While most of the entertainment and live event industries have shut down of late, WWE has forged ahead with its weekly TV programming amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Having relocated their shows to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, the company is embracing new measures to protect talent and crew members from the virus.
“At a typical event, talent are milling about, they’re at catering or wherever when they’re not actually in part of the show,” Stephanie McMahon, WWE’s chief brand officer, tells Variety. “That’s not allowed now. There’s extensive testing and screening when you first come in the facility regardless of whether you’re a talent, a crew member, or anyone else. Working with our doctors, you have your temperature taken. If you have a temperature over 100.4 degrees, you are automatically asked to leave.”
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“If you’ve been out of the country or been in touch or in contact with anybody who’s been out of the country you’re not allowed in the facility,” McMahon continued. “We’re taking every precaution we can. It’s also why you don’t see talent or anyone else in the audience. We really are adhering to all the guidelines that we can to maintain the health and safety of our crew and our performers.”
Dr. Thomas LaVeist, Ph.D, dean of and a professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, says that taking temperatures constitutes “the first line of testing,” but it is not a foolproof method.
“You can certainly still be asymptomatic and still be a carrier and there’s just no way of knowing that by just taking temperatures,” LaVeist tells Variety.
In addition to taking temperatures, WWE says that segments that are now filmed on closed sets are done in waves to limit the amount of personnel in attendance. WWE has also previously stated that only “essential personnel” are present during filming under current conditions, though the company would not confirm exactly how many people that is when asked by Variety beyond saying they were “adhering to/following CDC guidelines and state/local mandates.”
“CDC puts out the number 10 but that’s more of a compromise,” LaVeist says. “When you think about what is actually safe from a public health science standpoint, there is no safe number. Any infected person can affect any other person.”
“The total number of people you have also depends on the size of the room they are in,” he continued. “30 people dispersed throughout a room that’s built to accommodate 300 is probably safe. It’s difficult to say. In a typical size elevator, three people is too many. There’s so much nuance to this that its hard for CDC to come up with recommendations that fit every circumstance.”
Another major safety factor for WWE talent is travel, as they are usually on the road most of the year performing in the company’s televised live shows and pay-per-views, as well as non-televised live events known as house shows.
“We have a lot of talent who live in the Florida area, which is very helpful,” McMahon says. “During any type of extensive taping period we are asking all of our talent to remain in the Orlando area and not travel.”
An individual with knowledge of the situation says that WWE has done advance tapings for multiple episodes of its weekly shows. The company is also taping its flagship pay-per-view WrestleMania in advance in “multiple locations,” with the show now airing over two nights on April 4 and 5. The individual notes that WWE put the advanced taping schedule in place ahead of Orlando issuing a stay at home order, which will close all non-essential businesses in the city as of Thursday night for two weeks.
Due to the predetermined outcomes of WWE matches, the company has an advantage over other major sports leagues that have suspended operations due to coronavirus. The NBA, MLB, NHL, and other leagues have all shut down or delayed their seasons as the virus continues to spread around the world.
“WWE is fan first” McMahon says. “We are all about providing content for our fans, providing an experience for them that is worthy of their passion. They come first. Everything we do, we do through a lens of ‘How can we best serve our fans?'”
McMahon went on to say that WWE is currently experimenting with technology that would allow fans to experience WrestleMania virtually, as “ultimately what we want to do is provide our audience with that escape.”
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