I love the 1995 film Outbreak, and it resonates more now in the 2020 wake of the CoVid-19 pandemic crisis. While the Ebola-like virus from Outbreak isn’t on the loose (with Motaba at a 100% death rate no less!), our own real world situation is pretty damn dire.
Yet on an Outbreak re-watch, the same thing arrests my interest still, as it did decades ago — the levels of bio-hazard containment USAMRIID (and the CDC, one guesses) featured in the credits scenes of this enjoyable retro film). A film, BTW, that Dustin Hoffman and Cuba Gooding Jr sell all the way…outshining even the likes of Donald Sutherland and Morgan Freeman. Worth a rewatch, especially now.
We should be thankful our virus doesn’t liquefy organs and make us bleed from the eyes.
Biohazard containment levels in the movie Outbreak
As the movie viewer passes from each Bio-Safety Level, with one being low-risk, to four being OMG INSTA-DEATH, the background track amplifies the increasing danger in a subtle way that sticks with me to this day. Here’s how the scenes masterfully pans around (in apparently one take):
BL 1 : (BL for Bio-hazard Level)
Minimal biohazard. Study of low risk infectious agents: Pneumococcus, Salmonella.
No gloves or masks are seen on screen. Granted, you’d have to try hard to actually catch one of these diseases in the lab.
Moderate biohazard. Infectious agents: Hepatitis, Lyme Disease, Influenza.
(Bold is mine … Covid-19 is a coronavirus, within the influenza family of viruses. Something to think about.)
N-95 masks are visible, as are gloves, but the doors are still wide open, and techs are seen removing their masks before they exit the rooms. Not very safe, is that? We’re only at BL 2, but already these are pandemic-worthy viruses!
High biohazard. Multiple vaccinations required. Infectious agents: Anthrax, Typhus, HIV.
Now the lab doors are closed. We see full body personal protection equipment (PPEs), gas mask type face masks, and clearly more care taken to contain viral vectors. However, techs are STILL removing their masks before opening the doors to leave! And not washing their hands between labs. (Damn. I never noticed any of these things before.)
Extreme biohazard. Maximum security. Infectious agents: Ebola, Lassa, Hanta Viruses. Highly virulent; no known cures or vaccines.
Finally! To get to the BL 4 lab you have to leave the main lab areas, use a handprint lock, walk down a long elevated gantry to an entirely self-contained building within a building, use a hand print to gain entry a second time, and struggle into a pressure-positive full body containment suit with an isolated air supply. Basically, these science techs have become astronauts.
There is no level of security on Earth for these immensely contagious viral agents. That CoVid-19 is only a Level 2 issue is something to sit and think about. It could be far, far, worse. Again, with the “Outbreak”Motaba’ virus, the death rate is 100%. CoVid-19.
It’s hard to say if the biohazard levels featured in Outbreak show the reality of virus containment in the real USAMRIID or CDC, but this is probably a decent guess. It’s certainly a chilling view into a world we’ve never taken quite so seriously before, and might be closer to the truth than we know. What BL do you think CoVid-19 would be in?
Scary to think the coronavirus not as bad as most other viruses out there…
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Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)