Confessions of the Covid Guy
If you’ve worked on set in the last three years, you probably have opinions about the covid compliance department. (You also probably have a wristband tan line, sore ears from those damn mask straps, and a new appreciation for self-serve lunch catering buffets after so long without them.)
When production resumed after a three-month shutdown in spring 2020 due to a virus you probably saw on the news once or twice, with it came a hefty stack of new rules from production companies, the unions, and LA County. No one wanted to be bothered with keeping track of all of these mandates, so a new department whose whole schtick was being bothered and bothering others was born: covid compliance. As someone who fell into managing this department very early on and was somehow still at it right up through last week, when the union covid safety agreements finally ended almost three years later, I feel qualified to share the secrets of our weird, weird trade. We didn’t like bothering you any more than you liked being bothered (something I always made sure to say in my safety meeting spiel) so hopefully this clears a few things up (and hopefully your mask pimples clear up, too).
1. We all hated assembling those face shields.
2. When people made fun of the forehead thermometers for not being super accurate, on very early mornings, I was always tempted to ask them where they’d like me to shove it for a better read.
3. If one of us asked you to do something that didn’t make sense, it was either because some higher-up made them do it, or because they were just a jackass. We hoped you could tell the difference. If you ever saw that person again on another job at that company, it was the first one.
4. We all hated handing out those face shields.
5. The whole covid compliance “officer” title was a little bit cringy. We didn’t have badges. We didn’t really have authority. We just had an electrostatic sprayer and positive vibes for negative tests. Covid compliance manager/assistant, covid compliance folks, covid compliance team members, or even those other names you called us when you thought we couldn’t hear you were better than “officer”.
6. Anyone who says they enforced “only Zone A crew in Zone A” after 2020 is lying.
7. We all hated how much plastic waste was caused by the whole thing, especially the face shields.
8. You’re either going to miss those hand wash stations or you’re nasty.
9. We died a little bit inside each time we had to interrupt your workday to retest you, but we died a big bit inside each time we had to ask a hundred year old grip to mask up after hauling half a ton of gear upstairs in the SoCal summer heat.
10. An ear, nose, and throat doctor who became a covid compliance officer told the New York Times that those face shields didn’t work the way we had hoped in a production setting. We didn’t need a doctorate to figure that out; we all found out the hard way when the sweaty grip from the last bullet point would fling his off and baptize everyone within a ten-foot radius with nasty breath condensation.
11. The last few weeks of covid compliance work have been the easiest few work weeks of our lives, but the job wasn’t always as easy as it looked. You saw us BSing at crafty and waiting three hours for a talent to check in, but you didn’t see the frantic positive test phone calls in the middle of the night or the anxiety meltdowns on the other end of the earliest contact tracing calls. The middle of the night stuff really sucked when not entirely sober, but I like to think nobody could tell.
12. Any PA who got out of setting up lunch, doing lockups, or packing a truck because we asked them to babysit the cooler and not let anyone go in it, and do nothing else? Sorry, but also, you’re welcome.
13. A verbal battle with a flustered teamster over spraying the bathrooms too thoroughly with those electrostatic guns was a terrifying but necessary rite of passage for any covid compliance person with the gumption to do the job.
14. We all hated the way the face shields messed up talent makeup and added time to the day little by little.
15. If we offered you a fresh mask, we generally weren’t being passive-aggressive; we just didn’t want you breathing in mask fibers and lunch vapors. Generally. Sometimes, we were absolutely being passive-aggressive.
16. We all hated those people who enforced social distancing with a six foot pole too. We are glad they couldn’t hack it.
17. I liked hiring baristas as covid assistants, not only because they are quick to memorize step-by-step procedures for things like check-in, but because they could tell you to go to hell with a smile and you didn’t even notice.
18. Those big air scrubbers for soundstages should be classified as sonic weapons of war by the United Nations. I tried to tell production we didn’t need them, but they couldn’t hear me over the stupid scrubber. Did they help stop the spread of covid? Honestly, probably, but I can’t prove that. Did they help give ADs yet another reason to despise us? This one I can prove.
19. As obnoxious and frustrating as it was at times, there is something to be said for the people who charged into the unknown and did the job correctly, a job we never anticipated or wanted. Some of us were in production before and some of us got in through this, but I hope people will remember all of us who did the covid thing without being pushovers or bullies, the people who made themselves a part of the crew and kept us working when so many other industries were shut down. Next time you’re booking a job and there’s an open slot on your PA roster or someone asks for a recommendation, check in with that covid person who worked their tail off from production call to taillights and was actually kind of cool. See what they’re up to and where they want to end up.
20. Seriously, we are so sorry about the face shields.
The Covid Guy