As streaming numbers for Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 virus outbreak thriller “Contagion” continue to skyrocket in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the film’s screenwriter Scott Z. Burns is speaking out against the Trump administration over its lackluster response to the outbreak in the U.S. Burns tells Slate the country was “in a better place to deal with” a virus outbreak when he was doing research for “Contagion” prior to 2011 than the country is now in 2020. The writer says during that time “we had a Department of Homeland Security that had a pandemic-preparedness team in place” and “there were people who understood how public health works,” which is no longer the case.
“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,” Burns says. “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.”
Burns condemns Trump for using the coronavirus to justify his political agenda, most notably in Trump’s belief that building his wall on the U.S.-Mexico border would help keep the virus out of the country. As Burns says, “The issue isn’t playing games with our borders; it’s how we take care of people now. It’s stunning to me that our administration can’t put out a clear message on how people can stay safe and what our tools are for understanding the current spread. There’s a video on YouTube of a song they did in Vietnam about hand-washing and how important it is. Why isn’t our government putting out public service messages about how to stay safe? That isn’t that hard.”
For Burns, the best thing the government and the American people could be doing right now is listening to public health officials and letting public health officials lead the charge. The writer says he’s baffled Trump’s administration is not letting officials lead the response in the U.S and appalled 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,” Burns says. “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.”