Here’s What a Pandemic Would Look Like With Zombies

Infection rates, mortality rates, flattening the curve, vaccine development, antibody tests.

The COVID-19 pandemic can feel reminiscent of a zombie movie — with emptied out streets, crowded hospitals, and the majority of people holed up at home.

In a series of tweets, Bucknell University anthropologist Clare Sammells, who teaches a course about zombies, examines the parallels between the coronavirus and a zombie apocalypse. Thankfully, she argues, “zombies are far less likely to cause a global pandemic than COVID-19.”

That’s in large part because “with a zombie epidemic, you would immediately know who was infected,” Sammells writes. And there’s little moral ambiguity about just shooting them, since they’re now mindless husks.

The current coronavirus outbreak, she writes, has a long “asymptomatic incubation period,” meaning that people are spreading the virus without showing any signs that they are infected — unlike zombies, they don’t shamble around and devour brains.

Zombie movies also rarely include the possibility of a vaccine — or at least they don’t work the way we know them to work in the real world.

“A vaccine implies that exposure to a weakened version of the infection allows the body to build up immunity,” Sammells writes. “But with this kind of zombism, a vaccine would still turn people because there is no “mild” version of the disease.”

That also means there’s no possibility of a “herd immunity” in zombie movies where enough people’s bodies have developed ways to fight the disease outright, protecting the more vulnerable in the population.

To Sammells, there’s another “suspension of belief” moment for zombie films: total breakdown of society.

“In zombie films and TV, there is an assumption that if institutions such as the police, prison system, federal government, and military fall away, that people would turn into the worst versions of themselves,” she writes.

But what we’ve seen so far during the current COVID-19 pandemic is something entirely different — and far more positive.

“What we are actually seeing in the COVID-19 pandemic is not a collapse of society, but its strengthening from the group up,” she writes. “People are creating neighborhood networks. They are reaching out to friends to offer help. They are showing care and concern for each other.”

“So if you want to watch zombie movies while you are stuck at home, I’m all in favor — just remember that’s not really what’s going on outside,” Sammell concludes.

READ MORE: Clare Sammells on Twitter

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