LOS ANGELES — Despite getting the green light from California public health officials to resume productions Friday, Hollywood is not immediately rolling out the red carpet for opening day.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through the state, with nearly 140,000 confirmed cases and more than 4,800 deaths as of Thursday, according to NBC News counts.
Los Angeles County, home to roughly 10 million people, accounts for almost half of those cases, with more than 68,800 people having tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday, according to the county’s Public Health Department.
Despite the risk, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that productions could resume “no earlier than June 12” if approved by local public health officials. On Wednesday, Los Angeles County formally gave Hollywood the option to reopen with an important caveat.
“If at any time, the county’s rate of infection and other key metrics demonstrate a rapid acceleration of new cases that threatens to overwhelm the healthcare system, the Department of Public Health and the Board of Supervisors may need to limit future reopenings or close reopened sectors,” the county said in a statement.
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The decision to reopen Hollywood was part of a broader economic recovery road map that would also allow gyms, museums, hotels and spectatorless sports to resume nearly three months after Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order.
Entertainment industry leaders are leery, however, of resuming productions too quickly while the pandemic continues to loom over Southern California.
“It will be a long journey, but with continued collaboration, we will once again see the backbone industry of Los Angeles back at work,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who helped establish a task force at the beginning of the pandemic to reopen the film industry.
FilmLA, which handles film permits for the city and county of Los Angeles, said Thursday that it will not begin accepting or processing applications until next week.
“Governor Newsom’s announcement does not authorize the resumption of on-location filming in Los Angeles County. That decision rests with the County and will be made consistent with the recommendations of the County Department of Public Health,” FilmLA said in a statement.
Unions representing actors and production staff have said they would not allow their members to resume work until studios can ensure that workers will be protected from contracting the coronavirus on the job.
According to California public health officials, Los Angeles is one of 11 counties on a state-run coronavirus watch list because it “is experiencing the possibility of elevated disease transmission” as more people get tested. But that also means the county must closely monitor the positivity rate, which refers to the number of close contacts each person with the virus infects.
Hollywood has been at a standstill since mid-March, and as a result hundreds of thousands people have lost their jobs.
Entertainment industry leaders have been working for weeks to create guidelines and recommendations that would allow some people to return to work. Union officials and studio executives released a report June 1 detailing possible health and safety protocols, including mandatory testing and temperature checks for cast and crew members, staggered call times, masks for live audiences and the serving of prepackaged food on set. Physical distancing and wearing personal protective gear would also be mandatory when possible.
The recommendations came from a labor-management safety task force comprising members of professional unions, such as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the Teamsters, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and others.
Additional recommendations were unveiled Wednesday by the Motion Picture Editors Guild and the local stage employees union. They include flexible and nonpunitive paid leave in case of sickness and allowing more breaks for post-production staff members to sanitize workstations.
“I am encouraged to see the exhaustive efforts that all sectors of film and television production have contributed to develop COVID-19 guidelines and protocols,” O’Farrell said. “As Hollywood slowly gets back to the business of making pictures, we will want to exercise the utmost caution to get it right and keep everyone safe and healthy.”
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The guidelines, however, remain a work in progress, SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said.
“Updated guidelines for reopening are being released on a day-by-day basis. We are working closely with the other industry unions and employers to reopen the industry as safely as possible,” Carteris said. “We are only going to sign off on productions’ resuming when we are confident that performers are returning to work in a safer environment.”
Last month, Tyler Perry unveiled a 30-page document for his plan to resume productions in July at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. He will require cast and crew members to be tested for the coronavirus and to self-isolate at home before traveling to Georgia, practice social distancing as much as possible on set and not leave the “quarantine bubble” at any time for the designated two-week filming period.
“I want it to be abundantly clear that there was no way I could or would consider putting people back to work without a plan that takes extreme measures to try and mitigate as much risk as possible in our productions, and I think we’ve managed to do just that,” Perry said in a letter to crew members.