Thirty months after they were first implemented, it was announced Thursday that Hollywood’s COVID-19 safety protocols will cease after May 11, the same day that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will end the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency declaration.
The sunset date on the protocols was first announced by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents studios in labor negotiations, and later confirmed by a joint statement from SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, the Directors Guild, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Hollywood Basic Crafts.
“For the past three years, workers throughout the entertainment community have benefited from our
robust protections exceeding the practices of many other industries,” the unions said in their statement. “With the public health emergency now ending and the expiration of the COVID-19 Safety Agreement, individual employers continue to be responsible for ensuring safe workplaces for their employees, but must seek separate agreement with the applicable joint unions before implementing any COVID safety protocols.”
As part of the phase-out process, any productions that require cast and crew working in the immediate filming area to be vaccinated may continue to enforce such mandates if shooting begins prior to the end date for the protocols. TV series may continue to enforce mandates through the end of their current season.
All employees on productions will also be entitled to five paid sick leave days through the end of the year should they test positive for the virus, and a testing system for actors involved in intimate scenes will remain in place.
First introduced in September 2020 after months of discussions between health experts, labor officials and studio executives, the Return to Work Agreement has outlined the process by which film and TV productions have resumed shooting while adhering to COVID safety requirements like social distancing, mask-wearing and frequent testing. The strictest testing and mask requirements were set for “Zone A,” the part of the set where cameras are rolling, with other requirements set for areas like craft services, hair and makeup trailers, and production business areas.
The end date for the protocols also comes a day before the end of Los Angeles County’s COVID emergency declaration. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an end to statewide emergency measures at the end of February.
Over the past two years, the Hollywood guilds have met with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) every two to three months to revise the protocols as COVID-19 cases nationwide waxed and waned. In past revisions, provisions were put in place to allow for less stringent testing requirements for productions shooting in areas with less than 14 COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people. This past January, testing requirements for crew members outside of Zone A were lifted, but masking requirements in Zone A remained in place.
Since those revisions, some high-profile actors have spoken out against continued use of the protocols. In a New York Times interview earlier this month, Woody Harrelson said that he found the on-set masking requirements to be “absurd.”
“I don’t think that anybody should have the right to demand that you’re forced to do the testing, forced to wear the mask and forced to get vaccinated three years on,” he said. “I’m just like, ‘Let’s be done with this nonsense. It’s not fair to the crews. I don’t have to wear the mask. Why should they? Why should they have to be vaccinated? How’s that not up to the individual?’”
Tilda Swinton made similar comments during a Q&A at SXSW this past month, saying that she was “about to shoot a picture in Ireland, and I was told to wear a mask at all times, and I’m not.”