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Pandemic Netflix: 6 Crucial Takeaways From The Series That Are Scarily Relevant To Coronavirus

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Pandemic Netflix: 6 Crucial Takeaways From The Series That Are Scarily Relevant To Coronavirus

Just before the deadly new virus known as COVID-19 came to America's shores, Netflix dropped an eerily-timed new docu-series on pandemics. Pandemic: How To Prevent An Outbreak is proving to be an invaluable resource for learning what to expect in this very unsettling situation. 

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The series looks at historic diseases like the 1918 Spanish flu and the ebola crisis and talks about what scientists and doctors have learned from those situations. Even more important, it talks about how to take the lessons we learned from the past and how to apply them to the novel coronavirus that is racing around the globe in 2020. As of this writing, America has already seen over 100 deaths from the new disease and the attempts to curb its spread are dramatic. Schools and workplaces are closed, large gatherings are banned, and medical personnel are preparing for an influx of patients that will test the capacity of our hospital systems like never before. 

It's comforting to know  there are people in the world whose entire job is to study diseases and how they spread. Knowing that there are people who know what to do to get us through the current crisis makes everything seem a little less out of control. 

Here are our takeaways from the Netflix series that apply to coronavirus.

1. There are some seriously smart people working on pandemics like this. 

You can say whatever you want about how the government has been handling the arrival of coronavirus in America. Ever since it became clear that the disease wasn't going to stay in China, where it was first diagnosed, there have been arguments about what the White House and Congress should do in response. Some people think they're doing a great job; others are skeptical.

However, if you watch Pandemic, it's clear that government officials aren't the only people on the job: There are doctors and scientists who have made this their life's study. One of the doctors featured in the series is Dr. Dennis Carroll, director of USAID’s Emerging Threats Unit. But that's not his only resumé highlight; in 1991, he started working at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a senior public health advisor and in 1995 he was named the agency's Senior Infectious Diseases advisor and he was "responsible for overseeing the agency's programs in malaria, tuberculosis, antimicrobial resistance, disease surveillance, as well as neglected and emerging infectious diseases." In other words, he's been studying the effects of new diseases for over 25 years. 

Dr. Syra Madad is nothing short of a prodigy in the field. At only 33 years old, she has a doctorate in health science and a master’s in biotechnology and has done work for the FBI. She's now the senior director of NYC Health + Hospitals Systemwide Special Pathogens Program.

2. This isn't the first serious pandemic the world has faced. 

While this is the first time in most Americans' lifetimes that we have had to go into lockdown over a disease threat, this isn't the first time a disease has circled the globe leaving millions dead in its wake. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic infected 500 million people around the world — that comes to about 27% of the world population at the time. Estimates of the death toll of that disease range anywhere from 17 million to 100 million. 

Scientists today can look at the trajectory of that disease, how infectious it was, how quickly it traveled and what slowed its progress from person to person. Those lessons will be critical in developing plans to stop the spread of coronavirus in the world now. 

The coronavirus is affecting markets. 

3. A mutation was always the big threat.

The reason COVID-19 is so dangerous to humans is that it's new to us as a species. This virus only affected animals until last year when somehow it mutated and made the leap from an animal to a person for the first time. That means there are no humans who have any kind of immunity built up to this disease. Dr. Carroll predicted this occuring in Pandemic, saying: "A pandemic influenza will likely come from an animal and it will be a new and novel never seen before virus." He got the type of virus wrong, but the rest of his prediction was on the nose for the novel coronavirus. 

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4. Not everyone believes in the science. 

You don't have to look any farther than Twitter to find people calling COVID-19 a hoax and complaining about having to follow social distancing rules. Even the governor of Oklahoma took heat for posting a photo of himself at a crowded restaurant the same day other states were announcing school closures. Pandemic looks specifically at another type of science-denier: anti-vaxxers. There isn't a vaccine yet for COVID-19 but when there is, it will be important for people to get immunized. However, as the series reveals, not everyone is on board with those plans. Caylan Wager, a homeschooling, anti-vaccine mother said "Our lifestyle and the way that I raise my kids is just to be continually evolving and awakening in consciousness and awareness. I believe a healthy child has the ability to build up immunity naturally."

5. No, Netflix did not release coronavirus to drive clicks on the series.

We haven't actually seen that conspiracy theory yet but on the internet anything is possible. However, Netflix didn't mean to be putting out a series on pandemics just as one happened. It was just eerie timing. "We want to emphasize that the timing, in this case, was coincidental and the release date was planned long in advance," notes Dr. Sheri Fink, an executive producer on the series. 

6. Hospitals and doctors are prepared — sort of. 

One of the big takeaways that producers want to give audiences is the assurance that hospitals do know what to do in the event of a disease like COVID-19. The stumbling blocks are the availability of staff and equipment. 

"The cool thing with the series is that it takes you inside," says Fink. "Most people who aren't in healthcare don't know that increasingly, because of SARS, which was an earlier coronavirus outbreak in 2003, and because of some cases of Ebola in the U.S. many years ago, there has been an investment. But it's also true that hospitals and intensive care wards have only so much capacity and could be overwhelmed in a widespread outbreak." 

As for what people can do to keep themselves healthy, the big lessons are to wash your hands, keep a social distance from others, don't touch your face when you're out in public, and check for ever-evolving updates from the CDC.

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.