SAG-AFTRA, along with the Director’s Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Basic Crafts, have released their long-awaited report on COVID safety guidelines.  They said that the report, entitled “The Safe Way Forward,” was created with the help of epidemiologists and other medical experts.

We’ll focus here on a few major points: the zone system, testing and a dedicated health safety team.  Before we do that, we want to note that the report repeatedly states that it comprises guidelines and recommendations and is meant to be “an organizing principle … the granular detail that lies beneath can be tailored to each production.”  Moreover, there is no specific mention of commercial productions and clearly these guidelines are focused on longer TV and movie shoots.  SAG-AFTRA is still requiring a meeting with advertising agencies and production companies before SAG-AFTRA commercial shoots and at those meetings SAG-AFTRA will review the production’s specific COVID-related guidelines.  

The Zone System:  The backbone of the report’s safety guidelines is a Zone System.  Zone A is the area where activity is occurring without social distancing and without PPE, generally where performers are working with crew that need to be close by.   Zone B is “everywhere the production has a footprint that is not Zone A.”  Everyone is Zone B must use PPE and adhere to strict physical distancing practices.  Zone C is everywhere else, e.g. homes, hotels, and anywhere else that personnel are when they are not working. The people cleared to work in Zone A should only come into contact with people in Zone B who are rigorously practicing physical distancing:  “Think of it this way: from door to door, people working in Zone A travel along a cocooned path—sometimes involving multiple Zone As—laid out and controlled by people working in Zone B.”  Part Three of the report walks you through a “real world” example of how the Zone System will work in an actual production.

Testing:  Rigorous COVID testing works in concert with the Zone System. While acknowledging that testing may not yet be readily available and that the types and speed of testing will change over time, the report states that Zone A personnel should be tested at least 3 times per week, and everyone else should be tested at least once a week.  And “[n]o one can be allowed access to Zone A or Zone B for the first time unless they have been tested and cleared within the last 24 hours.”  In addition, “no one can be instantly “bumped” from Zone B to be permitted to enter Zone A; they would have to be tested and cleared 24 hours before entering Zone A.” (Note that while the report states that the unions “support” temperature monitoring, the report notes that temperature testing is not an accurate way to  determine if someone has COVID and can lead to a false sense of security.)

Safety Personnel:  The report also envisions a Health Safety Supervisor and a Health Safety Department that will be helmed by a Health Safety Manager.  The Health Safety Supervisor (HSS) has numerous responsibilities including overseeing the testing process, hiring and coordinating the necessary COVID-related medical staff, ensuring that talent and crew complete a daily attestation form that screens for symptoms and potential exposure to COVID-19, and providing instructions at daily safety meetings.  The HSS will be “the final authority on COVID matters and cannot be overruled in their efforts and activities to enforce COVID-19-related safety practices.”  

The Health Safety Manager (HSM) oversees among other things: the execution of HSS’s directives; the set up and maintenance of  hand washing/disinfecting/sanitizing station; set up of medical checkpoints and the stocking, restocking, and distributing PPE, sanitizer, and other safety supplies.  The HSM also a supervises a hygiene crew that will be responsible for overnight sanitizing of all production spaces and a security unit that will be responsible for keeping any individuals from entering Zone A who hasn’t been tested and cleared.

When engaging a production company, we suggest that you request a production company’s COVID safety plan early on in the production process -- as early as the bidding stage -- so that you can understand how the production company plans to handle safety concerns. Then you and the production company can work with SAG, if it's a SAG production, to make sure you have plan in place that makes sense for your particular production.