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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

San Diego Outlines Plan To Help Homeless During Coronavirus Outbreak, US-Mexico Border Partially Shutdown, What The Film ‘Contagion’ Can Teach Us About Pandemics

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Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 An update on the county's response to the coven 19 virus. The shutdown of the Mexico border affects businesses and families. I'm Jade Hindman. I'm wearing Kavanaugh. This is KPBS midday edition.

Speaker 1: 00:23 It's Monday, March 23rd this is KPBS and and this is midday edition. We're making some changes to midday edition to respond to the coven 19 virus. First of all, co-host Jade Heinemann is working from home. I'm Marine and we are not having guests in studio. We're contacting them remotely, reaching them by Skype or zoom, even telephone. And we're doing something else so we haven't done in a long while. We're taking your calls during some segments of the show, asking you to join the conversation with your comments and observations about living with the spread of the Kovac 19 virus. Our phone number to call in is +1 888-895-5727 again, that's one eight eight eight eight nine five K PBS. And we're going to start off with KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen, who's been monitoring the joint to San Diego city and County news conference on the homeless. And Andrew, welcome to the program. Hi Maureen. Thank you. What were the takeaways from the news conference?

Speaker 2: 01:31 Well, the big news is that the city of San Diego is going to be repurposing the entirety of golden hall, uh, which is, uh, a building right next to city hall, um, on C street. Uh, typically it's used for large events. We just, uh, had, uh, an election. We had some coverage of election night. There are, they have big swearing in ceremonies for a new American citizens and uh, they've, uh, placed beds on the ground floor, uh, about 240 beds. We heard, uh, that will be used for, uh, it will be used or repurposed essentially as a new homeless shelter, uh, after that. Uh, and that, and this is expected to happen fairly soon, it sounds like, uh, in addition to that, the city is also going to be a deputy to or repurposing the San Diego convention center. Of course, many conventions, if not all of them at this point have been canceled because of restrictions on travel and on or restrictions on a large, and at this point, even small gatherings and people.

Speaker 2: 02:32 So the convention center, it's at this point is pretty much sitting idle and the city is seeing that as an opportunity to allow, uh, you know, more space, uh, for homeless individuals who of course are at a particular disadvantage and at a very high risk with this disease. Many homeless individuals are older or elderly, meaning they're more likely to, uh, face severe complications from COBIT. And many of them also have underlying health conditions. Living on the streets can really do a number on your health of course. So, um, it sounds like their goal is to, uh, scale up the convention center that it, that means at the very beginning they will be transitioning people who are right now in the existing shelter system, uh, many of those shelters are, uh, pretty much at capacity or over capacity. And, uh, the people who are staying, they're unable to practice a proper social distancing, meaning an infection, uh, in the shelter could spread quite quickly.

Speaker 2: 03:34 So there'll be transitioning people in the existing shelter system into golden hall and, uh, ended to the convention center when, once that is ready. And then after that point, they'll also start taking individuals who are unsheltered at this point who are living on the streets. So the bridge shelters aren't necessarily closing, is that right? That's right. So, and, and the bridge shelters, so these are four at this point. Uh, there are four a bridge shelters. They're essentially industrial tents, uh, at various locations throughout the city. And, uh, they are going to be used, uh, as those, as the homeless individuals who are staying in those bridge shelters transition into golden hall. And later on the convention center, um, those sites with the, you know, the big tents, um, will be used. Uh, what they, what we learned today, there'll be used as tree our centers.

Speaker 2: 04:26 So individuals who are unsheltered at this point, we'll be able to go to those places. If they're experiencing any kind of symptoms, they'll be able to, uh, get a screening from a public health nurse. And, um, and if they are showing any symptoms, there'll be, um, quickly placed in one of these, uh, several hundred more, almost 2000 at this point, uh, hotel and motel rooms, uh, reserved for people who are showing symptoms of coronavirus or, uh, people who have already tested positive. Do we know if the coven 19 virus has taken a hold in San Diego's homeless population? We don't at this point. And our reporter, Matt Hoffman, who was actually at this press conference and asked that exact question, have we seen any homeless individuals test positive for covert 19? Oh, what we heard from mayor Faulkner was at this point, he doesn't believe. So, um, we of course know that there, uh, the number of positive tests and uh, for Corona virus at this point in the city of San Diego, just yesterday, we got the latest numbers, which is 205 positive tests.

Speaker 2: 05:34 We know pretty much for a fact that there are many more people who are infected with the Corona virus at this point, but are simply unable to get tested because the tests are being reserved for the people who are, uh, who, who meet certain criteria if they've traveled recently or if they have had contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. So we don't, I guess is the answer if there is infection that's being spread in the homeless community. But it sounds like what the city is expecting at this point is that that is a very likely possibility. And as soon as the, as the [inaudible] you know, if and when the, the a virus does start spreading in the homelessness community, uh, it could have very, very serious implications for unsheltered individuals, which is why they're trying to get the shelter capacity up and running very soon.

Speaker 1: 06:24 Senate president pro tem Tony Atkins was also at this news conference. What is the state doing?

Speaker 2: 06:31 Well, the state has been trying to, uh, provide some funding their existing state funding streams for a homeless, the services. Uh, she says she's been in frequent communication with the governor. Um, and, uh, so I, I guess there's probably going to be some level of state support for all of this funding. We know that the state that this, the County of San Diego was selected, uh, yesterday, this came out in a press conference yesterday, um, this, this County of San Diego was, uh, selected by the state, uh, to create 250 new hospital beds. And this would, uh, they're trying to find sites for this at this point. Um, either, uh, you know, maybe the parking lots at, uh, the existing hospitals or a standalone station, uh, a sort of makeshift hospital somewhere else in the County. But the state has been, uh, at this point, manly, um, working to provide funding for things. I think that, um, that the County and city are implementing

Speaker 1: 07:30 you. Uh, you noted, Andrew, that we, you gave us the statistics of how the numbers in San Diego we discovered sad news over the weekend that San Diego has its first recorded covert 19 death. What do we know about that?

Speaker 2: 07:45 Yes. This, uh, news came out yesterday during the, uh, County press conference. The county's been holding daily press conferences at 2:30 PM. Um, we learned that the first person, uh, to die from COBIT 19, uh, in the County of San Diego, actually he was not in San Diego County. Uh, this was a man who was in his early seventies, and he was being cared for in Santa Clara County. So this, I guess, message was transmitted from Sarah Coyne, Santa Clara County down to San Diego County that San Diego County residents, uh, in his seventies had died from the Corona virus. We know that he, uh, it was mentioned that he had, um, recently traveled from Hawaii. Uh, so, uh, that's about all we know at this point. Um, they, they're, they haven't given a name and I don't think we necessarily need to know that information, but, um, you know, the, the fact that he was in the early seventies certainly speaks to, uh, what we know of the value of the virus, which is that um, older people are more likely to die from the Corona virus. Uh, we should also mention however that

Speaker 1: 08:49 drew, we have no time for that right now. [inaudible] no time for that right now. I really appreciate your information been speaking with Andrew Bowen, KPBS and Metro reporter

Speaker 3: 09:01 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 09:11 In an effort to stop the spread of covert 19 last Friday, president Trump closed the Southern border for all non-essential travel, but us citizens, legal permanent residents and people with work visas are still allowed to travel freely out of Mexico. It's Mexican citizens who have by national lives who will be most effected by the partial shutdown. The Trump administration says the new rules will remain in effect for at least 30 days. If you or your business has been affected by the border shutdown, give us a call and tell us about your experience. The number is +1 888-895-5727. Joining me to talk about the border closure, R F Meade, director of the trans border Institute at the university of San Diego. AV. Welcome to the program. I'm Marine Palla. Vila is vice president of the international business affairs for the San Diego chamber of commerce. Palo. Welcome. Thank you for having me. And KPBS reporter max Rivlin Nadler max. Hello. Hi, Marine max. You spoke with the Mexican council general to get his reaction to the border closure. What did he have to say?

Speaker 4: 10:21 Well, he told me that over the weekend, uh, and all of last week and it had been a process of coordinating with the United States over exactly who would be allowed in, on either side of the border and trying to do it in the least chaotic way possible. Um, that being said, on Friday in the hours leading up to the closure, it was a bit chaotic. A lot of people were trying to rush to the Southern side of the border to pick up things like dry cleaning, get their cars, and other people were deciding to come back to the U S because they didn't want to stay in Mexico for at least 30 days. Here is what the Mexican console and San Diego, Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez had to tell me about that process leading up to the decision,

Speaker 5: 11:00 both the U S and the Mexican government work through several days in order to define a set of regulations that are aimed to eliminate non-essentials travel, but at the same time not disrupt the economic change and the trade relations between the U S and Mexico. And that's why there is a series of, um, very specific definitions about what is considered essential travel.

Speaker 1: 11:37 So max, who are the people who will be turned away from entering the U S be caught because of this border closure.

Speaker 4: 11:45 So everyone who has a work visa to work in the U S even if it's not essential or what we consider to be essential can still enter the U. It's of course at the discretion of the customs agents themselves. But that's what's been communicated to the Mexican consulate. Us citizens, of course, always have the right to return to the United States at any point. And what the Mexican consulate in San Diego really wanted to stress to me as if you are an American citizen living in Baja, you shouldn't be concerned that if you wanted to go to the U S for work or to buy things, that you wouldn't be allowed to go back into Mexico. Likewise, if you're an American citizen who has relatives in Mexico, your grandparents, your aunt, your uncle, you can still visit them and you will still be allowed back into the U S the big thing that this will impact are people who would be going down for purely recreational purposes like tourism or heading to the beach.

Speaker 1: 12:37 How has this, I'm sorry, go ahead.

Speaker 4: 12:40 Yeah, so that's that.

Speaker 1: 12:42 Okay, so how has this partial closure impacted how busy the ports of entry are?

Speaker 4: 12:48 So even on Friday, even leading up to, uh, the closure or the partial closure of the port of entry, you saw a ton of traffic kind of disappear. The lines that we're used to just being hours long, uh, kind of dissipate. And that was mostly to do with uh, people on the California side following the stay at home order and not going to Mexico and, and businesses in the U S being close. So people who work in Mexico who go to the U S every day, not being able to go in addition to schools being closed earlier today, Pete Flores, the director of field operations for customs and border protection in San Diego, had this to say about just how much traffic crossed the border has gone down

Speaker 6: 13:30 this weekend. CBP officers at our San Diego field office, port of entry is still processed over 103 northbound travelers into the United States. But access is temporarily limited to prevent further introduction of the COBIT 19 into the United States. Since TVP began implementing the CDC order on Saturday night through Saturday night and went into Sunday night, we have seen a decline in our traffic at our ports of entry, about a 70% decrease.

Speaker 1: 14:00 We're taking your comments on the border shutdown. Have you seen what the San Ysidro border crossing looks like right now with a partial border closure in place? If you have, tell us about a, give us a call at +1 888-895-5727. And Paula, I want to go to you. What kind of impact are you expecting on business in San Diego right now?

Speaker 7: 14:26 Well, the truth is that, um, as max stated before this, people, businesses had already moved their operations as much as possible to remote and virtual, um, moving their employees to a work at home situation when possible. It's really the last week we've seen, um, only essential operations that have been going on. So our workforce has already been under this essential definition. Um, and so there has been limited impact. The impact really has been more, um, concerns. Will that change? Will our essential workforce continue to be able to, um, make it, uh, to work, you know, for those that live across the border. And as you know, our region is very unique in that a regular business is that, um, and operations and services have a cross border workforce across sectors. Um, uh, unlike other parts of, of the country.

Speaker 1: 15:31 This is a question for EV Mead. What is the Corona virus situation in Mexico? How does it compare with the United States?

Speaker 8: 15:39 Well, it's really interesting and I'm, I'm glad you asked that question because what I would say I'm, and I think the friendliest way to put it, um, is that Mexico is about two weeks behind, both in terms of the official response and public consciousness of it, of where we are in the U S if you look at the spread of cases, um, it makes sense. You know, two weeks ago Mexico had really, you know, in the, in the whole country there are only five detected cases. So it makes sense. I would be a little bit behind us, but of course that also, um, you know, for those of us who work in the cross border space, it was absolutely surreal to feel California locking down and, um, to be, you know, canceling things like in person meetings. No, I canceled them. Um, a teaching event with 170 people in, in [inaudible].

Speaker 8: 16:25 And you know, our local partners, they seem to understand but they weren't on any kind of lockdown really. And there was very little public awareness. So, um, I think it's mostly the timing. The other thing that I would say on that is that I think, um, you know, we, we hope that, that, that public consciousness will change really fast there because there are some things that in hindsight, based on our experience in the U S and certainly based on the experience in Europe, um, seemed to be, you know, pretty lacking. Aluna you've got a South, for example, national newspaper in Mexico ran a story, um, just this weekend with an estimate that, you know, at worst, Mexico might have 2000 deaths. Um, I don't know, a public health person in the world who would agree with that. I mean, it just seems irresponsible. Um, and while Mexico city, it appears today is, is more, is more locked down. There are a few people in the street, there are images from this weekend of just thousands of people going about their business and really close quarters. So, um, I think there's a lot to be, there's a lot to be concerned about and hopefully, um, you know, the experience here and the experience in Europe will trickle down and, um, and there'll be a better response at the, at the federal level in Mexico in particular.

Speaker 1: 17:33 And the numbers coming out of Mexico for the people infected with Corona virus is just a little over 13. Are those numbers reliable of

Speaker 8: 17:42 it's the same as everywhere. It's all about whether there's testing going on or not. Uh, and, and in Mexico I would say, you know, public information about this is behind a, because there's not been a lot of testing, but B, because you know, the, the government has been very defensive. You know, they have, um, put published lists of, of like eligible test centers and testing companies, but without actually verifying if they have the, the ability to carry out a COBIT 19 tests. They've also done things like for a couple of weeks there were circulating flyers that had charts of different kinds of symptoms so that people could sort of self-diagnose whether they had a common cold or the flu or cobot 19. Something that, that I think most public health folks now would say is pretty irresponsible because it can give people who very well may be infected, a false sense of security.

Speaker 8: 18:32 I think the public health officials in Mexico have now pulled that back. But like I say, there was a couple of weeks there when there was this huge global awareness. Uh, and Mexico seemed to be really behind. The ironic thing though that I would say and you know, in light of, um, you know, people are as is, um, comments earlier and the comments from the U S government and the focus on the border if we focus back on our region. Um, it is true though that, you know, when we're talking about closing the border right now, if you look at the known vectors of disease, it's really much more about protecting Mexico from being infected from the United States rather than the other way around. And so I think that this talk about, you know, further introduction of the disease in the U S is a little bit, um, I mean I understand it, it's not totally unreasonable in a middle of a public health crisis, but we do need to think about that. I mean, you know, we have a lot of known cases. They have very few closing the border is as much about protecting Mexico as it is about protecting us.

Speaker 7: 19:27 And Paula, I want to bring you back in. You know, the restrictions on going in and out and traveling are having a major impact on the U S economy. What's the impact on the cross border economy? Well, as you know, um, our economies are completely linked and that's across industries and sectors. So removing, um, are impacting a sector as important for us as tourism and recreation, which is the one that's impacted with this border restriction is, is quite dire for our economy. Um, it is an industry that is the lifeblood of our economy. So, um, it will, as we've seen, you know, just domestically result in a huge economic hit. We've already, we're already experiencing the, the hit to the tourism, uh, our restaurants or retail and, and such. So it is tremendous. Um, with that said though, you know, that's, we are in a very unique situation here where, um, we need to limit and take actions to limit the spread. Um, you know, in the or we take measures, um, strict measures to limit the spread. The more we can prevent, um, uh, a greater economic hit, right. And the sooner we can overcome this crisis and try and move towards restarting the economy. Um, so it is, it is impactful. Um, but I do think it's necessary. All right. And when would you like to see, uh, this, this partial shutdown lifted?

Speaker 7: 21:08 Well, I think, um, a better question is do we move, will it remain as just these certain rows restrictions? Will there be more restrictions? I think I, we might see more restrictions before it's even lifted. Um, this is just the initial phase as Eve said. Um, if Mexico does not take action and their cases, um, inc firmed cases increase as they are doing here and we reached the point where perhaps we start leveling the curve, you're going to see greater restrictions. I think that's what's next to come. Unfortunately, unless Mexico does take those actions more important than travel restrictions of Mexico needs to impose the same restrictions that we have here. Limiting, uh, restricting events and gatherings completely moving and asking people to stay at home. And as was mentioned earlier, the president of Mexico, um, easily even as recently as yesterday in the news, um, in a press briefing encouraged people to go out and, and take their families out to restaurants and you know, not stay at home.

Speaker 1: 22:20 Now we're taking your comments on the border shutdown. Our number here is one eight, eight, eight, eight, nine, five, five, seven, two, seven. Max, I want to go back to you. What is the impact of this border closure on asylum seekers who are waiting in Mexico?

Speaker 4: 22:37 Yeah, so the people who are waiting in Mexico right now, beginning last Thursday and Friday, they had their court cases, uh, delayed for those in the remain in Mexico program. Um, they were given, they showed up at the port of entry and were told that they could come back this week for a new court date. Uh, today the courts were also shut down this time, not by the immigration judges, but by border patrol and customs and border protection themselves. Uh, so for people who have been returned to Mexico under their main New Mexico program, they have to wait in Mexico now for, for quite some time, uh, in addition to the amount of time they've already been waiting. Now for people who are caught between ports of entries, that's where it gets a bit more interesting. The administration has announced a new policy along the Southern border and chief Aaron and Heikki, the chief patrol agent of San Diego custom border patrol sector, explained it this morning. How it would go down.

Speaker 6: 23:30 Quick interviews will be conducted in the field, basic biographic scans run in the field as well. Then the individuals will be brought back to the border and expelled to the country they came from.

Speaker 1: 23:42 Thank you max. I want to go back to you AV and expand upon something that you were saying before about the fact that, cause I don't think we think about this enough. Uh, Mexico has had relatively few cases of coven 19. We have 40,000 plus cases in the United States now. So the border cross border traffic going southbound might be more dangerous than the one coming North.

Speaker 8: 24:05 Yeah, I think that's true. I mean again, it's, it's all about detection and testing and when we, if we get a better testing regime, which I hope we will in Mexico shortly that that could change. I mean the, the one thing I would like to say though is just like here and I'm really glad you guys, you know, began the show talking about vulnerable populations here. We've got to talk about the most vulnerable populations on the border. Um, the migrant shelters in Tijuana right now are at capacity as they have been for some time, but they're running out of hand sanitizer. They're running out of disinfectant, they're running out of masks. Um, they're worried, seriously worried about running out of food. And, um, this is something, you know, these are people who are in the conditions where people are most likely to get sick generally.

Speaker 8: 24:53 Uh, and a respiratory illness like Cova does tend to go after people who are in overcrowded conditions or in substandard conditions. And you know, what I want people to think about is, you know, we've already kind of been kind of at the brink and Tiguan it with regard to, um, a population kind of living in a uncertainty, not sure if they're going to come to the United States. And then mixed in with, uh, a large population of deportees. And the one thing that keeps that system going has been, um, and almost inexhaustible source of employment in Tijuana. The one advantage she want us had over other places that receive a lot of deportees and have a lot of, uh, transient, uh, refugee populations is that you can always go work in Tijuana. What was the economic situation that we're encountering now and possible restrictions and stay at home owners, et cetera. That may not be true anymore. We have a caller on the line. Yeah,

Speaker 1: 25:45 we have a caller on the line right now. Uh, Tony?

Speaker 9: 25:48 Yes. Hello.

Speaker 1: 25:49 Hi. What's your goal? What's your comment about the border closure?

Speaker 9: 25:54 Um, I just want you to point out that uh, the fourth to the 10th of April in Mexico is some on the center Easter week holiday. It's a very big deal. And in the town of [inaudible] where I live, uh, we have 50, 60, 70,000 people come from all over the border area from San Diego, Imperial County, Los Angeles, everybody flocks to San Philippe. And it's a big beer party on the beach, basically for a week.

Speaker 1: 26:30 It may not happen this year. Tony may not happen. If, if we're hearing, uh, what max and [inaudible] have been telling us, that Mexico may be slow to be adopting some of the same restrictions that we have in this country. They are still moving in that direction, aren't they? Have,

Speaker 8: 26:49 I would think so. I mean, it's hard to predict, but I can't imagine that the [inaudible] the, the situation one tough changed the, uh, the other thing in Mexico too is like the United States. Um, I think you'll start to see States and municipalities take their own measures, uh, regardless of of what the federal authorities do or don't do.

Speaker 1: 27:06 So do you think we'll be seeing that get together this year?

Speaker 8: 27:10 I mean, I'm, in my opinion, I think that, that I, I would not bet on it. Um, you know, I, I do work in, in several States in Mexico where, again, the federal response was slow, but especially, uh, places that are in touch with, um, a lot of people in the United States and abroad. I mean, the message is getting through and everybody's kind of adapting on the fly and, and figuring out social distancing. Um, so I, I would guess that that would not happen.

Speaker 1: 27:37 Okay. Then we'll, we'll wait and see. And I'd like to thank my guests. I have made director of the transporter Institute at the university of San Diego, Paula Avila, vice president of international business affairs for the San Diego chamber of commerce and KPBS reporter max Rivlin Adler. Thank you all.

Speaker 3: 27:54 Thank you. Thank you Marie

Speaker 5: 28:05 films and books have imagined pandemics, much like the one we're experiencing right now,

Speaker 1: 28:10 and an excerpt from her cinema junkie podcast KPBS arts reporter Beth Armando speaks with Joel worth. I'm UC San Diego, assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases and global public health about the film contagion,

Speaker 5: 28:25 which he uses to teach a class on epidemiology. Joel, I wanted to talk to you about films that deal with pandemics, but first give us a little background on who you are and kind of what your connection to epidemiology is. So my training is in evolutionary biology. When I look in the mirror, I see an evolutionary biologist staring back at me, but I've applied my training to understanding how a virus is spread among people using the viruses, genetic sequence to track how it moves from person to person and from place to place. So Joel, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is that you teach a class on epidemiology that uses the film contagion as kind of a jumping off point. What about this film makes it useful for you? I remember when I first saw the movie, I was taken aback at how realistic it was.

Speaker 5: 29:23 It seemed less like a three-act film and more like this instructive video on what a pandemic is going to look like. At the same time, it's remarkably entertaining. It was a lot than the previous movies I had seen, uh, on pandemics and ones that were far more, uh, fanciful. And how do you use it in the classroom? At the beginning of the class, uh, I have every student watched the film, uh, from beginning to end, uh, before we even meet. And then I start every class with a clip from the film that goes over a topic that we will discuss that week. And I'll also have them read papers on that specific topic. But every class begins with a clip. So do you use different clips, kind of prefer each session? Uh, yes. So, uh, usually we'll start, um, if we need to explain, uh, contact tracing among people who have been affected. There's, uh, an excellent scene, uh, where, uh, Kate Winslow's character, uh, interviews, um, a patient and, uh, asks them about their contacts in the context of his wife. And that's a very realistic

Speaker 10: 30:51 approach. Did you mention seeing anyone who was sick? Anyone on a, on a plane?

Speaker 3: 30:59 No.

Speaker 10: 31:01 She went through customs in Chicago at 11:15 AM and then took a flight to Minneapolis at 6:00 PM. Any idea what she did in Chicago during that layover? Did she have meetings? Is there any reason she might've left the airport?

Speaker 11: 31:22 Well, I mean, uh, is there someone in sick in Chicago? Uh, before we were married, my wife had a relationship with a man in Chicago named John Neal. Is John Neil sick? Did we get this from him? We're investigating all the no, no. I think I have a right to know. Look at where I am here. Look at where I am here. No, I'm just trying to understand. I know [inaudible]

Speaker 5: 31:54 there were other scenes where she explains complex, uh, epidemiological concepts like are not, which now I would say a good chunk of America could explain to each other

Speaker 10: 32:06 what we need to determine. Is this for every person who gets sick, how many other people are they likely to infect? So for seasonal flu, that's usually about one smallpox. On the other hand, it's over three. Now before we had a vaccine, polio spread at a rate between four and six. Now we call that number the R not R stands for the reproductive rate of the virus. Any ideas what that might be for this, how fast it multiplies depends on a variety of factors. The incubation period, how long a person is contagious. Sometimes people can be contagious without even having symptoms. We need to know that too. And we need to know how big the population of people susceptible to the virus might be. So far that appears to be everyone with hands and mouth and a nose. Once we know the Arnott, we'll be able to get a handle on the scale of the epidemic. So it's an epidemic now, an epidemic of what we send samples to the CDC in 72 hours. We'll know what it is

Speaker 12: 33:18 now. The opening from that film, especially in today's context is really, it's one of the more kind of terrifying things you can watch because it's a very casual look at how many things people touch just in everyday life and just in a simple interaction. And it just follows Gwyneth Paltrow's character and her credit card and where it goes and her, the drink. So, um, talk a little bit about that scene and kind of what it can convey to us in today's times.

Speaker 5: 33:53 Well, I was just at the grocery store the other day, one of my first times out, uh, since we've all been asked to self isolate. And in this situation you really start to notice everything that you touch. And that's not really something that you would think about if you weren't watching a movie on a pandemic or living through one. And it's amazing how hyper aware, uh, that scene makes you have everything around you and help potentially, uh, there could be pathogens lying on there waiting to infect you.

Speaker 12: 34:30 Yeah, it's a really well done sequence in how kind of I w one of the things I like about the film is that on a certain level it's very low key. Even though it's dealing with things that have kind of like enormous impact. It's not like sensationalizing stuff.

Speaker 5: 34:48 Oh, absolutely. Because, uh, one of my favorite parts of it is, uh, where uh, somebody from, uh, the national security asks of the head of the CDC about sort of weaponizing, uh, pathogens or bird flu and he tells them that's already happening in nature. I think the quote is the birds are already doing it, which is true. When you look at these coronaviruses within bats, there are just myriad viruses that are, that could jump into people and some of them won't be very pathogenic and some of them will cause extreme mortality. And burnout like SARS and then some are just very transmissible and fairly, uh, deadly and that's what we're experiencing now and it's all there in nature. You don't need to sort of gussy it up. It's very frightening sort of just under the surface.

Speaker 12: 35:50 And in looking at a film like contagion, uh, in your class or just in general, what do you think people now, like if somebody were to go online and stream that film, what could they get from that film that might be helpful to them?

Speaker 5: 36:04 Mother, last week she had seen it before and I thought it would be good for her to watch it again, just to make her acutely aware of what can happen and how we need to best react. The social isolation, the not touching of objects or people. I think it's very instructive in that regard. Plus I think I'm a healthy dose of concern and a modicum of fear isn't the worst thing right now. Just sort of keep us away from one another.

Speaker 12: 36:42 Now, as somebody who's an epidemiologist, it seems like on a daily basis you're dealing with information that is what horror films are made of in the sense of like these are tiny little microbes, you know, so small, we can't see them. And you know, some people don't even consider them living organisms. So they're not even something that you could think about reasoning with. And yet these are the things that can completely devastate humanity in different ways.

Speaker 5: 37:09 Yeah. So, uh, first let me say that I wish that my expertise was not relevant to the state of the world right now. It's not a good day when friends and family and family friends are calling me up asking for my opinion on rapid spread of viruses around the world and how to react. But at the same time, for those of us who study this, that is the world that we understand. Infectious disease has shaped human history since the beginning. And the way we order our societies and the way that a lot of our culture is built has its history and in the way we respond to infectious diseases.

Speaker 12: 37:57 Well. And it also seems like with a film like contagion, also max Brooks is world war Z book. Both of these seem very kind of prescient in terms of some of the specifics of their fictitious stories. Um, both have the virus starting in China both have the sense of, you know, information being repressed at the initial point, possibly making it worse. So it seems like with fictitious stories kind of laying this groundwork, it doesn't seem like that helped us in any way to be more prepared.

Speaker 5: 38:32 I do wish we had, we, a society had taken this threat a little more seriously. Part of the reason that contagion was able to be so accurate is because it was based on a whole lot of other similar events that had happened. Uh, the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003 viruses like, uh, the NIPA virus and Hendra, which, uh, the virus and contagion was based on that, uh, went from bads possibly to pigs and into humans. And they didn't really, or in Hendra, uh, horses, and they didn't really go sort of pandemic in that sense, but they clearly had the opportunity to, and it was just sort of that one last step that sustained human to human transmission that was missing. But I mean, I think it's a, it's a spectacular film, but it didn't require a lot of imagination to see this happening, to present it so eloquently, it took a lot of skill, but it wasn't out of left field. People ask me, you know, could you ever imagine something like this happening? And the answer is yes. Okay. Well, I want to thank you very much for talking to me about contagion. Absolutely. I like talking about it. That was Beth Armando, Mondo speaking with Joel Worthen to hear the full interview checkout Beth's cinema junkie podcast coming out this Thursday on Apple podcasts and wherever you get your podcasts.

The city of San Diego announced it will use Golden Hall and the Convention Center to shelter homeless people and help stem the spread of the coronavirus. Plus, the U.S.-Mexico border has been shut down to nonessential traffic. But most people with valid reasons can still cross. And, a UC San Diego epidemiologist is using the film “Contagion” to teach medical students about pandemics.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.