After nearly three years, Hollywood’s COVID protocols will come to an end on May 12, meaning that productions will no longer be able to mandate vaccines after that date.
The industry has been gradually relaxing its on-set regulations over the last several months. But with the federal government officially ending its COVID emergency declaration on May 11, the studios and the guilds agreed to scrap the remaining rules as of the following day.
The vaccine mandate has become increasingly controversial over the last couple of months. In February, Woody Harrelson called the protocols “absurd” in an interview with the New York Times.
“I don’t think that anybody should have the right to demand that you’re forced to do the testing, forced to wear the mask and forced to get vaccinated three years on,” he said. “I’m just like, let’s be done with this nonsense.”
Tim Robbins echoed that sentiment in a tweet, saying “Woody is right. Time to end this charade.”
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher has also been outspoken against vaccine mandates. In an interview with Variety in February, she said wanted to make sure that “all of my members get an equal opportunity to work.”
At the time, she said that about a quarter of productions were mandating vaccines in “Zone A” — which includes actors and those who come in contact with them, like hair stylists and makeup artists. Vaccines have never been mandated for the other production zones.
“I think that when it comes to what we do with our bodies, that should be a personal choice,” Drescher said at the time.
Any production that has a vaccine mandate in effect as of May 12 will be able to continue to enforce it for the duration of the production, or for TV shows, for the remainder of the season.
Employees will still get five days of COVID sick time, which they can use for COVID events through Dec. 31.
The “Return to Work” protocols were established in September 2020, as a way to restart production that had all but halted in the early months of the pandemic. The rules got the blessing of public health officials, allowing production to resume while other businesses, like restaurants and movie theaters, were largely still closed.
Productions hired COVID safety officers to make sure that workers stayed six feet apart, and implemented a vast and costly regimen of regular PCR testing. In November 2021, the California Film Commission estimated that the protocols added about 5% to production budgets.
Most crew members were allowed to go without masks as of last spring, and the testing schedule was gradually relaxed. In January, the studios and the unions agreed to drop the testing requirement entirely for most crew members.