L.A. productions reverting back to masking, other COVID-19 protocols as cases tick up

Due to rising COVID-19-related hospitalizations, television and film productions in the Los Angeles area will be required to mask up again.

Los Angeles County officials announced June 30, 2022, that the region is hitting eight hospitalizations per 100,000 people, a threshold that automatically triggers agreements made between unions, studios, production companies and health agencies to reinstate indoor masking and other protocols. 

In recent months and weeks, protocols had been allowed to relax, including not requiring masks indoors in some cases, due to falling numbers.

Local municipalities, facility owners and companies controlling production have always been able to implement tighter policies, so in some cases, those working in TV and film won’t see much of a change. Specific unions and locals could also negotiate protocols that exceed the standards set out by either government officials or industry leaders. 

For example, many talk shows produced in the region are still requiring studio audience members to be masked and some are also verifying vaccination status. It’s also not uncommon for crew members to still be seen wearing masks in wide shots.

Talent actively on-air or performing have long been exempt from masking requirements given the nature of their work, though in some cases they still must mask behind the scenes. There are also exceptions made for when talent are having makeup done, again given the inherent need to have their face exposed in these situations.

For local TV stations and newsrooms, the exact protocols will vary based on local and corporate regulations and union agreements. On a broad scale, however, the CDC still recommends masking indoors as an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially in vulnerable populations and cases where social distancing is challenging and air circulation may be lower.

Meanwhile, on-air talent including news anchors and sportscasters are often seen sitting farther apart than pre-pandemic — and those positions are starting to become less awkward looking and more the “norm.” Many productions have invested in bringing in new, larger anchor desks in order to help spread people out better. 

Advertisement

In some cases, desks or tables have been shed altogether, with talent and guests seated on chairs strategically spread out. 

Some stations have gone back and forth in positioning talent on-set as COVID-19 cases go up and down. In some cases, this is dictated by corporate or union guidelines or talent preference.

Other strategies have included cutting back on the number of crew members allowed on the floor, increased use of robotic cameras as well as increased sanitization. 

Many TV studios are already outfitted with specialized HVAC systems designed to run quietly so that it is not picked up by on-set microphones. In some cases, filtration has been beefed up and facilities also have the option of running the systems at higher exchange rates in between takes or productions.

There is no COVID-19 vaccination policy in the Los Angeles production agreement, but many productions in the region are owned by larger companies that have vaccination requirements in place for employees, which can include both those on-camera or off-camera, depending on how their employment is structured. There have been several high-profile cases of actors and on-air news and sports talent leaving their jobs due vaccination status. 

The broad “return to work” agreement currently runs through July 15, 2022. That deal is likely to be extended, perhaps with some modifications.

Coronavirus vaccines and boosters are highly recommended by multiple public health officials and experts. COVID-19 vaccines and boosters have undergone extensive testing and monitoring to ensure their safety. Scientific research has shown the vaccines and boosters to be very safe and highly effective in decreasing the likelihood of contracting the illness and, if one does become sick, symptoms are less severe and less likely to lead to hospitalization or death. For more information about COVID-19 and coronavirus, visit the CDC website. You can locate a free vaccination site or clinic near you at Vaccines.gov. As with any medical decision, you should always discuss your options with your doctor.

Sign up for NewscastStudio's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest broadcast industry news to your inbox including new debuts, case studies, thought leadership and broadcast gear updates.