In an effort to calm fears around the coronavirus, World War Z author Max Brooks sat dawn for a Reddit AMA where he was peppered with questions from worried fans. Granted, World War Z is about a zombie epidemic, but Brooks based his story on real-life pandemics, and he was heavily influenced by the SARS outbreak, which was also a coronavirus. His research also included the response to the AIDS crisis and how quickly society can switch from denial to panic, something we’re starting to see as water bottles and toilet paper fly off the shelves.
Here are some of the answers Brooks provided to clearly concerned Redditors as the world scrambles to react to the growing pandemic.
On how the events of World War Z compare to reality:
Unfortunately, too much of my book is coming true. I based the initial Chinese response to the zombie plague on their real response to SARS. Hopefully, the USA doesn’t respond to this crisis the way they did in WWZ.
On social distancing and if Italy is “doomed”:
Right now social distancing is the best tool we have of slowing infection. You can’t pass on a disease from person to person if those persons aren’t next to each other. Social distancing is something we can all do. And we need to do. We can help buy time for medical science to come up with treatments and a vaccine. That’s what it means to do our part. As far as Italy is concerned, no, they are not “doomed”. It will be interesting to see how a democracy like Italy deals with infection. As an Italian-American, my heart goes out to the people of my mother’s tribe.
On if the world can handle a more deadly and dangerous virus than the coronavirus:
I do think the world has the ability to adapt. I’m not a pessimist. I can’t afford to be. I think about all the diseases that were around when my parents were my age. Back then (in the 1920s-30s), having pandemics regularly kill or cripple millions of people was just part of life. We’ve come such a long way. Even now, we’ve got armies, literally, of dedicated public health professionals fighting this world war. We can do our part to help them. That’s why, in WWZ, there’s no one hero. Everyone has a role to play. Just like now. No matter what country you’re in, check in with your local public health department. Check in with WHO. Follow the guidelines. Do what you can, from social distancing to hygiene, to help slow the spread. This is so solvable, as long as we all do our part.
On what needs to happen now to reduce the numbers of death:
Honestly, I think the USA need one cohesive message from one consistent face. The problem we’re having now, the reason people are starting to panic is because they don’t know who to trust. I think we need to have a single source, the way C. Everett Koop, the Surgeon General, was for AIDS. That’s what we need now. One QUALIFIED EXPERT who we can all turn to for guidance. No more big groups contradicting each other. No more false statements that have to be walked back. No more ‘hunches’ or adlibs happy talk based on magical thinking. Right now, if we’re going to calm people down and move forward as one nation, we need one voice telling us the bare, incontrovertible facts.
It’s probably no surprise that Brooks’ answers are very similar to that of Contagion screenwriter Scott Z. Burns. Both writers researched prior responses to global pandemics and how organizations like the CDC and WHO operate, so of course, their advice is going to be listen to the experts and let them guide the way. As for whether or not that advice will be heeded is another story.