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As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the US, crew members at Tamron Hall in New York City say they’ve repeatedly been exposed to the virus after two production shutdowns and that safety measures are inadequate.
“They’re seriously putting lives in danger,” one crew member told BuzzFeed News. “They do segments on COVID and how people lost loved ones and family members, but they’re not practicing what they’re preaching.”
On Oct. 28, an executive producer on the daytime talk show emailed staff saying multiple crew members had tested positive for the coronavirus and that those who “may have had close contact with these individuals” were advised to quarantine at home. But four current crew members who spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity said they showed up to work that day after some people had already been called and told not to come in because of possible exposure to COVID-19. They continued to work for a couple of hours that day while rumors spread around the set until Hall herself told crew members to go home.
After resuming filming, managers sent another email on Nov. 18 saying more crew members may have tested positive for the virus, but that “we will continue to follow our established testing, PPE and social distancing protocols including deep cleaning every area of our production where the staff member worked, as well as deep cleaning all community spaces.”
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“Instead of playing it safe and telling everyone not to come in, they told us all to come in because it was more important for them to get that show in the can than to be upfront with us,” another employee said. “It felt really shady, and it felt like we weren’t working for human beings. It felt like we were working for robots who just wanted to get the show on the air.”
In a statement, ABC said that after “several members” of the production staff tested positive for COVID-19 in October, “we followed company protocols, state and local guidance, and CDC guidelines and had all positive cases isolate at home and any employee identified through contact tracing quarantine at home for 14 days.”
“As our staff’s health and safety is paramount, and out of an abundance of caution, the show aired repeats and subsequently operated from a temporary studio with limited staff,” the network added.
After the first shutdown, the show hired freelance crew members to film with the talk show host in another studio. During the second shutdown, production has continued shooting with regular and freelance crew members in the same studio where employees had tested positive for COVID-19. Only people who were told they were possibly exposed to the virus are currently in quarantine. But crew members said they work in close proximity to Hall and others who are still filming and haven’t been in quarantine.
In March, Tamron Hall, which is currently in its second season, shut down like every other television show during the initial height of the coronavirus pandemic when stay-at-home orders were in place. Filming eventually resumed at the ABC studio in New York City in August. Crew members said they were given masks, with some also getting face shields, and watched a video tutorial about “the basics of COVID safety.” But they said there was a difference in how Tamron Hall was handling COVID compared to other networks and productions they worked at, which included daily testing.
Employees said their biggest concern was that not everyone was tested on a regular basis — only those who worked closely with Tamron Hall herself. After the first round of crew members tested positive for COVID-19, employees were tested once a week, and some were tested twice a week depending on their proximity to Hall.
“We all felt everyone should be tested from the get-go, but they only wanted to test people who were in close contact with Tamron [Hall], which didn’t make much sense considering we were all in the same room with each other,” one crew member said.
Emails obtained by BuzzFeed News show that employees expressed concerns about the working conditions on set to management, production staff, and representatives for multiple unions. Employees say they've also been given conflicting information from the show’s designated health and safety manager, contact tracers, and management about the COVID-19 issues on set.
“Producers are trying to do their jobs, and they don’t care what it takes as long as there’s a show on the air. We feel like we’re scum, like they don’t really give a shit about us,” one crew member said.
In light of the outbreak, some employees think a third party who’s not affiliated with the production or the network would be best equipped to ensure safety on set and make sure everyone is following protocol, especially since they're due to return to the set on Dec. 1.
“There should be a third-party person, someone that I’m confident going to and someone keeping a record of who’s sick,” one employee said. “Someone that isn’t affiliated with the network or production who flips the switch and shuts down production without emotion when people get sick.”
Production crews across the entertainment industry are facing difficulties as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact sets, and Tamron Hall employees said they don’t necessarily want the show to shut down completely because opportunities to work are so scarce. But after the outbreak, they’re afraid their studio has become a COVID-19 superspreader spot and want management to take safety precautions more seriously.
“I’ve put myself in some horrible positions, and I’ve given up a lot for this business, healthwise and socially. But I’ve always been the one to make that choice for myself,” one crew member said. “This time, I want to be given the choice. I don’t want to be lying in a bed or on a ventilator to make sure the show gets on the air.”