On the same day that CBS became the first broadcast network shift its fall schedule by pushing Survivor, California officials held news conference to announce testing guidelines that could have profound impacts on film and television production.
During the news conference, California’s Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Gahly announced updated COVID-19 testing guidance to address broad complaints about lack of test availability and slow test turnaround times.
Public health officials said earlier this month that labs were “becoming overwhelmed with large volumes of specimens, slowing down processing timelines.” As a result, many Californians worried about COVID-19 had to wait more than a week for their results.
Ghaly spoke about dividing patients into priority tiers going forward. He also said California is considering “pool testing” to manage the heavy caseload in a state of 40 million. That process involves testing subjects in large groups and then, if a pool comes back positive, testing every individual in it again to determine specifics. Pool testing is used to limit the number of tests performed.
It should be noted that the new tiered system may be modified by local officials to account for regional conditions or patterns of transmission. But, throughout the pandemic, officials in Los Angeles have hewn very close to state’s recommendations.
Here is a synopsis of the four tiers of California test recipients going forward (read them in full below):
Tier 1: Hospitalized individuals with COVID-19 symptoms. Tests involving the investigation and management of outbreaks. Close contacts of confirmed cases.
Tier 2: All other individuals with COVID-19 symptoms. Or individuals who are asymptomatic but who live or work in higher risk congregate care facilities, work in the health care sector, work in the emergency services sector, or patients requiring pre-operative/pre-hospital admission or who are being discharged to a lower care facility.
Tier 3: Individuals who work in the retail or manufacturing sectors, those who work in the food services sector, individuals who work in the agricultural or food manufacturing sector, individuals who work in the public transportation sector, and individuals who work in the education sector.
Tier 4: Would be implemented when the state’s testing turnaround time, as monitored by California Department of Public Health, is less than 48 hours. Includes individuals not specified above and those who are asymptomatic but believe they have a risk for being actively infected. Also includes routine testing by employers.
A quick scan seems to place film and TV production in Tier 3, under “manufacturing sectors,” or in the catchall Tier 4, which is the state’s lowest priority. Under the latter scenario, tests for film and TV production would only be available after the state has achieved a turnaround time of less than 48 hours. Not that the industry itself is ready yet.
As Deadline reported Monday, Steve Dayan, secretary-treasurer of Hollywood’s Teamsters Local 399, said discussion with management’s Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers “will be continuing … this coming week.” The union’s “two biggest concerns,” Dayan said, are “protecting our members at work, and protecting the work of our members as we navigate this new reality.”
“We don’t want to let the horses out of the stable until they’re ready,” said Dayan. “There are going to be people who test positive. It’s inevitable. But we need to be ready for all contingencies.”
Frequent testing was a key component of the safety recommendations for restarting production that studios and networks offered state and local authorities in early June. It was an even bigger part of the “Safe Way Forward” protocols promulgated by the Teamsters, SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE and the Basic Crafts unions in mid-June.
The Safe Way Forward says “a comprehensive, mandatory testing regimen would need to be the cornerstone of a safe return to production in a pre-vaccine landscape. Without testing, the entire cast and crew would be working in an environment of unknown risk.”
It calls for every cast and crew member to be tested for coronavirus on the first day of filming and regularly thereafter. Actors and those they come in close contact with would be tested at least three times a week. Production office workers would be tested once a week. Based on those divisions, sets would be divided into “zones,” separating people based on exposure and testing frequency.
That’s a lot of testing for a single production, and access to coronavirus testing — and quick results — will be foundational to the operation of film and TV productions in the time of COVID. Thus, state guidelines that limit the available tests in a time of already scarce resources could have an outsize impact on production.
It remains to be seen where film and TV production will fall in the state’s new tiered testing structure. While they are not explicitly mentioned, Newsom has been cautious about restarting Hollywood’s machinery. The guilds, studios and networks likewise. And with good reason. There’s a lot at stake and there’s a lot that could go wrong. Testing is just the start.
Here is the full text of California’s tier system:
Tier One Priority
- Hospitalized individuals with COVID-19 symptoms.
- Investigation and management of outbreaks, under direction of state and local public health departments (includes contact tracing).
- Close contacts of confirmed cases.
Tier Two Priority
- All other individuals with COVID-19 symptoms.
- Individuals who are asymptomatic (having no symptoms of COVID 19), who fall into one of the following categories:
Tier Three Priority
- Individuals who work in the retail or manufacturing sectors who have frequent interactions with the public or who works in an environment where it is not practical to maintain at least six feet of space from other workers on a consistent basis.
- Individuals who work in the food services sector who have frequent interactions with the public. The food services sector includes grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, and grocery or meal delivery services.
- Individuals who work in the agricultural or food manufacturing sector who have frequent interactions with the public or who works in an environment where it is not practical to maintain at least six feet of space from other workers on a consistent basis. The agricultural or food manufacturing sector includes food production and processing facilities, slaughter facilities, harvesting sites or facilities, and food packing facilities.
- Individuals who work in the public transportation sector who have frequent interactions with the public. The public transportation sector includes public transit, passenger rail service, passenger ferry service, public airports, and commercial airlines.
- Individuals who work in the education sector who have frequent interactions with students or the public. The education sector includes public and private childcare establishments; public and private pre-kindergarten programs; primary and secondary schools; and public and private colleges and universities.
Tier Four Priority
Tier Four would be implemented when the state’s testing turnaround time, as monitored by CDPH, is less than 48 hours.
- Other individuals not specified above including: those who are asymptomatic but believe they have a risk for being actively infected as well as routine testing by employers.
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