It’s safe to say that people are tired of the pandemic and the restrictions, but that doesn’t mean that we can ease up in our efforts to contain the virus. The Alberta government’s premature response in lifting restrictions has been a good lesson.
On July 29, the provincial government removed the mask mandate for almost all indoor settings except public transit and continuing care facilities, made the isolation period for close contacts recommended but not mandatory, no longer required testing for asymptomatic people (including close contacts of positive cases), reduced the number of hotel rooms set aside for isolation, and stopped contact tracers from notifying close contacts of people with COVID-19. They also removed all public health restrictions, which include removing capacity limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings.
On Aug. 16, they planned to remove the mask mandate for public transit as well as the requirement to self-isolate after testing positive. It’s as though the government believed the threat of COVID-19 was gone, leaving the public’s safety up to the public.
But COVID-19 is still an ever-present threat due to the highly contagious Delta variant. Large outbreaks continue to crop up around the world. In fact, three times in the first week of August, Florida surpassed its own reported daily cases. They do not have a mask mandate and have had their restrictions lifted, and we are seeing the outcome of those decisions. Over the course of a week, they had over 150,000 new cases.
On Aug. 12, there were 582 new active cases in Alberta. Less than a week before the restrictions were to be removed, Alberta was in the midst of an upward trending case count. Because of the uptick in cases, the government decided that the remaining restrictions would stay in place until Sept. 27. But, experts are predicting that we are on the verge of a fourth wave, even with the current restrictions.
Recently, I have taken some work in film in Calgary. I have done some daily work on shows produced by the CBC, HBO, and MGM Studios, and I have accepted a longer contract on a show produced by Disney.
Each studio requires their employees to get tested prior to their first day of work. The test is not only paid for by the production company, but the employee also gets paid for a half-day to take the test. The employee must also participate in an online COVID-19 safety course prior to their first day. Once the person has started work, COVID-19 testing happens at least once a week. You get tested more if you are on set and are in close proximity to actors who are required to take off their masks. Everyone must wear masks unless they are required to remove it for their job, or if you are in the designated doffing zone. All these areas are set up with proper physical distancing and safety parameters. There is a COVID-19 screener app that employees complete before arriving to work each morning. And when you get to work, a member of the health and safety team scans the QR code the screener app provides once you’ve answered the questions.
Anyone who tests positive must self-isolate and provide the names of everyone they are in close contact with, and the production company will contact those who are on the show with them. All close contacts are also required to self-isolate for 14 days and must test negative before returning to work. Those who are required to self-isolate will still receive a portion of their paycheque every week.
Right before Alberta went into the Open for Summer Plan on July 1, the production companies sent out a memorandum to all staff stating that, although the Alberta government is lifting restrictions, everyone who wishes to continue working for them must follow the strict safety protocols set forth by their health and safety teams while at work.
Production companies may be in the entertainment business, but they are a business nonetheless. Positive cases create delays and cost them money. Because of this, they are doing whatever they can to keep people safe. Even if it’s all about the money, I feel the safest from COVID-19 while I am at work, surrounded by people who are tested regularly, wearing masks, and following strict protocols.
Disney is currently doing a significantly better job of keeping people safe than the current provincial government. They are also doing a better job providing support for people who miss work due to COVID-19.
How embarrassing is it that a corporation is taking people’s health more seriously than our own government?