- Demerie Danielson left her nursing job in fall 2020 to become a COVID compliance officer for VIP StarNetwork.
- She now ensures the sets of Netflix and Amazon productions comply with COVID safety regulations.
- Her tips to safely reopen your workplace include planning for rule breakers and staying strict.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Almost a year after COVID-19 shut down offices across America, many physical workplaces remain in stasis. But six months ago, Demerie Danielson was hired to help bring at least one industry back to working in person: the film industry.
Danielson, a registered nurse, left her job at an Albuquerque hospital for a brand-new position: COVID Compliance Officer for VIP StarNetwork, a health care contractor for major local movie and TV sets. It’s a subsidiary of Inverse Medical, a medical equipment supplier. With her medical expertise in her back pocket, Danielson learned how to safely reopen a workplace on the fly – and has since done so for seven Netflix and Amazon Prime productions, including the upcoming film “The Harder They Fall,” starring Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba.
Her experience could prove crucial for America’s business owners, especially those pondering their own return to the office amid the country’s vaccine rollout. Here are Danielson’s top four recommendations.
Tailor your solutions to your company’s specific needs
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution here, Danielson said. Each of her productions have different COVID-19 plans, customized to the number of people involved and the types of locations being used. As New Mexico’s coronavirus guidance shifts month to month, she adjusts each film set accordingly, such as modulating the amount of sanitization on touch points like doorknobs as local cases have risen and fallen.
Start by gauging the risk, particularly around air circulation and ability to socially distance. Then build protocols around personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing, and surface sanitization. When in doubt, Danielson added, refer to your state’s or city’s local COVID guidance.
“We’re always going to want to make sure we have the proper filtration of air flow if we’re inside of a building,” she said. “We’re going to always make sure we’re keeping people socially distanced.” But employees should know, she said, that your policies could shift at a moment’s notice.
Prioritize quick-turnaround COVID-19 testing
As vaccines are still sparsely available, your testing protocol could make or break your return to the office. Danielson typically divides workers into two categories: People who interact regularly with each other, and people who only visit in-person occasionally. Infrequent visitors need two consecutive negative tests before they show up to work, while regulars get tested every single day – sometimes multiple times per day.
The daily testing only works because VIP StarNetwork’s labs can turn around test results in a matter of hours. Even a 24-hour turnaround, Danielson said, wouldn’t be fast enough. Contracting with a private lab to achieve that goal is a potentially expensive proposition: Johonniuss Chemweno, CEO of both VIP StarNetwork and Inverse Medical, said his company typically spends five to 20% of a film’s overall budget on COVID safety. One of Danielson’s recent projects, Zack Snyder’s upcoming Netflix movie “Army of the Dead,” has an estimated budget of $70 million.
Still, Danielson stressed that until you can afford to build a truly rigorous same-day testing program, you simply can’t risk bringing your workers back on a daily basis. “If you don’t have the opportunity to get your results in a matter of hours, you could possibly expose all the people within your business and have to shut them down,” she said. “Shutting your business back down for days or weeks again is costly.”
Plan for rule breakers
Most of your employees will probably be just as dedicated as you are to staying safe and healthy, particularly if their ability to work depends on it. Some, however, could push the boundaries on your mask-wearing or testing policies, and you need a plan to deal with them in advance.
Danielson said that most protocol violations she’s seen come from a place of habit – people accidentally behaving like they did pre-pandemic – so she rarely reacts angrily. Rather, she works to gain the offender’s trust through honesty and education, explaining why the policies exist and how they connect to local positivity rates. Repeat offenders get sent home, as they’ve become health hazards for everyone else.
“You don’t really get to say no,” Danielson said. “You’re going to have to do it if you want to work.”
Stay strict, even as vaccines roll out
It’ll be tempting to relax your standards for vaccinated employees, especially as vaccines become more available to the general public this year. Not so fast, Danielson said: Until more is known about how well the vaccines are working, particularly against multiple new and highly contagious virus strains, you’ll need to stay vigilant.
Plus, your employees might be vaccinated, but their families might not – and it’s yet unknown whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus as carriers. “Social distancing is going to be around for a while,” Danielson said. “We’re going to need to keep using the protocols that we’ve implemented for sanitizing high-touch areas. Even the need to test, I feel like that’s still going to be around for a while, until we know how well our vaccines are working.”