In the terrifying scourge of the COVID epidemics in Hollywood

In end of December, Young Sheldon, the sitcom Warner Bros. Television on a 9-year-old scientific genius, reported 11 positive cases of COVID-19 on set. Another WB production, Lucifer, in which a devil leaves hell for Los Angeles, reported 13. Eleven other cases have come from The Kominsky method, a Netflix series starring Michael Douglas where aging actors grapple with mortality. At around the same time, according to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department’s COVID-19 Database, which tracks workplace outbreaks over the past 14 days, Netflix had nine more positive cases; NBC Universal, including a crew from the show Mr. Mayor, had 23; CBS reported 45.

Last month, TV and film production continued, even as cases of COVID-19 in Los Angeles exploded precipitously. As of December 28, Los Angeles County had an average of 14,000 new cases and 73 deaths per day; by January 7, that average had climbed to nearly 20,000, with 218 deaths per day. Local authorities called the peak “catastrophic” – limiting intensive care capacity to 0% statewide, forcing ambulances to wait hours to unload patients, ration their oxygen supplies and turn away unlikely patients to survive. “Forgive my tongue,” said Dr. Preet Malani, director of health and infectious disease physician at the University of Michigan, “but it’s a complete shit show out there.

On December 6, when Southern California entered a stricter regional lockdown, alfresco dining ended and playgrounds were closed, along with barber shops, museums, theaters, and restaurants. leisure facilities. (After the parents’ refusal, the playgrounds were allowed to reopen in Los Angeles). But the entertainment industry was allowed to stay in business. Entertainment is an “essential activity” according to the California Department of Public Health.

Instead of a lockdown, Hollywood received an email. Eighteen days after the order took effect, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health sent a message recommending a “voluntary break,” a spokesperson said. “Although musical, television and film productions are permitted,” LACDPH officials wrote in the statement taken from the FilmLA association, “we ask you to seriously consider suspending work for a few weeks during this catastrophic surge in COVID case. ”

In response, several companies, including CBS Studios, Universal Television, and Warner Bros. Television, have delayed production of a handful of shows, most of them for just a week, according to the Los Angeles Times. The series which were to begin filming on January 4 have been postponed to January 11; others until January 18. The actors’ union SAG-AFTRA told the Times they had agreed with several other industry groups to “recommend a temporary suspension of in-person production in southern California.” (SAG-AFTRA did not respond to requests for comment). But there are no formal limits to the production.

UCLA Epidemiology Professor Dr Timothy Brewer said depending on the execution, film production is no more and no less dangerous than other activities. “It really depends on the specifics of the production,” Dr Brewer said. “The transmission of the coronavirus depends on four factors.” The infectious nature of the individual, the time spent near others, and his proximity to others can all influence transmission. “The fourth general area is about mitigating factors,” said Dr Brewer. “You are more likely to get infected inside than outside. Wearing masks is more likely to prevent transmission, as is hand hygiene. It’s a combination of those things.

I can’t think of any infectious disease or epidemiological reasons why you forbid people to go to playgrounds or outdoor restaurants if people were distant and wearing masks, but let film production continue .

Likewise, however, Dr Brewer said production was no safer than some of the activities banned under the new regional order. “I can’t think of any infectious disease or epidemiological reasons why you forbid people to go to playgrounds or outdoor restaurants if people were distant and wearing masks, but allow film production to continue, ”he said. “I would recommend that you request the data from the public health authorities. There is no infectious disease reason why one is safer than the other.

The LA County Department of Public Health said entertainment workers were “deemed essential by the state.” The California Department of Public Health declined to comment.

Hollywood’s relationship with local COVID-19 measures has given rise to several recent scandals. In late November, the city announced plans to shut down a heavily trafficked COVID-19 test site at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles for one day. Instead of testing out the 504 Angelenos who made a date, the site would become the backdrop for some 170 cast and crew members of a sex swap. She is all that reboot with TikTok influencer Addison Rae. After the denial by residents and local media, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the shooting would be canceled and the test site would be allowed to remain open.

Weeks later, a similar scenario unfolded at St. Vincent Medical Center, a closed hospital bought in the spring by the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Soon-Shiong. Soon-Shiong had planned to transform the facility into a “central command” center for doctors and COVID-19 patients, to relieve pressure from overwhelming hospitals in the region. Instead, the location was rented out through the company Real to Reel, and rented for two months to ABC, where it became the filming location for the pilot of a medical sitcom called, incredibly, Sorting.

A spokesperson for the series declined to comment. A source affiliated with the show said the show had never been approached by the owners or the city of Los Angeles about returning the facility to a working hospital during their time there.

One of the first visible outbreaks of COVID-19 took place on a set, when Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson contracted the virus amid the production of Elvis Presley’s biopic, Elvis, filming in Australia. In September, filming for Matt Reeves’ The batman closed after star Robert Pattinson tested positive. The following month, 12 crew members on the set of Mission: impossible 7 tested positive, delaying production for several weeks. When the project resumed in November, actor Tom Cruise was caught on camera berating his colleagues for allegedly lacking social distancing.

The entertainment industry is one of the largest economic sectors in California. A 2017 Otis report found that there were approximately 141,000 salaried and self-employed entertainment workers in Southern California (or 248,100, if you count occupations indirectly related to entertainment), generating some $ 3.1 billion in dollars in tax revenue. The most visible of these workers are actors or agents, bringing in massive annual income. But the vast majority of the workforce that powers America’s pop-cultural machine are low to mid-wage workers.

A 2012 study of the entertainment economy by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce found that the average annual salary was $ 96,300 in the film and video industry, $ 103,000 in the sound production industry, and 113,000 $ in the radio, television and cable sector. But this data was based on averages, combining the highest and lowest incomes. ZipRecruiter, a job board website that pulls data from ADP payroll software, found that the majority of entertainment salaries in Los Angeles range from $ 40,763 to $ 79,410 per year.

But a differentiator between entertainment and other industries operating during the pandemic is regular testing. Productions have also hired COVID-19 compliance officers to ensure distancing and hygiene protocols are maintained on set.

“As industries try to keep their distance and ensure the use of masks, the main difference in the film industry is regular and frequent testing,” said UCLA Professor of Epidemiology, the Dr Jeffrey Klausner, who consults Hollywood productions. “We have found this to be effective in the professional sports industry and in elite private colleges. Where businesses do this, they can prevent and control the spread of COVID-19. It’s really not about is this business essential or notit is can this company protect its employees? “

Yet, Dr Malani said, serial tests can only collect a limited amount of information. “In terms of numbers, you don’t know if there have been any severe cases or secondary spread or if they have returned home and infected others,” she says. “You don’t know if the entertainment industry is causing the boom in California. Probably not. But while there can be people doing all the right things, on the other hand, there are probably people who are lax.

And in Los Angeles, the tests could collect even less. On January 4, the FDA issued a safety alert regarding the COVID-19 oral curative test, which it says is prone to false negatives when improperly administered. Curative, a start-up run by a 25-year-old British businessman with no medical training, has been offering self-administered oral tests in the Los Angeles area for months. While LA County ceased using the tests in June, they are widely distributed at Curative pop-ups and city-run testing centers, including Dodgers Stadium, which tests thousands of patients each. day. The FDA has advised that the oral swab be used only for symptomatic patients who should be observed by a healthcare practitioner.

But entertainment workers, argued Dr Klausner, are not the most vulnerable population. “I think you have to look at the current outbreak of COVID-19, you have to see that it’s an outbreak of low-paid Latino workers,” he said. “These are not people who work in the media [and entertainment] industry. All recommendations should be data driven. Data suggests that Latinx populations are most at risk. And then, within these populations, it is the construction workers, the people who are adults in daycare. These are people who work in manufacturing, where there is no routine testing. “

“If people want to be angry about certain things, they should ask themselves: why isn’t there routine testing in these most risky industries? Why are there no routine tests for construction workers, factory workers and daycare centers? “

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