This post is part of Stand-In Central’s deep-dive series into the coronavirus pandemic as it relates to stand-in work in TV and film. For more posts in the long-running series, visit https://standincentral.com/coronavirus.
— The Editor
In the event that someone on a TV or film set tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 9 (the coronavirus responsible for symptoms related to the disease COVID-19), what happens next may vary from production to production.
However, some indications of what happens are starting to emerge, and the question is whether stand-ins, namely day-playing stand-ins, might be more vulnerable than productions even realize.
Here is a general look (to date) at the sequence of events that unfold when someone tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 on a TV or film job, and how those events are by no means absolutely protective of stand-ins or the crew in general.
When Someone Tests Positive
When someone on a set tests positive for the novel coronavirus, that person is notified immediately. The person leaves the job or is asked not to return to work, in order to quarantine or perhaps seek medical assistance. That person is also contact-traced.
Contact tracing seems to start by interviewing the person for that person’s accounting of those with whom s/he had “close contact.” While the CDC standard used to measure “close contact” used to be within six feet for fifteen consecutive minutes of exposure to the positive person in a twenty-for hour period, that standard recently changed under CDC guidelines to within six feet for fifteen cumulative minutes of exposure to the positive person over a twenty-four hour period.
In other words, by the past standard, the positive person would account for those whom s/he had fifteen-minute meetings or more (within six feet of each other). By the new CDC standard, even short meetings within six feet of the positive person that add up over a day to fifteen minutes or more count as close contact to account during contact tracing.
From that point, fairly soon after the interview, contact tracers start to reach out to those the positive person name-checked in the interview. Those people are notified that they were identified as within six feet of a positive person for fifteen cumulative minutes over a twenty-four hour period.
The contacted person may have the ability to agree or disagree with the positive person’s characterization. If the contacted person agrees, that person leaves the job and is asked not to return to work, in order to quarantine. If the contacted person disagrees, it is possible that the contacted person may be able to stay on the job and continue to work.
At some point after (perhaps a matter of hours after production learns of a positive test), the production notifies the cast and crew of the positive case, sometimes in a large meeting where everyone is cautioned to maintain six feet of social distance. (This can be difficult when the cast and crew may have to move close to the meeting leader to hear or to ask questions, which concentrates those at the meeting and usually shrinks social distance between those present.) The cast and crew then have the opportunity to ask questions.
Common questions asked are:
- How would you know, given the confidentiality of the positive person, if you were a close contact? (By this point, usually if you were a close contact, you would have been called and identified as such.)
- Can you say whether the person was “on set” or “off set”? (Productions seem okay with clarifying whether a positive person was someone who was on set (meaning, working with the crew during shooting) or off set (meaning, not working with the crew during shooting, but doing work before or after shooting).)
- What are the next steps? (Are we continuing shooting? If we are shutting down, when will start shooting again? When will we know more? How will we know more?)
- If we are stopping down production, but if we are required to come to work to test, do we continue to do so? (Production may have to clarify the testing schedule after this point.)
While the above characterization may leave out some important steps or failsafes, from the perspective of a stand-in, it seems the above steps are not perfect, and stand-ins — especially day-playing stand-ins — may be especially vulnerable.
Incomplete Recollection of Close Contacts
One vulnerability appears to be that in interviewing the positive person for an account of those with whom s/he had “close contact,” the generated list of people is dependent on the positive person’s recollection and judgment. Some close contacts may be easily identifiable given that the positive person had regular contact with certain people on set, but other close contacts may not come to mind. Given that a positive test result may be stressful or emotional, it is understandable that the positive person may not be able to recollect all with whom that person had close contact, or may misjudge how close those people were or for how long.
Not Knowing Names of Close Contacts
Also, film and TV sets have a large number of workers on them, with crew and cast who intermix and interact, not all of the time knowing each other’s names. It may be challenging for a positive person to identify crew and cast members whose names s/he does not know.
Recollection Bias for Core Workers and against Day-Players
Add to that that sometimes people on set are “day-players,” meaning they are only there for the day, rather than for the entire run of the job. The chances of knowing a day-player’s name are reduced. In fact, the chance of remembering a day-player at all may be reduced, as a positive person may only really think of “core” workers on a job, self-screening out day-players.
A positive person or a contacted person may act in self-interest during the interview processes, thus warping the overall process. For example, a positive person may want to keep co-workers or others in that person’s department working, and thus lean more toward saying the cumulative exposure over a day was less than fifteen minutes when it arguably could have met that level of exposure. That self-interest may keep those who are arguably close contacts on the job, and thus arguably exposing others on the job to infection.
Similarly, a contacted person may disagree out of self-interest with the positive person’s identification of being a close contact, and as a result, may be able to stay on the job. The economic or financial situation for the contacted person may figure into whether to agree with the identification or to disagree.
For example, someone whose economic situation depends on overtime or a larger paycheck on a job may be inclined to disagree with a close-contact identification, because any employer-mandated quarantine pay may not be enough to meet that person’s economic needs (“pay bills”). Similarly, someone whose financial situation depends on overtime or a larger paycheck may want to stay on the job, because not being on the job may interfere with savings, earning toward eligibility for health insurance or pension credits, etc.
However, for those whose economic and finanicial situations are stable, s/he may be more inclined to agree with the characterization and leave the job for quarantine, because any quarantine pay may be sufficient while away from the job.
Perception of Importance
Add to that the perception of self-importance one may have on the job, and how that perception might affect whether one disagrees with a positive person’s characterization of being a close contact. Someone who believes s/he is more or less irreplaceable or unsubstitutable may be inclined to disagree when roped in as a close contact. Someone who believes s/he is replaceable or substitutable may be inclined to agree and go into quarantine.
According to Today’s Wound Clinic, “If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform their employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should not, however, disclose to coworkers the identity of the quarantined employee because confidentiality requirements under federal law, such as the [Americans with Disabilities Act], may apply. Additionally, as virologic testing comes online, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) may also prohibit the disclosure of the identity of the employee.
According to Ogletree Deakins, “employers [have] legal obligations to protect the confidentiality of employee health information in their possession.”
Given confidentiality constraints, the employer may be unable to disclose who on a TV or film job has tested positive. While protective of the positive person, obviously, this is frustrating to the cast and crew who may have been exposed.
The question then becomes whether the positive person can choose to let the employer release that s/he has tested positive. According to the Arizona Center for Disability Law:
The law is unsettled whether an applicant (or employee) can voluntarily waive any of her ADA rights, including the right to confidential treatment of medical records. However, the EEOC has taken the position that if an applicant can waive (or give up) a right under the ADA, the waiver must be voluntary. This means that an employer cannot require an applicant to sign an authorization on a job application in which the applicant agrees to release medical records to the employer. Requiring a waiver as a condition of applying is not voluntary.
Anecdotally, in the event of a positive case on a job, cast and crew members want to push a little to find out more about the person who tested positive, even if they understand that the employer won’t be able to share a name. So, anecdotally, productions sometimes have disclosed to cast and crew members whether the positive person was “on set” or “off set.”
While a production might identify an affected department, that kind of identification may not imply that the positive person worked in that department. An affected department may simply have had close contact with the positive person.
The Vulnerabilities of This Process for Stand-Ins
As long documented on Stand-In Central, stand-ins generally face vulnerabilities other workers on a TV or film set do not face because of how they are classified. While stand-ins are classified as “background actors” in the SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Agreement, stand-ins are regularly seen as “crew” when they are working on the job. However, there is nothing formal about classifying stand-ins as “crew,” and usually stand-ins are not privileged with the same information that others on the crew receive. For example, most stand-ins do not receive emails from production with prelims and callsheets, safety information, changes in the schedule — or emails about a possible novel coronavirus infection.
Core stand-ins on a job may work out with production to receive some, most, or all of this information. However, responsibility to provide this information to stand-ins usually tends to fall to background casting offices, who unlikely are as complete in sharing this information with stand-ins as productions might with cast and crew. The effect is that stand-ins regularly “fall through the cracks” — they are less informed, frequently forgotten, and less protected from health and safety issues. Productions tell everyone in their crew information but forget to notify stand-ins; background casting offices don’t share information with stand-ins because they may think productions share that information with stand-ins. Other times background casting offices share information with background actors but don’t share that same information with stand-ins (for example, whether production will be shooting exteriors in the cold).
With stand-ins irregularly classified as “crew,” and with stand-ins regularly being left out of information, the vulnerability is more felt by day-playing stand-ins. Day-playing stand-ins are new to a production or only work here and there on a job. As a result, they really fall through the cracks when it comes to information about a job. While core stand-ins may be relatively in the know, unless those core stand-ins share with day-playing stand-ins production information, day-playing stand-ins may be completely in the dark about health and safety — especially around SARS-CoV-2 — when on a film or TV job.
Contact Tracing and Day-Playing Stand-Ins
Day-playing stand-ins may be more or less “anonymous” on a job. No one except maybe the background PA and the other stand-ins may know a day-playing stand-in’s name. On top of that, no one may notice the day-playing stand-in amid all of the activity on a set. These facts make identifying a day-playing stand-in in a contact-tracing interview very difficult. Put differently, this means protecting a crew from exposure to a stand-in who might empirically be a close contact is very difficult because the positive person might not even think of or be able to name the day-playing stand-in.
For example, say that an actor shows up on set and that actor’s regular stand-in is not there. Instead, a day-playing stand-in is brought in to do the work. However, say that given the level of activity on set that day, the actor isn’t aware the regular stand-in isn’t there, nor is aware of a day-playing stand-in in the regular stand-in’s place. But say that the actor still is regularly within six feet while the day-playing stand-in is working — say, cumulatively, the actor is on set getting touchups from hair, makeup, et al., for fifteen minutes or more that day, while production continues to line up shots with the day-playing stand-in.
Say then that later, the actor finds s/he tests positive. In the contact-tracing interview, the actor would be unlikely to identify the day-playing stand-in, namely because the actor wasn’t even aware of the day-playing stand-in, and most certainly couldn’t name the day-playing stand-in. So, as a result, the day-playing stand-in continues to work, and any potential coronavirus infection the day-playing stand-in may have contracted may expose the crew.
Furthermore, in the event a day-playing stand-in was identified in contact tracing, and was asked to identify close contacts, if the day-playing stand-in doesn’t know people on that job, how is that day-playing stand-in helpful in identifying close contacts?
Imperfect But Something
Perhaps the best you can do is talk to the COVID Compliance supervisor on a job (even if you are a day-playing stand-in!) about the vulnerabilities in the process and how to address them. Without mentioning the imperfections, it may not be clear that imperfections exist, and perfections can be made to make the contact-tracing process more complete and more protective of cast and crew.
SAG-AFTRA may also be of help, though understandably right now in light of furloughs, they may not be able to act as quickly as desired.
All in all, if you are a stand-in, recognize these vulnerabilities. Considering them, you may want to do your best when you are day-playing to learn people’s names and departments, procure callsheet and safety hotline information, and maintain social distance as much as possible to know who are your close contacts in the event someone identifies you as a close contact — so you can agree or disagree. In theory, if you are always socially distant from everyone in the cast and crew, you cannot be a close contact of them. Limiting your close distance to these people to under fifteen cumulative minutes that day will also help avoid being a close contact.
What have been your experiences with positive cases on TV and film sets and how productions have handled them? What advice do you have for day-playing stand-ins and other stand-ins around this topic? Share your thoughts in the comments below!