Infectious Disease Expert Who Consulted On Contagion Movie Tests Positive For Covid-19

Actress Kate Winslet plays a CDC expert in the film Contagion (2011)
Actress Kate Winslet plays a CDC expert in the film Contagion (2011)
Screenshot: Contagion

Dr. Ian Lipkin, an infectious disease expert who consulted on the film Contagion, has tested positive for covid-19, according to an interview he gave on the Fox Business channel last night. And thankfully Dr. Lipkin delivered a wake-up call to Fox viewers who may think the new coronavirus threat is minor since President Donald Trump has downplayed the severity of the pandemic from day one.

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Dr. Lipkin works as the director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University and appeared on the show Lou Dobbs Tonight telling viewers, “This has become very personal for me too, because I have covid as of yesterday, and it is miserable.”

Dr. Lipkin said he thinks he knows where he contracted the disease, but that it “doesn’t matter” ultimately because it could have been anywhere. “This virus is all over the United States,” Lipkin said.

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Lipkin, who can be heard coughing during the interview, stressed that President Trump’s plan to open up the country by Easter was ill-advised. Lipkin said he’d like to see more restrictions in places outside of New York to help slow down the transmission of the illness, which has skyrocketed this week.

“The one thing I would like to say with respect to what we’re talking about in terms of Easter, we really don’t know when we’re going to get this under control,” Lipkin said.

“It’s extraordinarily important that we harmonize whatever restrictions we have across the country,” Lipkin continued. “Because we have porous borders—between states, between cities—and unless we’re consistent, we’re not going to get ahead of this thing. Still, the very best tool that we have is isolation and confinement.”

The 2011 movie Contagion has become incredibly popular in the U.S. as more and more people sit at home in an effort to slow the spread of covid-19, which has sickened at least 55,200 people in the U.S. and killed at least 802.

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Lou Dobbs Tonight currently has a guest host because Dobbs is in quarantine after a member of his team tested positive for the new coronavirus. Dobbs did appear via video on the show last night, mostly to complain about Nancy Pelosi.

While Dr. Lipkin wanted to talk about the danger of loosening travel restrictions on the U.S. too quickly, guest host David Asman interjected to ask about the research being conducted on chloroquine, an experimental drug used for treating malaria that right-wing news outlets seem to believe is a miracle drug. The president has touted the drug repeatedly, leading one couple in Arizona to take the drug preventatively in the form of a fish tank cleaner. One man died and his wife was injured.

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President Trump made some shocking claims during a Fox News “town hall” yesterday, insisting that the U.S. shouldn’t limit the ability of people to go to work.

“Our people are full of vim and vigor and energy. They don’t want to be locked into a house or an apartment or some space,” Trump told the country on Fox News. “It’s not for our country, and we are not built that way.”

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Trump even compared the number of deaths to covid-19 to the number of people who die from things like car accidents and the flu.

“We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu, but we don’t turn the country off,” Trump said. “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call the automobile companies and say, ‘Stop making automobiles.’”

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Needless to say, not only does Dr. Lipkin disagree with the president’s assessment, virtually every public health expert does as well. Lipkin was quarantined in 2003 during the SARS epidemic in China and obviously knows what he’s talking about.

Gizmodo obtained over 900 pages of CDC emails about Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2017. The emails are all available on the Internet Archive and provide a behind-the-scenes look at how experts like Lipkin gave guidance to the film’s producers. Though, admittedly, a lot of the emails are simply about CDC employees being starstruck when one of the stars of the movie, Kate Winslet, visited the CDC headquarters in Atlanta.

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The film is credited with being very accurate in how pandemics play out, though the illness in Contagion is more deadly than our current coronavirus crisis. The upside is that fewer people who contract covid-19 will die than in the Hollywood version. But it also means that it’s easier to spread covid-19 because so many people are believed to be asymptomatic carriers.

“If it can hit me, it can hit anybody,” Lipkin said. “That’s the message I want to convey.”

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

etruwanonanon
Etruwanonanon

“We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu, but we don’t turn the country off,” Trump said. “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call the automobile companies and say, ‘Stop making automobiles.’”

That’s a lousy analogy because I would just ask him what would happen if everyone got the flu at the same time or got into car accidents all at once? Will our hospital system be able to cope?