When people think of essential personnel in a time of pandemic-induced quarantine, they think of healthcare workers, grocery personnel, and pro wrestling, right? Okay, maybe not—unless, of course, we're talking about the great state of Florida, where the WWE has managed to obtain "essential service" status during the coronavirus crisis.
On April 9, 2020, the Florida Division of Emergency Management issued a memo (PDF) which listed approved exceptions to Governor Ron DeSantis's stay-at-home order, first issued on April 3rd. Many were sensible, like employees needed for crucial mental health and substance abuse counseling, but then there was this:
Employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience — including athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team and any others necessary to facilitate including services supporting such production — only if the location is closed to the general public...
The WWE followed up later with a statement of its own, which said in part, that "as a brand that has been woven into the fabric of society,” the company "and its Superstars bring families together and deliver a sense of hope, determination and perseverance."
It is likely that Gov. DeSantis, a Republican, shares President Trump's concern over the already-profound damage the coronavirus pandemic has caused to the world's economy. Unemployment skyrocketed in the first two weeks to near Great Depression levels and various kinds of layoffs are happening in a wide variety of industries every day–including media and entertainment.
Whatever the reasoning, the Vince McMahon-led WWE quickly went back to live WWE shows with an Orlando-based WWE Raw. They will follow up with a new Wednesday NXT and Friday SmackDown broadcast.
The WWE without a live audience is arguably not the WWE at all—audience reaction has always been a vital part of the entire show. But while pro wrestling soldiers on in empty venues, employees behind the scenes as well as the performer-athletes themselves are still in danger, at least until a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is found.