We’ve been covering the COVID-19 production protocols since they were agreed upon back in September last year, but things have been changing in the U.S. and abroad over the past few months, while the COVID protocols put in place were extended from the initial April 30 cut-off to June 30. Once the latter date had passed, the protocols were extended “indefinitely.”
There has now been progress on updating the protocols as mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations on film and television productions will now be allowed on a restricted basis under a new agreement between the Hollywood unions and management at the major companies. The new protocols give producers “the option to implement mandatory vaccination policies for casts and crew in Zone A on a production-by-production basis.” (Zone A is the most restrictive zone in which the susceptible unmasked actors work, and that zone requires more testing, masking and social distancing with those who interact with the actors.)
Last month, SAG-AFTRA was the first union to suggest that they might allow mandatory vaccination mandates on set on a case-by-case basis, allowing employers to make vaccination a condition of employment. Presumably, that was only official in regards to actors, as the overall protocols for everyone else on set were extended “indefinitely” after the June 30 deadline as negotiations continued.
One of the other changes in the protocols includes the right of productions in certain areas of the U.S. and Canada to modify the frequency of testing depending on whether cases are lower in specific shooting areas. The new protocols also added changes for outdoor masking requirements as well as mealtime protocols.
This new agreement between the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) and the unions — DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, the Teamsters and Basic Crafts — will remain in effect until September 30, 2021, at which time it will be reviewed and renegotiated. In the statement, it was said that the parties involved will continue to monitor developments with COVID-19 closely in order to determine further modifications after the current protocols expire.
IATSE postponed its own separate negotiations with AMPTP for a new film and television contract until August in order to prioritize these important modifications to the COVID-19 protocols.
UPDATE: The Directors Guild (DGA) has sent out a statement summarizing the agreement, saying that “producers must establish a way of clearly and visibly identifying an employee’s entitlement to work under the protocols for fully vaccinated individuals. Proof of vaccination may be established by 1) a digital vaccination card, a government sanctioned passport system (e.g. New York Excelsior Pass), a system maintained by the vaccination provider, or a system that verifies an individual’s status against government records; or 2) production of a physical vaccination card.
“Producers must keep such documentation secure and available only to those with a need to know. Employees who do not provide verification of their vaccination status will be treated as not fully vaccinated.”
The statement goes on to add: “On a production-by-production basis, a Producer may implement a policy providing that Zone A employees will be fully vaccinated against Covid-10 as a condition of employment.
“To provide currently vaccinated Zone A employees with sufficient time to get vaccinated, the Agreement gives employees one week to schedule a vaccination appointment and receive their first vaccination shot, and six weeks from that date to get their second shot (if necessary) and complete the required waiting period. Currently unvaccinated Zone A employees who schedule their vaccination appointment and receive their first vaccination within this time period will remain eligible for employment on productions that institute a mandatory vaccination policy while they complete the process to become fully vaccinated. Those who do not do so will be ineligible for employment until they become fully vaccinated.”
The DGA also commented on the testing and PPE aspect of the new agreement:
“For areas of surging Covid infections in the United States and Canada and all areas outside the United States and Canada, we have retained the existing testing requirements, although we did expand the types of tests that are permitted in certain circumstances.
“The Agreement does relax mask requirements for fully vaccinated employees, allowing them to take their masks off when working outdoors. Employees who are not fully vaccinated must wear face masks at all times (except when eating, drinking, or when their job duties prevent it).
“In addition, we further relaxed the testing and PPE requirements for fully vaccinated employees when working in areas in the United States and Canada that have lower Covid-19 transmission and new case rates. Specifically, in such areas, fully vaccinated employees are not required to wear masks indoors provided certain air filtration standards are met. Fully vaccinated employees, while still undergoing periodic testing, will also be subjected to Covid-19 testing at a reduced frequency. Those who are not fully vaccinated will continue to wear masks and maintain the same frequency of periodic testing as the prior Agreement.
“Productions in a metropolitan area (or applicable county if there is no applicable metropolitan area) must adhere to the standard protocols if for seven consecutive days: 1) its seven-day average transmission rate is equal to or greater than 1.1, and 2) the number of daily new cases per 100,000 is equal to or greater than 10. Productions in areas with lower transmission rates and/or infection rates may apply the more relaxed standards; provided, however, if the area records a transmission rate and daily new case rate higher than those listed above for seven consecutive days, the standard protocols will be reinstated.”
There’s also some new commentary from the DGA on the ground transportation modifications: “Under the standard protocols, vaccinated and unvaccinated employees will now travel in separate vans. Vans for vaccinated employees may operate at full capacity. Vans for unvaccinated employees may operate at 1) 75% capacity for trips between set and crew parking, lunch, and base camp, 2) 50% capacity for all other trips. In low infection areas, the prior limits on occupancy have been lifted. In both situations, all employees must be masked. If anyone is unmasked, physical distancing requirements apply.”
The DGA also commented on the aforemented meal modifications: “Individually packaged or wrapped portions are no longer required. However, self-serve ‘buffet style’ food service (e.g., salad bars, trays of food, or any food service that requires employees to share utensils), will not be permitted for employees who are not fully vaccinated, and employees who are not fully vaccinated must continue to maintain physical distance from all employees during the entirety of the meal period.”
Finally, the DGA said to its members, “While we had hoped to further reduce many of the protocols, the growing infection rates simply did not allow us to do so at this time. As we have from the start, we continued to rely on the science with the goal of allowing production to continue while reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission on set.”
If you’ve read this far and got through all of the above, there seems to be a pretty simple solution to getting back to work and getting things back to some new form of normal: GET VACCINATED. I personally hate when something like this gets politicized, but the pandemic has been a hugely debilitating health crisis that’s killed millions of people. If getting vaccinated helps reduce the deaths, than it behooves all of us to do whatever is possible to prevent further deaths and hospitalizations from this awful virus.