The Return to Work Agreement, which outlines the COVID-19 safety protocols for all film and television productions in Hollywood, will remain in effect for at least the next three weeks as its expiration was extended to Feb. 13.
The extension had been agreed between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios in labor negotiations, and representatives from the Directors Guild, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and Teamsters Local 399 back in late December as the spike in COVID-19 infections fueled by the Omicron variant was taking root in Los Angeles.
Between Dec. 16 and Jan. 16, the seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 infections in Los Angeles had spiked from 1,640 to an all-time high of 43,838, according to data from The New York Times. Such a spike led to delays in production starts for two dozen shoots in the Los Angeles area with many other projects waiting until cases subside until they file on-location film permits, according to the latest quarterly report from FilmLA.
While there are signs that the Omicron surge will subside in the coming weeks — the current seven-day new case average in Los Angeles has dropped slightly to around 34,000 — it is likely that the Return to Work Agreement will be extended past Feb. 13. The AMPTP and unions have been in regular meetings since productions resumed shooting in September 2020 to analyze COVID case rates, make modifications to protocols regarding testing and safety, and extend the agreement’s enforcement.
Through the Delta and Omicron variant surges, the few major changes to the agreement have included an option for studios to implement mandatory vaccine requirements on a case-by-case basis. The mandate would be enforced on workers in “Zone A,” the area of productions designated by the Return to Work Agreement where unmasked actors perform on set and where the most stringent safety protocols are practiced.
The other major changes have come externally, as the Return to Work Agreement is designed to adhere to current CDC guidelines. Last month, the CDC changed its guidelines regarding quarantine for people who are infected with the virus but are “asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving without fever for 24 hours.” Such individuals can now quarantine for five days instead of 10 as long as they wear a mask around others.
Labor insiders told TheWrap last year that the guilds and the AMPTP would gradually phase out COVID-19 safety requirements once the virus reached an endemic stage and did not pose a threat to consistently strain hospitals and healthcare systems. But as the Omicron surge potentially peaks, it is unclear when that endemic stage may be reached as it is possible that other variants could emerge in the coming year.
“It’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant and that we are in the end game,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization on Monday. “On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.”
The extension of the Return to Work Agreement was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.