February 21, 2022
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COVID-19 Safety Agreement Set to Expire

Loring Weisenberger
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As of March 30, 2023, major Hollywood filmmaking unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have announced that the COVID-19 Safety Agreement and its related protocols will expire on May 11, 2023. 

The transition away from the Agreement will be facilitated by new policies under certain circumstances (see below for details). 

As a reminder, the COVID-19 Safety Agreement was originally referred to as the COVID-19 Return to Work Agreement. The mandates outlined in the Agreement are the result of collaboration and negotiation by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, SAG-AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America, IATSE, Teamsters, as well as the Basic Crafts unions. 

The Agreement’s mandates originally went into effect back on September 21, 2020. Since their debut, the Agreement’s health and safety protocols have been widely regarded as effective in mitigating the on-set risk of cast and crew exposure to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Safety Agreement expires

The COVID-19 Safety Agreement and its related protocols are set to expire on May 11, 2023. This date coincides with the Biden administration’s planned ending of the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

The expiration date arrives after nearly three years of production under the Agreement. The Return to Work Agreement was extended on no less than five occasions since its initial implementation in late 2020.

With each extension of the Agreement, the negotiating parties have revisited its protocols in accordance with the changing state of the entertainment industry and the most recent CDC guidelines of the time. Likewise, select policies designed to facilitate the industry's safe transition away from the Agreement accompany the announcement of the Agreement's expiration.   

COVID-19 Safety Agreement: conditions for expiration transition

Three new conditions designed to protect cast and crew as the industry transitions away from COVID-19 safety protocols accompany the expiration of the COVID-19 Safety Agreement. These new regulations seek to mitigate ongoing risks as the Agreement is phased out.

Let’s break down the three new protocols: 

Grandfathered Zone A vaccination policies

Projects that begin production before May 11, 2023 may keep a mandatory Zone A vaccination policy in place for the duration of the production. This only applies if the vaccination policy has already been established.

For episodic projects, this protocol only applies to the season in production before the Agreement’s expiration date. Under the current terms, subsequent seasons will not be eligible for mandatory vaccination policies.

Testing system for intimate photography

To ensure their continued safety and well-being, SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP have agreed to establish a testing system for performers involved in intimate scenes and scenes involving extreme exertion. Performers will have the right to request self-administered COVID-19 antigen testing for themselves and other performers in the scene.

Requests for self-administered testing must be made at least 24 hours in advance, except in the case that a performer is cast less than 24 hours in advance. The identity of the performer making a testing request is to be kept confidential. Under the current terms, the right to testing requests will continue until July 31, 2023. 

Additional COVID-19 sick days

With the announcement of the Agreement’s expiration, cast and crew have also been guaranteed an additional five paid COVID-19 sick days through the end of 2023. This protocol effectively refills the bank of COVID-19 sick days provided by prior extensions of the Safety Agreement.  

Each employee’s five days of temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave may be used to cover one or more eligible COVID-19 events, meaning that the days may be distributed across multiple outbreaks or infections as necessary until the total number of available days reaches zero. 

Previous COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocol updates

While the COVID-19 Safety Agreement is now set to expire, productions must observe its current protocols until May 11, 2023. Below, we’ll cover major updates to the COVID-19 Safety Agreement as of its most recent update. 

Previously updated case threshold criteria

The headlining modification to the previous COVID-19 Safety Agreement update was its modification of the case threshold criteria under which its most strict protocols go into effect. The threshold was slightly relaxed from its previous limit.

The COVID-19 Safety Agreement currently defines its threshold criteria as fourteen (14) or more new weekly COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 population over a seven-day interval in a production’s metropolitan area or county. This number has been raised from the previous ten (10) or more new weekly COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population. 

Productions refer to data available from COVID Act Now to monitor case rates within the United States. When operating in Canada, productions should look to applicable provincial or city authorities. 

Provided that the threshold has not been breached, productions may implement the more flexible COVID-19 protocols described in the Agreement. In the event of a surge, productions must revert to the Agreement’s most stringent guidelines.

Previously upgraded mask requirements

The current COVID-19 Safety Agreement loosens masking requirements as such that they’re not required in most settings, with the specific exception of shuttle vans. Note that this is only the case under the Agreement’s most flexible protocols. If an uptick in cases triggers the Agreement’s strict protocols, masking requirements will revert to their more rigid state. 

Remember that previous modifications to the COVID-19 Return to Work Agreement updated and upgraded mask requirements for situations in which masks are required. The Agreement states that, “When masks are required, individuals shall wear a KN95, KF94, N95 mask, or when there is a fit issue, a well-fitting surgical mask[.]”

For comparison, mask mandates in the original Return to Work Agreement did not differentiate between various types of masks (cloth masks, surgical masks, respirators, etc.).

Though N95 and surgical masks are already staples in film, TV, and commercial production thanks to the prevalence of COVID-19 Safety Compliance Officers, this modification codifies best practices for masking on set. 

Notably, the updated COVID-19 Safety Agreement gives employers the right to adopt more stringent masking requirements on a production-by-production basis. Productions have the option to require masking of their own will, even when the case threshold criteria has not been breached.

COVID Return-to-Work Update - Wrapbook - Mask
The current COVID-19 Safety Agreement relaxes masking requirements in most settings.

Previously updated testing requirements

The current COVID-19 Safety Agreement defines testing protocols for productions under select conditions. 

In the event of a surge that forces the Agreement’s most stringent protocols into effect, productions have the option of using a daily antigen testing regimen for Zone A workers. This modification stands in contrast to a previous mandate that required testing three times per week including one PCR test under the same conditions.

Approved antigen tests

For reference, a previous update to the COVID-19 Return to Work Agreement expanded the number and variety of acceptable antigen tests permitted for use in such situations that the Agreement authorizes the use of antigen tests over their PCR counterparts. 

Antigen tests are notably cheaper and faster than PCR tests, and thus their use potentially grants productions increased flexibility under applicable circumstances.

Where authorized, the COVID-19 Safety Agreement permits express usage of the following antigen tests:

  • BD Veritor system (Becton Dickinson)
  • BinaxNow (Abbot Diagnostics)
  • CareStart (Access Bio)
  • Celltrion Diatrust Ag Home Test
  • CLINITEST Rapid COVID-19 Antigen (Seimens)
  • Flowflex (ACON Laboratories, Inc.)
  • GenBody COVID-19 Ag Rapid Antigen Test
  • Indicaid (PHASE Scientific International)
  • InteliSwab (OraSure Technologies, Inc.)
  • LumiraDx (LumiraDx)
  • QuickVue (Quidel)
  • SCoV-2 Ag Detect (InBios)
  • SDBiosensor
  • Sienna Clarify (Salofa Oy)
  • Sofia (Quidel Corp)
  • Status COVID-19 (Princeton Bio Meditech)
The COVID-19 Safety Agreement made film production one of the nation’s first industries returning to work safely.

Visit Wrapbook’s COVID-19 Filmmaking Resource Center

As the entertainment industry continues to work through a global pandemic, learning to conduct business with safety and health as top priorities is more sensitive and critical than ever before. To help filmmakers and other industry professionals navigate the process with as much confidence, ease, and efficiency as possible, Wrapbook put together a COVID-19 Filmmaking Resource Center, including a comprehensive guide free for the taking.

Wrapping up

Even as it is set to expire, the COVID-19 Safety Agreement remains a living document designed to help the entertainment industry adapt to the evolving needs of its labor force. As circumstances continue to change, be sure to keep an eye on this page for any updates. 

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Loring Weisenberger

Loring is a Los Angeles-based writer, director, and creative producer. His work has been commissioned by a diverse range of clients- from Havas Worldwide to Wisecrack, inc.- and has been screened around the world. Through a background that blends project development with physical production across multiple formats, Loring has developed a uniquely eclectic skillset as a visual storyteller.

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