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Hollywood struggles to keep cameras rolling as Delta variant spreads

Six masked and costumed figures at the Emmy Awards.
Masked Singers arrive at the Primetime Emmy Awards in September 2019. The show has been identified as the source of a COVID-19 outbreak.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Hollywood’s strict safety protocols are being tested as the COVID-19 Delta variant rips through Los Angeles.

Several TV and film productions have reported virus outbreaks and some have been forced to pause shoots, even as the industry grapples with new safety protocols. Fox’s “The Masked Singer,” CBS’ “S.W.A.T.” and the HBO Max movie “House Party” are among those listed as having active outbreaks with three or more confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to L.A. County

Fox’s popular singing show has 12 cases, the largest number among the listed productions at the Red Studios Hollywood set, although work wasn’t been halted. Insider first reported the outbreak.

“The safety of the entire cast and crew has been and will continue to be our number one priority,” Fox Entertainment said in an emailed statement. “We work closely with local and state officials and the unions to ensure we have the safest environment possible.”

“S.W.A.T” had five cases but the show didn’t need to pause production, while the movie “House Party” reported nine, including infections confirmed in pre-employment testing, a person with knowledge of the production said on condition of anonymity. The production has resumed after pausing for a few days. NBCUniversal’s post-production office has reported four cases.

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Nonetheless, filming on location in Los Angeles has continued to rise. Last week, the number of shoot days rose to 620 from 566 the previous week, a 9.5 % increase, according to data from FilmLA, the nonprofit that organizes filming permits for the county. The volume of on-location production is beyond 2019 filming levels, when 587 shoot days were registered during the same period.

The outbreaks illustrate the effect the new Delta variant is having on one of the area’s most vital industries. The film business has largely been able to continue working since it restarted in June. The industry agreed that safety protocols on masking and testing have helped stem outbreaks on film sets. The latest infections have yet to reach the levels seen during the winter, when unions and health officials warned the industry to pause as so not to strain hospitals.

Although there have been some clusters of positive tests on certain productions, the overall number of positive tests remains low and continues to support the conclusion that our safety protocols are working to protect both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals working on SAG-AFTRA covered projects,” a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson said in an emailed statement. The union represents 160,000 performers, which are working unmasked on sets and considered therefore most at risk. “The renewed safety protocols expressly contemplated areas of greater COVID risk due to variants including the delta variant, and that is why the most stringent protocols remain in place in those areas, including the Los Angeles metro area.”

Independent film producers are still hampered by the effects of the pandemic.

Last month, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which includes Netflix, Walt Disney, Amazon and other studios, agreed to new safety protocols for filming during the pandemic. The agreement with the industry’s leading unions, including the Directors Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA and the Teamsters Hollywood local, allows vaccinations to be mandated among certain members of the cast and crew on a production-by-production basis. The new terms allow for a loosening of safety protocols on masking and testing that can be tightened up if infections rise beyond certain triggers.

As part of the new agreement, productions can mandate vaccinations in the so-called Zone A of productions, which is where actors are and considered the area at highest risk for transmission.

Some companies, such as Disney, have announced vaccination mandates. Netflix has told producers to require vaccinations on all its U.S. productions. However, for the studios that agreed to last month’s new protocols, workers can be exempt if they can provide verification that they have a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from being vaccinated.

The Writers Guild of America has also recommended its members get vaccinated before gathering to work on productions.


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