While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can resume most typical pre-pandemic activities without wearing a face mask or social distancing, there was an important exception to the agency’s guidance.
The national guidelines state that people may go without masks “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, including local business and workplace guidance.”
That workplace guidance for film and TV shoots means that wearing masks on sets will likely continue in the coming weeks and months, both in Los Angeles County and in other filming locations. After the pandemic started last year, the production industry worked relentlessly to set up guidelines that would keep cast and crews safe and keep cameras rolling. L.A. County’s guidelines include frequent Covid testing, social distancing and widespread mask-wearing. “All off-camera must wear face masks throughout the workday,” the guidelines state.
The county health department said on Friday that its hands are tied by Cal/OSHA, the state workplace safety regulator, and that it expects to know more after Cal/OSHA’s standards board meets on May 20.
“Everyone must continue to adhere to required distancing and masking at all workplaces,” the county health agency said.
Face shields, however, are now optional on productions for vaccinated workers. As of May 6, the L.A. County protocols for film, TV and music production specify: “Employees that are otherwise required to wear a face shield or goggles may elect not to wear a face shield if they are fully vaccinated. Employees must still wear face masks.”
The entertainment industry protocols are also the product of labor negotiations, so any update to those rules will have to involve the unions.
IATSE said it was not yet ready to comment on the revised CDC mask guidelines.
Executive Director of SMPTE, Barbara Lange, felt positive about the announcement saying, “It means the U.S. is on a positive pathway and that our economy is likely to come back soon. Still, we need to take appropriate measures to ensure ongoing health and safety by continuing to promote vaccination as the quickest way to a normal state.”
“We will have to wait and see because as long as the studios have negotiated the way forward with the unions and there are still insurance risk factors for studios and production companies, it’s not really up to us as individuals — if we want to work, that is,” said JJ Levine, VP of the Location Managers Guild International. “I’m lucky because it’s relatively easy to stay distanced in my job, but given the logistics of other departments working with each other in such close proximity on set, I think it’s going to be film business as Covid-usual for a while longer,” she said.
Salvador Perez, president of the Costume Designers Guild, says his personal mask-wearing habits won’t change, “We worked very hard with IATSE to write the Covid safety protocols, they let us get back to work and kept us safe. Wearing masks was a part of our daily routine. Although they were a slight annoyance the one benefit of everyone wearing a mask was that no one got the cold or flu that usually spreads throughout the set. I personally plan on continuing to wear a mask at work when we are in large groups. I think this may become the way to keep us healthy at work.”
A member of an IATSE Hollywood local who wished to remain anonymous added, “Working on a set is a whole other ball of wax. This just came out, with not enough time for producers and guilds to have that discussion, so we as crew, have no idea how it is going to impact us — it hasn’t happened yet.”
As productions continue to navigate the return to work amid changing COVID protocols and CDC updates, costume designer Jill Ohanneson (“For All Mankind”) and Howard Berger (makeup department head “Them”) speaking before a Variety Streaming Room conversation, added they will continue wearing face shields for the foreseeable future, since proof of vaccination is not required on sets.
— Gene Maddaus contributed to this report.