Just as U.S.-based location shoots in Vancouver get back up and running amid the pandemic, the cameras have stopped rolling on a number of popular TV series due to a shortage of rapid COVID-19 testing capacity in the city.
Sources at Hollywood studios point to a number of U.S.-based TV series shoots that have paused or delayed production as they rely on one local commercial laboratory, LifeLab, to process Coronavirus testing amid a resurgent public health care crisis.
“This is a situation we are continuing to monitor hour by hour and day by day. Safety is of the utmost importance,” one studio exec told The Hollywood Reporter.
LifeLab, on which the local production sector is relying for quick results on COVID-19 tests, told THR it is hiring more technicians to boost its capacity to meet a 48-hour turnaround standard for American shoots.
LifeLab in a statement said a recent spike in positive Coronavirus cases in Vancouver prompted the provincial government to ensure it and other commercial labs had enough COVID-19 testing capacity to support local public health efforts to control the pandemic.
And that diversion of capacity to public testing has left local film and TV producers unable to fully meet their own rapid testing needs, even as LifeLab is increasing its testing capacity to respond to commercial testing turnaround times by the end of the week.
“Testing specimens to support public health efforts to control the pandemic continues to be LifeLabs’ priority. We also understand and appreciate the importance of non-public health testing to support business and travel-related needs,” LifeLabs stated.
It’s understood that industry reps are working closely with LifeLabs and the B.C. Ministry of Health on a range of options to remove the rapid testing bottleneck. That includes securing rapid COVID-19 test kits coming onto the market that are similar to a home pregnancy test and could help identify positive Coronavirus cases without having to entirely rely on hard-pressed commercial labs.
At the same time, the local production sector knows the public health need for increased COVID-19 testing capacity extends across Vancouver and North American TV producers don’t want to unduely divert rapid testing kits to their own needs.
“We are making additional investments to expand out testing capacity and anticipate returning to our standard turnaround times by the end of the week as we work through the recruitment, onboarding and training of staff. In the interim, turnaround times for non-public health testing to support business and travel needs have been impacted,” LifeLab added.
“There is not a shut down per se. Each production is considering this as a temporary glitch,” a Vancouver soundstage operator told THR as a surge in COVID-19 cases in the city follows increased testing, which has put pressure on capacity for local commercial labs.
Vancouver, having comparatively low COVID-19 infection numbers compared to Los Angeles and New York City, convinced a slew of U.S. movies and TV shows to shift or restart production north of the border after the coronavirus spread in March 2020 caused an industry shutdown.
On Wednesday, David E. Kelly, whose The Big Sky thriller for ABC shifted production from New Mexico and Nevada to Vancouver amid the pandemic, told a virtual Television Critics Association event that his series had also pressed the pause button, but expected production to resume by the end of the week.
Local Vancouver production had restarted in recent months amid stringent COVID-19 safety protocols agreed on between the major studios and local unions and guilds. That includes film sets testing cast and crew a couple times weekly and receiving the lab results within three days.
Studio execs stress that no COVID-19 infections on American shows have prompted the production pauses or delays amid late-September or early October start dates for a host of series.
Instead, the bottleneck in virus testing capacity at local labs caught the city’s production sector off guard, coming as it does as public health officials attempt to fend off a second wave of infections locally.
The shortage in testing capacity also comes as Vancouver schools and businesses rely on testing and the ability of public health departments to trace the contacts of positive cases.
Elsewhere in Ontario, the local production sector in and around Toronto is relying on three commercial labs to process rapid testing for film and TV shoots, which include a host of American productions.
“Private testing is proceeding smoothly in Ontario, with productions having access to three government-accredited labs offering private asymptomatic testing. New testing regimes have integrated smoothly into evolving production models and our health and safety guidelines, helping the industry make a strong return to work,” Justin Cutler, the province’s film commissioner at Ontario Creates, told THR.
Sept. 30, 4:30 p.m. Updated with a statement from LifeLab, the Vancouver commercial lab processing rapid tests for U.S. TV shoots in Vancouver.