Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, more Contagion stars reunite for coronavirus PSA
In partnership with Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, and Jennifer Ehle — who all previously appeared among the principal cast of Soderbergh's 2011 thriller about a deadly viral outbreak — teamed for a series of videos in which they share evidence-based information (supplied by university professionals) about COVID-19 in an effort to assist viewers in better protecting themselves and their communities.
"I played an epidemiologist trying to stop the spread of a hypothetical virus. To prepare for the role, I spent time with some of the best public health professionals in the world," Winslet, who also offered tips on how to properly sneeze or cough into the pocket of your elbow, says in her clip. "What was one of the most important things they taught me? Wash your hands like your life depends on it, because, right now, in particular, it just might."
Damon's video recalls his (immune) character's approach to protecting his daughter from the virus after it killed his wife (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), which included social distancing for months until a vaccine was created.
"That was a movie, this is real life. I have no reason to believe I'm immune to COVID-19, and, neither do you, no matter how young you are. This is a new virus and it's going to take some time for our bodies and our doctors to understand it and to understand the best way to protect us," Damon says, telling those ignoring government advice to stay indoors and avoid public gatherings that they stand to spread the virus to at least three people beyond themselves, even if they aren't exhibiting symptoms. "Social distancing means staying six feet away from another person. It means not gathering in groups and it means staying home or sheltering in place if that's what government officials are telling you what to do. People can have COVID-19 and have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, so even if you think they're health or you think you're healthy, don't take that chance. It's not worth it."
Fishburne, who played a Center for Disease Control doctor in Contagion, adds that human-to-human contact is ill-advised during this time: "There's a scene in the movie Contagion about the tradition of hand-shaking. You extended your hand and showed the person you were meeting that you didn't have a weapon, that you weren't carrying one. Now, the way we're living is like we're all carrying a weapon and we don't even know it. What we do know is that the virus travels through human contact. It needs us to survive, so, let's not give it any help."
Finally, Ehle, who portrayed a scientist who helped discover a treatment for the film's imagined virus, discusses the creation of a potential vaccine for the coronavirus.
"If you're anything like me, your first question is: How long will a vaccine take? Scientists say anywhere from 16 to 18 months, and scientists and doctors are the people we need to be listening to right now," Ehle explains, further outlining how a vaccine works in the human body and the importance of performing lengthy vaccine tests before it can be released to the public. "They are the experts. That means tuning out the voices with other agendas no matter how powerful they might be."
Finally, Cotillard's video features the French Oscar-winning actress (who had a role in the film as a World Health Organization doctor) predicting a grim future if safety precautions aren't taken.
"There is a future where you listen to your public health experts, and that means you go home now and stay there until they say it's safe, a future where you take care of yourself and the people you love by observing social distancing, working from home, not gathering in crowds, and washing your hands with soap and water as often as possible," she says, posing that the alternative will see "medical systems collapse as the virus spreads uncontrollably and the most vulnerable among us die in unfathomable and unnecessary numbers."
A press release for the videos indicates the videos were shot by the actors themselves with no crew (except Winslet's, which was shot by her husband) and written under the guidance of the experts who worked on Contagion, including Dr. Larry Brilliant, Mark Smolinski, Laurie Garrett, and Columbia's Dr. W. Ian Lipkin — who himself recently tested positive for coronavirus.
"Steven Soderbergh, screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, Participant and the cast of Contagion want to thank our experts for their guidance both then and now," the release reads. "This is a time when we all need to listen to public health experts, scientists and doctors who are fighting to stop the spread of COVID-19. These short films were our way of showing support for their brave and lifesaving work."
Watch the university's videos with Damon, Winslet, Fishburne, Cotillard, and Ehle above.
For the latest information on coronavirus (COVID-19), including how to protect yourself and what to do if you think you are sick, please visit coronavirus.gov.