The Shocking Industry That's Set the Standard for COVID-19 Safety

There are lessons to be learned from this risqué industry that once survived a similar health crisis.

With more and more Americans returning to work despite new cases of coronavirus spiking in many parts of the country, companies are faced with the challenge and responsibility of ensuring the safety of their employees. And while there's no handbook on how to successfully do just that, some medical experts believe the secret to success may lie with an unlikely source: the adult film industry. Why? The multi-billion dollar industry managed to stay standing after a devastating H.I.V./AIDS outbreak occurred within its community in the late 1990s, nearly destroying it altogether. Due to processes that have been in place since then, the adult film industry may be uniquely prepared for coronavirus.

"We can actually learn a lot about safety guidelines by listening to producers of porn," Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the School of Public Health at Rutgers University, told The New York Times on June 18. "Thinking back to the H.I.V./AIDS crisis, the adult film industry had to learn how to keep their workers safe."

Actress on set

According to Halkitis, businesses of all varieties would be wise to follow a similar strategy to the one those working in the adult film business used during those trying times—or what he likes to call the "Four Ts": Target, Test, Treat, and Trace. Though the diseases are different, the method still applies: Require all performers to be tested for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted infections (STI) every 14 days. If a performer's tests come back negative, they can work. If they test positive, however, they receive treatment, their past partners and co-stars are traced, and they are kept from working again until they test negative.

To ensure performers maintained a clean bill of health and had confidence in the fact that their fellow actors did too, the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) developed the Performer Availability Screening Service (PASS): "A safe, reliable, and standardized STI testing protocol and a centralized database for checking the clearance to work status of tested talent and crew members."

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While the system has proven to be effective—though of course not foolproof—it does pose some problems. For one, modeling their safety operations on a system developed specifically for the adult film business may not be a course of action that some companies are willing to take—particularly ones that serve, let's just say, a more family-friendly market segment. However, that's the kind mental roadblock that they're just going to have to get over, one expert says.

"We have to get over that this information is coming from the porn industry," Ashish Jha, MD, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, explained to The New York Times. "If we're trying to get our economy back, a major component of that is building confidence for when we engage in regular activities such as going to a restaurant, getting on a plane, or going back to work."

In addition to continuing with its regular PASS practices and testing for COVID-19, the adult industry released new guidelines for additional safety precautions that will be taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which include temperature checks and social distancing of everyone on set. It's a plan of action that those in center of the industry feel more than comfortable with.

"Health screenings are the norm for us. I think the adult industry is far more prepared than mainstream film sets or other businesses," adult film star Maitland Ward told The New York Times. "This is just one more thing we need to be cautious and vigilant about. Honestly, I think [the] mainstream will be looking to how the adult industry handles this because we are the standard-bearer when it comes to health and safety on sets." And for more best practices now that reopening is under way, check out Three Items the CDC Says You Should Have on Hand When Leaving the House.

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