentable how poor the current administration’s response to this very serious coronavirus pandemic currently affecting nearly every aspect of our lives is playing out.


Image via Warner Bros.

“It is incredible to me that we are not letting the really amazing public health people in this country lead the response—that we are finding out that we don’t have enough test kits and have for some reason disbanded our pandemic-preparedness teams. When I was at the CDC researching the movie in 2009 and 2010, those people were extraordinary. It was no different than the feeling you might get if you went to a firehouse and saw how committed those first responders are to keeping people safe. Slashing the budgets of those things is something I would have never contemplated as a screenwriter. When people tell me that the movie seems to be coming true, I say to them that I never contemplated that we would have leadership in this country that would gut our defense. This administration and this Republican Party talk about protecting people with a wall, and we can’t even make test kits.”

Additionally, Burns expressed his discontent with the dissolution of key groups, like the pandemic preparedness team, meant to ensure the public health and safety of the American public right now. Bodies once in place to keep us safe and mete out the necessary care have been reduced in certain ways or eradicated altgoether — a grim sign of the changing times since Contagion‘s release.

“We were in a better place to deal with this when I was doing research on the movie. We had a Department of Homeland Security that had a pandemic-preparedness team in place. There were people who understood how public health works. I listened to a press conference that the president gave where he described himself as a businessman who didn’t like it when people were just sitting around. Well, I wonder how he feels about the fire department. I live near a firehouse, and those people spend some time sitting around when there’s no fire‚ but you can’t build a fire department once your house is on fire. Unfortunately, this administration has decided that is what it wants to do, and it puts people way behind. When you look at the amount of testing this country has done compared to other countries, that’s the part that is scary to me.”

Of course, Burns also touched on just how prescient his research for Contagion and the movie itself is in understand the importance of public health. As he reminded Slate and those reading his interview: “What I came to understand it to be was an obligation we have to each other. Right now, as our country is so divided, this is actually a moment to build bridges and to say, regardless of your differences with your neighbor, we can keep each other safe if we do the right things. And that means social distancing. That means washing your hands a lot.”

For more, go here to see which events and movie releases have been postponed or cancelled due to growing coronavirus concerns.

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