Control the Contagion

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there is more need than ever for information about scientific, evidence-based precautions that we can all take to better protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. The COVID-19 pandemic cannot be ended by any single person, organization, or country. We must all work together and do our part by taking necessary public health measures, including social distancing and proper hand-washing.

Share the videos, tips, and facts with #ControltheContagion.

Public Service Announcements

Control the Contagion: Spreading Facts, Not Fear


Listening to Experts | Matt Damon


Stopping the Spread Is in Your Hands | Kate Winslet


What We Can Do Right Now – Social Distancing | Laurence Fishburne


What You Need To Know About Vaccines | Jennifer Ehle


The Choice We All Have to Make | Marion Cotillard


About the Campaign

Misleading, inaccurate messages and advice about the COVID-19 pandemic are being shared across both traditional and social media platforms. We wanted to do our part to curb this.

The team that brought you the film CONTAGION, including director Steven Soderbergh, writer Scott Z. Burns, along with key members of the ensemble cast, and Participant have partnered with scientists from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health to share evidence-based information about COVID-19 through public service announcements (PSAs).

These PSAs were written under the guidance of the same experts who worked on the film Contagion: Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Columbia Mailman School’s Center for Infection and Immunity, who is currently leading research to develop tests and drugs for COVID-19; Dr. Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox and served as the first CEO of founder Jeff Skoll’s Skoll Global Threats Fund; Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer prize-winning science journalist and bestselling author; and Mark Smolinski, president, Ending Pandemics and founder of the Predict and Prevent Initiative at We were joined for this campaign by adviser Dr. Stephen Morse, an infectious disease expert who serves as chair of Columbia’s Institutional Biosafety Committee and professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School.

The videos were all shot by the actors themselves—with no crew. (Kate Winslet’s was shot by her husband.)

About the Film Contagion

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns created CONTAGION (2011), a global action thriller that revolves around the threat of a deadly outbreak of a fatal disease and the people determined to keep it at bay. As the fast-moving epidemic grows in the film, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart. A stellar international ensemble cast—including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, and Laurence Fishburne—portray the dedicated doctors at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) who rush to control the outbreak of a new virus.

About Columbia Mailman

Since 1922, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has been at the forefront of public health research, education and community collaboration. Addressing everything from chronic and infectious disease to environmental health to healthcare policy, the School tackles today’s most pressing public health issues, translating research into action.

The Center for Infection and Immunity is one of the world’s leading academic centers focused on microbial surveillance, discovery, and diagnosis. n recent years, Dr. Lipkin and his team have helped to reduce the impact of numerous pathogens, including viruses that cause respiratory diseases, hemorrhagic fever or neurodevelopmental damage in humans, such as SARS, MERS, Lujo, Ebola, and Zika. CII is led by W. Ian Lipkin, MD, John Snow professor, epidemiology, is an internationally recognized expert on pathogen discovery with more than 30 years of experience in diagnostics, microbial discovery and outbreak response.

What is a coronavirus? What is COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold as well as more severe illnesses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and now the illness called COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease-19. Coronaviruses commonly circulate in animals and sometimes also infect humans.

The name of the current coronavirus, sometimes called the ‘novel coronavirus’, is the  SARS-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, has spread around the world, causing a pandemic. A pandemic is defined as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.”

How does COVID-19 spread?

The virus is thought to spread primarily from person-to-person via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, which when inhaled enter the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or possibly inhaled into the lungs. Transmission occurs primarily between people who are in close contact with one another—prolonged contact within about 6 feet (2 meters).

It is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

While people with COVID-19 are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic, a person can transmit the virus even when they have mild illness or no symptoms (called asymptomatic).

What are the symptoms?

COVID-19 symptoms and cold/flu symptoms are very similar. 

Symptoms related to COVID-19 include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. Some people, however, have only very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia and other complications, especially in older individuals, and in those with underlying health conditions.

Current evidence suggests a typical incubation period (the time from exposure to the virus to the development of symptoms) is 2 to 14 days.

Who is at risk for COVID-19?

Everyone, of all ages, can become infected with COVID-19. Almost 40 percent of people hospitalized for COVID-19 are under 55. Children can become infected but generally have much milder illness.

Those at higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19 include older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions (especially heart disease, diabetes and lung disease) or who are immune-compromised.

I’m ill and I think I might have COVID-19. What should I do?

Please exercise the usual precautions associated with seasonal illnesses like colds and flu. Contact your health care provider for guidance and take these precautions:

  • Stay home to rest and drink plenty of fluids; do not go out
  • Use acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil) for fever and fatigue if these symptoms are making you uncomfortable 
  • Limit contact with other household members
  • Do not share items like drinking glasses, towels, eating utensils
  • Wipe down high touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) often with a standard household disinfectant

How can I protect myself and my community from COVID-19?

There are several public health precautions that you can take to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community:

  1. Stay home if you are sick: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow.
  2. Wash your hands frequently: When washing your hands, soap and warm water is all you need. Wash your hands thoroughly, including the thumbs, back of hands, wrists, and fingernails, for at least 20 seconds, especially if you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If you don’t have soap and water, hand sanitizer is the next best thing.
  3. Avoid touching your face: Although inhaling infectious respiratory droplets is thought to be the most important way the virus is spread, it might be possible to contract COVID-19 by touching your face as this may allow the virus to find its way into your eyes, nose or mouth and then start an infection. 
  4. Keep surfaces clean: Wipe down any surfaces that are frequently used with a household cleaner or disinfectant—spray, wait at least four minutes, and then wipe. Surfaces include tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. COVID-19 remains infectious on surfaces—everything from cardboard to stainless steel to carpeting—from a few hours to a few days.
  5. Practice social distancing: 
    1. Stay six feet (two meters) away from another person
    2. Avoid close contact with people who are sick
    3. Do not gather in groups
    4. Avoid public spaces
    5. Lower your risk at meetings and events, including holding video- or teleconference meetings
    6. Stay home as much as you can

Why is ‘social distancing’ important and what should I do?

Evidence shows that the coronavirus is spread primarily between people who are in close contact with one another, particularly prolonged contact within about 6 feet (2 meters).

Public health experts all over the world recommend ‘social’ distancing as a method to limit your risk of exposure to the virus. Social distancing also limits your ability to transmit the virus to others. Even if you feel healthy, you could still be infected and maintaining your distance from others will protect their health.

Social distancing involves avoiding group events and settings, even of small groups, and maintaining a distance of six feet (two meters) or more from other individuals to limit the spread of the virus.

Do I need to wear a facemask?

Everyone should wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. A mask is meant to protect other people in case you are infected. You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick.

Masks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance. Do NOT use a mask meant for a healthcare worker. Currently, surgical masks and N95 respirators are critical supplies that should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders.

Continue to keep about 6 feet between yourself and others. A mask is not a substitute for social distancing.

Additional Resources

It’s critical to stay informed with accurate, up-to-date facts. Be wary of misinformation or rumors. Useful, reliable sources are:

World Health Organization (WHO)

The WHO directs and coordinates international health within the United Nations system. They strive to combat diseases—communicable diseases like influenza and HIV, and noncommunicable diseases like cancer and heart disease.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC conducts critical science and provides health information to protect against dangerous health, safety, and security threats and respond when these arise.

For latest U.S. guidelines and information about cases across the country:

Ending Pandemics

Changing the way we detect and respond to outbreaks, Ending Pandemics provides scientific and technical expertise and catalytic funding to find outbreaks faster in disease hotspots around the world.