Contact Tracing on Production Sets: The Basics

Written by Renegade Productions September 3, 2020

Breaking news! Covid-19 has not gone away. Schools are opening, the NBA is playing again, and for us lucky few, video production sets are being held again. Being on set right now can be complicated, stressful, and at the same time, a financial necessity. Every set carries the risk of being exposed, and possibly unknowingly exposing others to this disease. This is an inherent risk we all take as we work in the foreseeable future. Production companies have obvious tools at their disposal to mitigate this. Always requiring masks (over mouth AND nose), limiting bodies on set, minimizing overlap of working zones, maintaining regulated temperature checks, and requesting negative test results before arriving to set. Each of these precautions will drastically reduce the chance of an infection on set. However, even these steps are not quite enough.

The production company’s duty to protect their crew now extends past the wrap of shooting. Covid-19 is a tricky bug to catch on time. An infected crew member could walk around set at their most contagious and still not show any symptoms of sickness until days later. That possibility should shake most producers to their core. Luckily, we have a simple and effective solution: contact tracing. It is a term you have probably heard mentioned in the last few months regarding breakouts. Contact tracing is a process designed to efficiently halt an on-going outbreak of any disease. As the term tracing suggests, the contact tracer begins by identifying a single infection and then branching out from there to find every possible contamination. This process can be tedious, but it is effective and must be taken seriously. When handled properly, contact tracing can greatly reduce the spread of this virus.

This is a very brief look at the process, but I think it is worth sharing this breakdown so readers can get a sense of how important and impactful this process is.

If we became aware that a crew member was positively diagnosed with covid-19 after a shoot in our studio we would immediately start by contacting that individual.

1)    Introduce yourself.

This is slightly obvious, but it deserves critical thought. Be considerate of what the situation your contact is in. Take it slow and be gentle with wording. Talking for this person might be difficult depending on the severity of this specific infection. Explain your purpose clearly and emphasize the importance of the contact tracing process.

2)    Inquire about infectious period.

This is the technical part of the process. This simple formula will help to lay the groundwork for outreach. Date of first symptoms – 2 days = start of infectious period. This window of time is critical. If the individual has interacted with anyone during this period, we must try to assess if transmission was possible, ask about the following:

Did any of the following occur during the infectious period?

  • Shared physical contact
  • Shared close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more)
  • Shared environments (offices, schools, restaurants)
  • Sharing food, bathroom, or beds.

If any of these situations are confirmed, the individuals must be contacted and given proper instruction to quarantine.

3)    Identifying contacts.

The easiest contacts to identify are typically the ones who might share housing and residence with the infected. Families, roommates, and coworkers are at an obviously high risk and are easy to think about. The harder situations to deal with are the public spaces. If our infected individual went to a restaurant for dinner in this example, we would need to call the restaurant and work with their management to get a list of every known individual in the restaurant who could have been exposed. This can be exhausting, but it is essential.

4)    Instruct on how to isolate.

Finally, spend some time instructing your contact on the steps necessary for quarantine, and the parts of the process they might not be thinking about right away.

  • Do you have health insurance?
  • Do you have a reliable way to access food?
  • Do you have any upcoming appointments to cancel or reschedule?

Your contact should always be instructed to consult a medical professional for full covid-19 direction; however, it is safe to recommend a mandatory quarantine of at least 10 days from onset of symptoms.

5)    Call Contacts

  • Introduce yourself.
  • Inform of exposure.
  • Instruct on quarantine.

This process is very similar to the initial four steps of the process. A call should be made to everyone who may have been exposed to your infectious contact. With that said, we should proceed with increased consideration and emotional empathy. Telling someone that they could or likely do have this virus is easier said than done. It should go without saying that this information is delicate and must be given proper attention. Ideally, the person you are calling has not yet begun to experience symptoms of the virus and the spread can be cut off. Remember to instruct on how to quarantine and make sure they are planning how they will receive healthcare and food.

6)    Implement regular check-ins

This might sound ridiculous but being in isolation can be very isolating. This simple step can be a blessing for those actively fighting this virus. A call, even one as simple as a check-in, can do wonders for their mental health. Make effort to listen, especially as they might struggle to talk. Being heard is empowering and rewarding.

This process is not rocket science, but it is incredibly important to get right. We must gather information and remain empathetic through the entire process. I highly recommend anyone who is interested to take the free Contact Tracing course from Johns Hopkins University. This course goes further in depth than I do in this article and will give you a proper certification.

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