L.A. officials: Celebrities at the Emmys didn't need to mask because it was a TV production

Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images

You can understand why certain special exceptions to COVID precautions would be made for film and television. Do you want to watch a Marvel movie, or some 19th-century period drama, in which all of the characters are wearing masks for no narrative reason?

It would pull you out of the universe the movie’s asking you to inhabit and force you back into this one. And who wants to be reminded of this universe when they’re enjoying some Hollywood escapism?

But the Emmys aren’t a drama. There’s no suspension of disbelief required to enjoy the show. It’s an awards ceremony. And much has been made throughout the pandemic of public influencers needing to take care to model proper precautions for impressionable Americans who are watching them closely. Trump took a beating in the press last year for not wearing his mask more often. Biden was criticized by conservative media earlier this year when he continued to wear a mask outdoors on some occasions despite the CDC saying it’s unnecessary for vaccinated people.

So why should a live televised celebrity gala be exempt from COVID rules just because it’s televised? We want Americans masking in the age of Delta, don’t we? An obvious way to try to encourage them (even though I doubt it’d do much to move opinion) is to have the rich and famous mask when they gather.

Oliver Darcy of CNN asked L.A. County health officials if attendees at the Emmys broke the rules last night. Nope, he was told:

How do you issue a statement like that without addressing Seth Rogen’s claim that organizers told guests the event would be held outdoors? It could be that he was lying as part of a joke but I didn’t get that sense. If he’s telling the truth then the organizers pulled a bait-and-switch on guests, increasing their risk of infection.

And if the answer is that it was too hot to hold an open-air event in L.A. in late September, they could have moved the show to later this year when temperatures for a true outdoor production would have been more accommodating. Why didn’t they?

The basic logic of the county’s statement is sound. If everyone’s vaccinated and has tested negative in the last day or two, you’re cutting the odds of a superspreader event dramatically. If an event’s organizers are willing to go to those lengths to ensure the safety of guests, I’m fine with making masks optional. That’s what it means to regain a bit of normalcy safely in the new reality of endemic COVID.

But there’s no reason why a live event that doesn’t involve any dramatic performances should be exempt because it’s on TV and therefore the attendees are “performers.” All mass gatherings should be given an exemption from mask mandates if they adopt a vax+test regimen instead. The fact that “performers” enjoy a special privilege makes me suspect that the entertainment industry used its financial and lobbyist muscle over California politicians to get a carve-out.

The only valid reason I can think of for limiting what kind of gatherings are allowed to use vax+test in lieu of masking is that it might create an administrative burden for the state. I don’t know how California officials verified that attendees at the Emmys were vaccinated and tested but between liability exposure, insurance requirements, and existing state oversight of the industry, the organizers had good reasons to enforce the rules. Whereas if California opened up vax+test to everyone, suddenly every wedding in the state would take advantage and tell guests that they can leave their masks at home. How would the state go about ensuring that those weddings really are requiring all guests to be vaccinated and tested?

Then again, how is the state enforcing the current regime in which masks are technically required at gatherings like weddings? Are California cops barging into churches while the bride and groom exchange vows and scanning the pews to make sure they can’t see any mouths or noses? Everyone’s on the honor system with mask mandates.

Exit question: Is there a “COVID caste system” in America?