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Limited Vaccination Mandate, Craft Services Adjustments Among Changes in Return to Work Rules

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Cheyne Gateley/Variety Intelligence Platform

The major studios and entertainment unions confirmed Monday that they have agreed to relax the COVID protocols that have governed physical production for the last 10 months.

But with COVID cases again on the rise, the changes are not as sweeping as was once expected. Especially in the Los Angeles area — where the spike has been particularly dramatic — any return to “normal” is still a ways off.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health recently mandated that everyone — both vaccinated and unvaccinated — go back to wearing masks indoors. The new “Return to Work” guidelines thus keep the mask requirement in place indoors. The new rules do allow vaccinated workers to take their masks off when they are outside.

The zone system — which separates crews based on their risk of exposure — is still in effect. And regardless of vaccine status, production workers in Los Angeles will still have to get tested regularly.

The new guidelines do allow for looser protocols in areas of the U.S. and Canada that are not seeing a sharp spike in COVID cases. In those places, vaccinated people can go without masks indoors, and productions are allowed to reduce the frequency of testing. Producers are also allowed to make changes in craft service rules for sets, where for months most meals have been packaged in individually wrapped portions.

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For the first time, the rules also address the question of vaccine mandates, now that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available. Productions cannot impose vaccine mandates for most workers — those in Zone B, C and D. But productions are allowed to impose a vaccine mandate for Zone A — that is, the actors and crew members who must be on set without any protection.

The agreement also spells out that workers must show actual proof of vaccination, rather than simply attesting to being vaccinated. It is not clear if any productions will go ahead and impose such a requirement. And for the bulk of workers, vaccines will not be a requirement for employment.

The guidelines do have several incentives for workers to get vaccinated, however. For one thing, only vaccinated workers will be able to partake of the traditional “buffet-style” craft service meals. Unvaccinated workers will have to maintain physical distancing during meal periods. So, a vaccinated group can sit together and enjoy the buffet, while unvaccinated crew members will have to eat a pre-packaged sandwich alone. Unvaccinated people must also wear masks both outdoors and indoors, except when eating or drinking or when their job duties require them to be unmasked.

Vaccinated and unvaccinated workers will also be transported in separate vans during shoots.

The agreement also specifies how widespread the virus must be before the stricter guidelines are imposed. The transmission rate must exceed 1.1, and the daily case count must exceed 10 per 100,000, for the stricter guidelines to kick in.

The latest agreement is set to expire on Sept. 30, and is likely to be reworked again as circumstances change.