4 December 2021

Covid-19 Pandemic: To Reopen or Not to Reopen?

To reopen or not to reopen? It’s not an easy decision and there are many factors to be taken into account, including geography, demographics, testing capacities and surveillance, statistics and the observance of safety and hygiene guidelines.

The Covid-19 pandemic has often given rise to more questions than answers. Epidemiologists worldwide clamoring for viable therapies, cures, and vaccines while governments are striving to mitigate the financial and economic impact and fall-out while keeping populations. But after weeks of social distancing and “stay at home” orders, the definition of “essential” workers and businesses has come under some scrutiny.

The salon and barbershop industry itself is the very quintessence of small businesses, often owned and operated by the same person and with limited staff, but generally burdened with high overhead that may include rent/mortgages, utilities, maintenance and taxes. This defines them as a category particularly susceptible to financial devastation and even bankruptcy and closure during extended forced shutdowns.

Now, after weeks of sheltering at home and social distancing, some states are reopening doors for business, but the situation is very complicated. Legally, the governor of each state has the power to make such decisions, based on the contagion statistics in that state. Although most states have shelter-at-home orders in place, many are set to expire by late April, unless further extended in the meantime.

For example, Georgia allowed some businesses, including hair and nail salons, to reopen on April 24th, in spite of the public health emergency having been extended until May 13. Indeed, given recent projections on the increased spread of the virus and hospitalizations, many frowned upon this  early initiative by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, including President Trump.

CNN reported Kemp saying, “When pressed on the timing of his action, Kemp conceded that “we’re probably going to have to see our cases continue to go up,” but said the state is more prepared to handle it. “If we have an instance where a community starts becoming a hot spot, then, you know, I will take further action. But right now (I) feel like we’re in a good spot to move forward.

Other governors are being pressured by online change.org and moveon.org petitions, pushing for “soft openings”, where salons would limit traffic to one client at a time and take necessary precautions, like using masks and gloves. Some nail salons are installing Plexiglas® panels between the manicurist and the customer, in addition to the use of masks and gloves. Other provisions will require sanitization of the entire business multiple times a day. Those proposing these petitions are citing financial hardship as their main motivation.

In her petition to California Governor Gavin Newsom, Lynette Ashman demands that salon professionals be recognised as essential workers, writing, “Hairstylists are self employed for the most part. […] A self employed stylist does not qualify for unemployment benefits.

Jewell Kindler addresses Governor Polis of the State of Colorado, reasoning, “Servicing one client at a time (while wearing a mask & gloves) poses little to no risk of spreading the virus, as compared to 20 or more people in a grocery store or 10 plus people at restaurants picking up food. […] The survival of the independent beauty professionals is at risk. We are facing a grave financial hardship.”

Yet another petition filed by Darryl Cannady targets North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, guaranteeing that: “All necessary precautions and sanitary protocols approved by the state of N.C. and the local board of health will be followed.” and explaining: “The survival of the indepenedent stylist is at risk. We are facing a grave hardship. And there has been no SBA loans to the barber and beauty small businesses under the Trump Administration as of yet.

CNN also reported that the Republican governors of Tennessee and South Carolina on Monday indicated plans to organize phased reopenings although, like Georgia, South Carolina has not yet met recommended reopening criteria as established by the White House.

Although Governors can give the green light to reopening, not all businesses will choose to do so and are obviously free not to. For example, Candy Shaw, owner of Jamison-Shaw Hairdressers in Atlanta, was interviewed on CNN Worldwide as one of the salon professionals who was following her own heart and instinct in deciding not to reopen. “I wanted to protect the health and safety of my own staff. I had to put health before hair and follow the science,” she reasoned. However, she also acknowledges that her company is extremely well-grounded with more than 60 years of history behind them, enabling them to hunker down as a business with some sacrifice but more easily than other lesser-established or younger salons. And as an astute businesswoman, Candy also acted immediately, anticipating a reorganization of the floor space and protocols in her salon in compliance with more stringent state health and safety regulations. In this way, when she does feel it is safe to open, everything will be in place to help facilitate the transition.

The struggle is real and the controversy continues. But with the lingering uncertainty of the situation over such an enormous expanse of metropolitan regions, smaller cities and towns, and rural areas, the challenge of interpreting statistics and formulating projections continues to lie in the hands of scientists and the governors who will ultimately decide to heed or ignore their findings.

By Marie Scarano

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