Get Down with the Sickness: A Horror Fan’s Guide to Surviving the Coronavirus
Now, don’t go freaking out over that headline… I’m not trying to exploit or belittle the seriousness of the COVID-19 (a.k.a. Novel Coronavirus) pandemic, and I’m obviously not qualified to offer legitimate prevention and/or response tips [I’ll leave that to the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health, who can answer most of your questions with… you know, actual science]. Instead, in my own humble way, I’d like to provide a little mental respite from all this real-world scariness by doing what most of us horror fans do in times of crisis: watch more horror.
It’s no joke, really: case studies like this one support the idea that watching scary movies, reading spooky stories or indulging in any fear-inspiring art can actually relieve tension and stress, as well as providing the mental fortitude to handle the all-too-real horrors of everyday life. I’d like to think that gives many of us fans a slight edge in dealing with an otherwise panic-inducing crisis: if we can conquer imaginary monsters on the screen or the page (even by proxy, assuming we identify with the characters in these stories), we can re-wire our brains to deal with real-life threats more effectively.
With that in mind, I’ve put together this little survival guide by addressing all the important safety measures you need to know – but framing them in a horror movie context. In other words, no matter what curve-ball nature throws your way, there’s at least one horror movie which addresses that issue.
“This is Rumor Control. Here are the facts…”
I should restate that you should not consider this guide a substitute for scientifically sound common-sense preparedness (wash your hands, ya filthy animals), so consider this your second disclaimer, and be sure to consult the CDC, NIH and WHO links provided. But since you’re probably spending more time at home watching horror movies and shows, playing horror games and reading scary books and comics, think of this as a handy viewer’s guide to improve your mental health – which is just as important when it comes to fending off any feelings of helplessness or anxiety you might be experiencing right now.
[Note: You won’t find Contagion, Outbreak or any other non-genre titles here, nor any documentaries. Also, no bitching about this article being “irresponsible.” This is not the time for misguided outrage.]
Enough preamble already… let’s get to the healing process.
Pictured: NOT the Coronavirus.
Avoid Close Contact with People Who Are Sick
This should be a no-brainer, but it’s worth noting the COVID-19 virus strain has a relatively long gestation period – compared to, say, the latest batch of influenza or the common cold. Therefore, you could be a carrier and not even know it (more on that below), and conversely, you could be chumming up on a carrier who doesn’t have symptoms – not yet, anyway.
We do not endorse the MacReady Test™ in this particular situation.
I’m not encouraging you to close yourself off from all human contact, like MacReady in his shack in John Carpenter’s The Thing – after all, that approach didn’t work for him or anyone else at Outpost 31. Just assume anyone you meet could be a potential carrier, and take the necessary precautions.
Pictured: NOT a necessary precaution.
The fictional “Rage Virus” that touches off the events of 28 Days Later is shown to originate with laboratory animals like chimpanzees, then passed on to humans, which is one trait it shares with COVID-19: a factor known as “zoonosis,” which simply means the contagion can pass from one animal species to another. In some cases, the animal carrier experiences no ill effects from the virus, but serves instead as a “vector” for transmitting the pathogen to another species.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be on guard against your own dog, cat, goat, budgie, iguana or reticulated python – this is not a “nature run amok” situation. But it’s always smart to keep them inside, because a contagious person may pet them – after which your animal pal brings the virus into your house. It’s a highly unlikely scenario, but you shouldn’t be letting pets roam the neighborhood anyway.
As a horror fan, you should know better.
Here’s another huge difference: the ghoul rules first established in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (and continued in its sequels, knock-offs, remakes and parodies) suggest that the undead spread the contagion by biting or scratching their victims, and in Return of the Living Dead, The Stand or Resident Evil, the mass infection is triggered by an airborne pathogen or a leaked chemical from a secret experiment gone horribly wrong. But the Rage-infected of 28 Days Later and its sequel can simply pass the virus to another host via a single drop of blood entering the victim’s eyes, nose or mouth. Which leads me to my next point…
Avoid Touching Your Eyes, Nose or Mouth
Those of us with reasonably healthy immune systems tend to coast on their apparent good fortune (we all know that person who smugly states, “I never get sick”), without taking the law of averages into account. For example: you may be the world’s safest driver – or think you are – but the longer you’re on the road, the heavier the odds of you getting into an accident. The same goes for physical contact with pathogens: all it takes is one moment of forgetfulness after shaking someone’s hand or grabbing a door handle in a public building, and bam! You’re now infected.
I’m not trying to scare you, but we’ve seen this happen in films like Cabin Fever, in which a flesh-eating bacteria – which Eli Roth based on a real-life infection he contracted while working on a farm – is transmitted through fluids, and ends up contaminating bottled water on its way to stores. Or once again, The Thing – in which the dwindling Outpost 31 survivors are encouraged to eat canned food to prevent the alien’s cells from hijacking their own.
Wash Your Hands Thoroughly (and Often)
Another thing we tend to forget in the day-to-day is the simple act of washing our hands after touching surfaces outside our homes. Testing has already proven how your own smartphone often has more microorganisms hiding in its nooks and crannies than your toilet seat, and let’s be honest – how often do you disinfect your phone? I’m going to venture a guess your answer falls somewhere between “weekly” and “never.”
The virus is coming from inside the phone!
But even if you put your phone aside before you touch your face, it’s still critical to wash your hands first. Sanitizers are great in a pinch, but nothing is more effective for purging viruses from your skin than about 20-30 seconds of scrubbing your hands with soap and the hottest water you can handle.
Think of these invisible menaces as the creepy black tendrils of Splinter: just one cell in your system will multiply geometrically, and before you know it, you’re a walking virus. The critical difference is that extreme cold is the best defense against the fictional splinter organism, while Coronaviruses are notoriously resistant to cold – in fact, they often live longer in a cold environment than at room temperature.
Cover Your Mouth and Nose When Sneezing or Coughing
As I mentioned above, due to COVID-19’s long gestation period, you could be a walking virus and not even know it. While self-centered folks might think “What’s the point? I’m already sick,” they’re not just being jerks; they’re jeopardizing everyone susceptible to infection, which could ultimately come back to bite them in the ass – sometimes literally. When the highly contagious virus depicted in Rabid begins surging through Toronto, government officials approach the contagion in much the same way China addressed the spread of COVID-19 in Wuhan: by ordering citizens indoors and spraying down streets and buildings with disinfectant.
As of this writing, there’s still not enough data to develop a vaccine, so when you spread your funk to the dude next in line at Starbucks, you could be transmitting it to everyone they come in contact with. You’ll still be sick, and now so will everyone else. Even when a vaccine is declared safe and effective for public use, it won’t help you if you’ve already contracted the virus; there’s no “cure” other than what your own defense system has in its arsenal.
Also, don’t be suckered into thinking you can somehow fortify your immunity by gobbling vitamin C and zinc supplements (they’re about as effective as “Flu Buddy” was against the “Captain Trips” plague in The Stand), and don’t fall for scam artists claiming to have a miracle cure (especially this toxic bullshit, which could very likely kill you).
If You’re Sick, Limit Contact with Others
John Goodman may have been a bit overbearing and just plain creepy when it came to securing his bunker against contamination in 10 Cloverfield Lane, but he basically had the right idea. According to the CDC, self-quarantine is the most effective method for preventing the spread of infection, especially this early in the game. As I mentioned above, there is no “cure” for a viral infection, so it all comes down to reliance on your natural defenses. Stay in bed, drink plenty of water, keep your electrolytes balanced, and for cryin’ out loud, don’t go to work. Employers who expect their staff to come in while sick are assholes – and unless your job involves saving lives, there’s no excuse for it.
That being said, there’s sometimes a critical tipping point when your immune system can’t keep up the fight any longer, and that’s when you get your ass to a hospital ASAP. Not your primary physician, either – trust me, they don’t want to see you right now. I’m talking Urgent Care or the Emergency Room.
If You’re Not Sick (and Not a Health Care Professional), Don’t Wear a Mask
I’m sure you’ve seen all the news coverage of people hoarding face masks, along with every disinfecting product in existence. According to the experts, these people are doing it wrong. A surgical mask, dust mask or similar paper-based cover for the nose and mouth may seem safe – but it’s about as effective against contagion as Mom’s chicken soup: comforting, but otherwise useless. It might look effective on camera, as seen in horror movies like Patient Zero or 28 Weeks Later, but if you’re not a medical or rescue professional, you’re not doing yourself any favors by wearing one. However, if you are infected yourself (by any virus, including the flu or cold), it might prevent your sneezes and coughs from blasting your filth into someone else’s face.
Don’t Assume You’re Not Sick, Either
As I mentioned above, you may be a carrier and not know it. Denial doesn’t help, and neither does pretending to “tough it out” to show everyone in your class or workplace how your immune system can stop bullets or some such horseshit. If zombie movies taught us anything, it’s that you can’t hide from nature when it comes for you – whether it’s an undead plague or the more down-to-earth variety.
Even so, as in Night of the Living Dead and the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, some characters foolishly try to deny their own fates – either through misguided feelings for their loved ones, or fear of what they themselves will become. Viruses don’t care how tough you think you are – they may be microscopic, but they can take down entire civilizations if they get organized. While Sex Machine (Tom Savini) tries to play off his oncoming vampire transformation in From Dusk Till Dawn by hiding his newly-grown claws and fangs, his tough-guy exterior quickly crumbles as he loses his will to the infection. I’m not saying COVID-19 is a death sentence – right now your chances of dying from the virus are lower than being struck by lightning – but these movies remind us we’re extremely vulnerable to an attack from within.
Avoid All Non-Essential Travel
Unless this virus goes the zombie-apocalypse route (which it won’t, so relax) like World War Z or Train to Busan, and you have to run like hell away from the infection zone, it’s not a good idea to take mass transportation – particularly air travel – unless absolutely necessary. Still, while it’s never a good idea during a pandemic to seal yourself in a big metal tube with a hundred strangers breathing the same canned air, it’s not quite as dangerous as it seems.
We’re not looking at airborne danger levels like the one depicted in Quarantine 2, and there’s pretty much zero chance of this taking place in real life – no matter what Max Brooks might have told you in the beloved Zombie Survival Handbook (though it does contain a lot of valuable, well-researched survival tips which could prove quite effective in a wide range of catastrophes).
As much as we’ve fantasized about roaming the wasteland in a muscle car, blasting away at the undead like our heroes in Zombieland, the smart approach to any viral outbreak is to isolate yourself from the contagion until the severity of the situation can be assessed. The same goes for trains, buses, ride-shares… and do I even have to recommend postponing that ocean cruise?
Don’t Stigmatize Others
There’s something about a large-scale crisis that brings out both the best and worst of human beings – and in the latter case, falling back on finger-pointing and prejudice will only make matters worse. There have been way too many cases of racial animosity against Asian people, for no other reason than the first recorded outbreak of COVID-19 reportedly originated in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei Province. No matter where the virus originated, blaming someone’s ethnicity or nationality for anything is ignorant and disgusting, and only satisfies a primal need to blame our problems on someone else instead of taking responsibility for our own safety. In a global crisis, ignorance can be the most dangerous disease of all.
We’ve been through this many times over the centuries – as graphically depicted in movies like The Golem and Black Death. Both of these are set during different iterations of the Bubonic Plague, and superstition and scapegoating prove to be far deadlier beasts than the alleged witches and occult monsters at the heart of these stories; in fact, fear and hateful violence only made the real danger – a deadly infection which people didn’t understand at all – a hundred times worse.
Don’t Get Paranoid
Considering all the scary scenarios I’ve laid out in this article, it seems unfair that I just wrap things up by saying “Don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine.” But honestly, a vast majority of you probably will be. Of course, those of you with compromised immunity must treat this virus very seriously and seek medical assistance – but the rest of us won’t help matters by running around in a panic, spreading misinformation and under- or over-inflating the potential dangers.
Paranoia is another instinct similar to prejudice and hate – the evolutionary leftovers of the “fight-or-flight” reaction that pumps us full of adrenaline when we’re forced to deal with an unknown threat. Again, look to our favorite horror movies for guidance in these troubled times: instead of giving in to a mob mentality like The Crazies, or turning on each other like the characters in It Follows or It Comes at Night, I recommend we take a bit of comfort and sage wisdom from the words of the title character (Simon Pegg) in Shaun of the Dead:
“Take car. Go to Mum’s. Kill Phil (Sorry)*. Grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over.”
*Please don’t kill Phil, or anyone else.
I’ll state this disclaimer one more time for good measure: DO NOT consider this an actual guide to COVID-19 prevention or treatment. Visit CDC.gov for the most current updates and guidelines. Also, if we missed any movies or shows that you think should be included in a follow-up installment, add those titles in the comments!