Hollywood Studios, Guilds Consider Change to COVID-19 Testing for Infected Workers

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Entertainment industry is weighing recent changes to CDC guidelines regarding shorter quarantine periods

covid film production
(Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

As part of the latest round of meetings between Hollywood studios and guilds to review the entertainment industry’s COVID-19 safety protocols, changes are being considered to testing to adhere to new CDC protocols allowing infected individuals to only quarantine for five days if they show no symptoms.

Currently, film and TV workers who are infected with COVID-19 are able to return to work after a 10-day quarantine period. After that period, they don’t need to test for the virus as PCR tests, which are best for detecting the virus, are so sensitive that they give a positive reading weeks after a person is no longer infectious.

In the new testing protocols being considered, according to individuals with knowledge of the meetings, an infected cast or crew member would submit to antigen tests instead of PCR tests starting five days after quarantine begins. The belief is that while PCR tests do a better job of detecting an initial infection, antigen tests provide a better indication of whether someone is carrying enough of the virus to potentially infect others.

The changes are being considered partly in response to recent changes in CDC guidelines shortening the recommended quarantine period for infected individuals without symptoms from 10 days to five days. While other industries, including sports leagues like the NFL, quickly changed their protocols to adhere to those loosened guidelines, insiders tell TheWrap that Hollywood hasn’t moved to do the same because those changed guidelines assume that an asymptomatic person leaving quarantine early is still wearing a mask and social distancing.

For film and TV shoots, constant mask-wearing and social distancing isn’t always possible. Hair and makeup artists, for example, are constantly in close proximity with actors, who in turn have to remove their masks to perform in front of the camera. Increased antigen testing is seen as a possible solution to allow some workers who are no longer spreading the virus to come back to work faster while continuing to protect other workers from also being exposed to COVID-19.

If the changes are agreed to, they could be announced this weekend as the Hollywood guilds and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (the AMPTP, which represents the studios) are due to extend the protocols past their current Sunday expiration date.

Over the past two weeks, the Omicron variant surge in COVID-19 cases has dramatically subsided in Los Angeles County, with the 7-day average in daily new cases dropping below 10,000 on Tuesday after peaking at 45,000 on Jan. 13. Sources at FilmLA, which handles shooting permits in the county, tells TheWrap that approximately two dozen film and television projects postponed their shoots in January due to the surge but that the number of active shooting days has returned to pre-surge levels over the past week.