Health officials encourage filmmakers to pause work amid COVID-19 surge

Nurse Sandy Valle, left, EMT Javier Gonzalez and nurse Michelle Kim work in a triage tent at MLK Community Hospital.
Registered nurse Sandy Valle, left, emergency medical technician Javier Gonzalez and nurse Michelle Kim work in a triage tent at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in L.A. County, health officials have encouraged filmmakers to pause their work and refrain from traveling.

In an update sent Dec. 24 to film industry contacts, the L.A. County Department of Public Health wrote that “although music, TV and film productions are allowed to operate, we ask you to strongly consider pausing work for a few weeks during this catastrophic surge in COVID cases.” Parts of the note were published on the website of FilmLA, the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and county.

The department also said that travel for production is not advised because it is more likely people will be in shared vehicles, increasing the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.


FilmLA declined to comment, referring questions to the county’s department of public health. The department did not respond to a request for comment.

Due to the surge in COVID cases and out of an abundance of caution, CBS Studios delayed resuming production by a week to Jan. 11 on a few of its shows, according to a person familiar with the matter who declined to be named. The affected CBS Studios-produced programs include “NCIS,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “SEAL Team,” “Why Women Kill” and “Diary of a Future President,” the person said.

The extension illustrates how the worst wave of the pandemic is hammering hospitals in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley and threatening to exhaust available intensive care beds.

Dec. 29, 2020

The spike in COVID-19 cases has put immense pressure on L.A. County hospitals, as some hospitals have turned ambulances away and are running low on oxygen supplies. Space has been running out, with some patients placed in conference rooms and gift shops.

On Monday, California reported a record number of new coronavirus infections in a single day — 66,811, according to a Times tally of local health jurisdictions. There have been 24,545 COVID-19 deaths in California as of Monday.

Hollywood has put guidelines in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. In September, studios and unions agreed on a set of safety protocols, including testing before employees start work on a set and during production.

Steve Dayan, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399, which represents casting directors, location managers and drivers, said he believes the protocols are working.


“The rate of community spread in the industry has been far lower than the community at large, and I think it’s partially because of our protocols,” Dayan said.

He added that many productions have gone on hiatus during the holidays, with some not returning until mid-January.

“Nothing is perfect, and we have to be mindful of what occurs,” Dayan said. “I do feel if things continue to get worse we have to look at that as well. If that is what the state and county mandates — a shutdown — we have to follow those guidelines.”