Contagion: Cant get into the other state.
Contagion: Can't get into the other state. Warner Bros. Pictures

Steven Soderbergh's 2011 film Contagion gets much of the science, virology, of a pandemic right: how it starts, how quickly it spreads (the R0—the reproduction number for an infectious disease), how the methods to contain it work in the absence of a vaccine (social distancing, face masks, aggressive monitoring, and so on). Those are all in the film. In fact, "social distancing" is mentioned in a CNN interview between Sanjay Gupta playing Sanjay Gupta and Laurence Fishburne playing a leading scientist in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the film is less successful when it comes to the cultural and economic impact of the pandemic (the food supply chain collapses, looting is rampant, suburbs are menaced by roving packs of thieves, and so on). The virus in the movie, EV-1 (it's based on the "bat-borne Nipah virus, which was identified in 1999 when an outbreak caused brain and lung disease in pigs and people in Malaysia"), is more dramatic than our melancholy ("live alone, die alone") COVID-19, and so is more likely to cause panic. (With EV-1, you begin coughing, you soon foam at the mouth, you die in a matter of days.)

Nevertheless, the film imagines that each state in the US will block the entry and exit of civilians. This part of the film's prediction is of great interest because in the real world of COVID-19, it's the movement between nations that has been banned or is tightly controlled. I you are in the US, you can still fly to Georgia or Texas or Tennessee if you want, but you can't fly to Europe or China (the origin of the virus in the movie and in reality). This management of travel seemed reasonable enough when all the states were more or less committed to social distancing. But what happens when the reopening of economies is not uniform? What happens when Washington has reduced the infection rate of coronavirus to manageable levels, but Texas or Georgia has not?

The number of infections is rising in Georgia. And some models expect that the death count in that hasty state will double in three months.
As some Southeastern US states start to reopen, Georgia is projected to see its number of daily Covid-19 deaths nearly double by early August, according to a model shared by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and created by independent researcher Youyang Gu.

What will happen when states that paid the heavy price of long-term social distancing to renew some semblance of normalcy, as regards social behavior, have borders that are wide open to states that did not? Washington, for example, will likely be shut down for much of May. The result of this action will certainly be a considerable reduction in the spread of COVID-19 within its borders and, significantly, within its hard-hit population centers. But what does all of this hard work amount to when people from profligate Georgia or Texas or Tennessee can just fly right into Washington and go about their business? What a waste of time all these weeks of being at home will be for Washingtonians.

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Keith Eldridge of KOMO asked this very question to Gov. Jay Inslee on April 28 (start at 32:49). He wanted to know if the governor would restrict travel ("flying in or driving in") from places that opened their economies prematurely and, as a predictable consequence, are dealing with a sharp resurgence of the virus. Inslee's answer: "We do not have any current plans to do that. And I really hope that will not be necessary." Hope? There is room for just hope (hope alone) in this pandemic world?

Inslee then quickly moved to the next question, because clearly this one, about controlling border movements, was the elephant in the room. This is the bridge Inslee only wants to think about when it is time to cross it. The problem is, that time isn't far from now.

By the way, Trump is in Contagion. Oddly enough, he is played by Jude Law, "an avaricious freelance journalist Alistair Krumwiede [who spreads] lies online about a false cure [to the virus] made from the flowering plant forsythia."