‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Tackles COVID Pandemic in Season 17: What to Expect

Ellen Pompeo Grey's Anatomy Meredith Grey Season 16 Bailey Office
ABC/Kelsey McNeal

One of the medical dramas incorporating the coronavirus pandemic in its upcoming season is the longest running primetime one: Grey’s Anatomy.

Season 17 will pick up “some weeks” into it (Seattle was the epicenter of the outbreak in the beginning) when it premieres as part of a crossover event with the firefighter spinoff Station 19, Variety reports. Production had shut down while Grey’s was filming its 16th season (four episodes short) and the footage that wasn’t used will be part of flashbacks for scenes from before the pandemic. That echoes what series star Giacomo Gianniotti said would likely happen to offer context for where we find the characters — many of whom had been dealing with things in their personal lives at the end of the early finale — again.

Showrunner Krista Vernoff has also detailed the new guidelines in place on set (including testing multiple times a week) to keep the cast and crew safe and healthy. “It’s social distancing, it’s masks, it’s visors,” she said, noting the actors are all wearing masks “between takes and during rehearsals.” (We’ll also see actors wearing masks onscreen given that they’re playing doctors at a hospital during the pandemic.)

Fans can expect to see some changes onscreen as well; as has been detailed, there are some things that can’t be filmed the same way, like love and action scenes and ones with crowds. For medical dramas, that means the number of people in the emergency room during traumas or operating room for surgeries. “It changes the feeling of the show; it changes the pacing of the show,” according to Vernoff.

The guidelines, including the social distancing, have also affected how they film the series. They’re using camera lenses that make it appear people are closer to one another than they actually are. There also aren’t as many scenes in the scripts, due to the shorter work days (10 hours for 10 days, versus 12 hours for nine for an episode).

Grey’s Anatomy, like most of the rest of ABC’s usual scripted fall lineup, is slated to return in November after beginning production in September.

Grey’s Anatomy, 2-Hour Season 17 Premiere, Thursday, November 12, 9/8c, ABC