You’ve mastered the guidance. You’ve implemented the procedures. You’ve followed all the rules to keep your production safe from COVID-19. But somehow, one of your production team members has tested positive for the virus. What next?
Here is a list of five essential steps that you can take when COVID-19 makes an appearance at your media production:
1. Isolate and send home. State and federal guidelines almost universally require employers to send home anyone who has symptoms of, has tested positive for, or has knowingly come into contact with the virus (including with someone believed to have the virus or to be exhibiting symptoms thereof). Production companies are no different. You should immediately isolate (with at least 6 feet of distance from others) and then send home anyone who fits the aforementioned description (with instructions to contact their health care provider) so that you can limit exposure to other production team members. Note that if the individual seems to have serious illness (e.g., trouble breathing, pressure or pain in the chest, bluish lips, confusion), you should call 911. The individual cannot return to the production until they have (i) been fever-free for the last 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications, (ii) their symptoms have improved, and (iii) at least 10 days have passed since either the start of their symptoms or, if they only tested positive but are asymptomatic, since a testing sample was collected. As an alternative to the third requirement, individuals in New York can provide a negative test result on top of the first two requirements.
2. Sanitize and disinfect. Once the individual has left the production site, you should take steps to ensure that no traces of the virus have been left behind. That means closing off areas used by the infected individual and then sanitizing and disinfecting those areas, in addition to any equipment, props, tools, materials, or surfaces touched by the infected individual, bathrooms, offices, common spaces, and any other exposed areas. The CDC recommends waiting 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting, where possible, opening outside doors and windows to increase air circulation, and cleaning all heavy transit areas and high-touch surfaces. Your production team can return to the production site immediately after the cleaning and disinfection is done.
3. Trace and track, confidentially. We’ve broken this step into a few parts because it is so important. First, find out where your sick team member has been. Where feasible, interview the individual (by phone or email, of course) about their whereabouts on set in the 48 hours before they reported symptoms and keep a log of those whereabouts. Second, review and preserve your logs of everyone who entered the production site in those 48 hours. (If you are not keeping track of who is entering the production site and when, start now!) Third, some guidelines (like in Los Angeles County) require you to use the aforementioned info to alert anyone who may have been in close contact (meaning within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with the sick individual. This alert should state that someone on set—without naming names—may have contracted the virus. Other guidelines (like in New York State) require you to alert anyone who may have been in close contact (which in New York means within 6 feet for just 10 minutes) with the sick individual only when that individual exhibits symptoms on set. In that case, the alert should state: (a) that someone—again, without naming names—may have fallen ill with the virus; (b) where that individual has been throughout the production site in the previous 48 hours; and (c) whether that individual ultimately tests positive. Once more, be careful: You must not reveal the identity of the sick individual (even if other production team members could deduce their identity).
4. Notify the necessary agencies. Many local and state guidelines require production companies to notify relevant local and/or state health departments upon learning of any positive COVID-19 test result by any production team member. So you should check your disclosure obligations and then be sure to follow them. Doing so not only helps you stay in compliance with applicable guidance or law, but enables officials in your region to effectively protect against further outbreaks.
5. Stay calm and re-emphasize the rules. Do not panic! It’s best to keep focused on what your production team can do to prevent further spread. An infection is a great excuse to repeat, re-emphasize, and potentially re-invigorate your COVID-19-protection rules. Where possible, go back over the rules with your team, have your team reiterate their understanding, and boost your enforcement efforts. This will not only help prevent further infections, but will probably also go a long way in showing your team you take the precautions seriously and making them feel safe on set.
If you have questions about your responsibilities in the event of a COVID-19 infection within your production team, or about other employment law matters, contact Wendy Stryker at (212) 705 4838 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Tricia Legittino at (310) 579-9632 or email@example.com, Viviane Scott at (212) 705-4817 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or any other member of the Frankfurt Kurnit Employment Compliance, Training & Litigation Group.
An infection is a great excuse to repeat, re-emphasize, and potentially re-invigorate your COVID-19-protection rules.