I get it, I really do. Many folks want salons to reopen, so they can look and feel like themselves again. And I miss seeing my clients too, of hearing what’s going on in their lives, checking in and catching up. When we imagine salons reopening, this is what comes to mind: hanging out, enjoying a cup of coffee, flipping through a magazine. Then, it’s your turn, you laugh at how grown-out your hair is with your stylist, feeling better already as they get to work. On your way out, you bump into someone you know and chat for a few minutes, before you are on your care-free way. Life is normal, and you look good.
However, this is what the reality would be if salons were to reopen right now: You wait in your car until someone from the salon notifies you they’re ready. There is no waiting room, no refreshments, no magazines. If you are not wearing a mask, or show up with anyone else, even your own child, you must be turned away. Upon entry, you are asked a series of questions and must sign a waiver: Do you have a high temperature? Have you been in contact with anyone who has? Are you yourself, or do you live with, anyone who is immunocompromised? Have you been in contact with anyone who has been visibly ill in the last 14 days?
Less than half the chairs in the salon are occupied, and all of the staff is wearing gloves and masks. Someone follows silently behind you, sanitizing everything you touch. They had to allow 15 minutes between the last appointment and yours, so that the disinfecting process at your station has time to take full effect. Your stylist has sanitized their clothes, or has put on a fresh smock. Naturally, they are wearing a mask and gloves, and maybe even a face shield if the salon was lucky enough to snag some. It’s difficult to get your hair washed while wearing a mask, so your stylist uses a towel to cover your mouth and nose. They tell you that the salon is down to their last jug of disinfectant, and they don’t know how they can get more since the manufacturer cannot currently get any alcohol to make it.
Does this sound relaxing? Lest you think I’m exaggerating, these are the actual guidelines put in place by Georgia, the only state currently allowing salons to be open. And unless there is some miracle breakthrough in the next few weeks, these are the same conditions that we would be expected to operate under if salons reopen here. Without a major change in our ability to detect and treat the coronavirus, we would have to treat our salons like a biohazard unit.
And even with all these precautions in place, we still risk catching and/or spreading the disease. Medical professionals operate under the highest sanitation and protective procedures currently available, and they are still one of the main groups infected. Because there is literally no way to do our jobs without close contact, touching people and being close to their faces, salons would be expected to operate under similar sanitation standards, only now in competition with medical professionals for the same protective and disinfecting equipment.
I get it. I wish things could go back to normal. I wish that taking precautions like washing our hands, and maybe wearing a mask, were enough to be able to do all the things we want to do. But the coronavirus doesn’t care about that. It doesn’t care about how bored you are, and how many weeks you’ve spent at home. It doesn’t keep track, and say, “OK, you’ve spent 6 weeks being good, you have enough extra credit now to get a haircut without the risk of getting sick.”
NOTHING HAS CHANGED from when the shut-down first started. We don’t have easy access to testing or PPE, the number of cases has not sustainably declined, there is no breakthrough treatment or vaccine. There are no procedures in place to track and isolate those who have tested positive. If we go back in public now, it is not because we are safer or more prepared to do so, it is because people are getting impatient, or simply can’t afford to stay at home any longer.
One thing this situation has brought to light is that there are many in power who literally do not care if people live or die. By reopening businesses now, those in charge are not saying it’s safe, they’re saying that they think the number of people getting sick won’t overwhelm the healthcare system (fingers crossed!) and that businesses need to go back to making money, because the government is tired of giving funds to its citizens who need it. You can’t blame someone for being lazy if they’re not working because their employer shut down. But if the state says businesses can reopen, and someone doesn’t feel safe going back to work, well, that’s their choice, but don’t expect any unemployment money.
My guess is that over the next few weeks, as businesses gradually open back up (especially if the use of masks remains optional!), there will be a huge spike in the number of new cases before we get to the point of reopening salons. I hope this won’t happen, but looking at similar situations in history and around the world, that’s almost definitely what will. The coronavirus doesn’t care if you believe in it or not, or if you’re scared of it or not. It doesn’t care that businesses are struggling, and that people are worried about being able to pay rent or feed their family. It’s just there, lurking in the air, waiting to spread. It doesn’t care about our feelings, and we can’t bluster and think positively our way through it.
I am personally very fortunate. I don’t currently have to choose between going back to work or eating. My business was one of the lucky few to receive a PPP loan, which means that I am able to pay employees for a little while even if they are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits. With my privilege comes a responsibility to speak out for others who cannot, who feel like they must return to work if the government says it’s OK, because otherwise they will lose their job and not be able to get unemployment and then what will they do. (Oh, and if they do go to work and get sick, they won’t be able to sue their employer, if certain folks in government get their way.) Do those meatpackers want to be working right now, as they watch their coworkers drop around them? I would guess not. Does a nurse want to have to shop for food next to someone not wearing a mask? Safe to say no. Is this the situation we find ourselves in? Yes.
The coronavirus doesn’t care about our feelings. Many of those in the highest levels of power don’t care about our welfare. And despite what the high budget advertising campaigns say, we are not all in this together. Some of us are more vulnerable than others. Many of us are dying. These times call for nothing less than a huge cultural shift. It’s up to us to say that our lives are more important than the bottom line, and that those who have very little deserve more help than those who have too much. That our health, our actual survival, is more important than our GDP and the freedom to get our roots done. We need to demand competence and compassion from those who are voted in to govern us. And we must sideline those who would put their own short-term desires over everyone else’s long-term survival.
I don’t have any answers. I don’t know what’s coming in the next few months. My greatest wish is that those running our country get their act together and we have widespread testing and control, that a vaccine is developed quickly, and until then we can get all the protective equipment we need. But right now those things feel like pipe dreams, and we need to deal with the reality on the ground. I just want to help people think through what opening up many businesses and services means. We can’t flip a switch and go back to normal. We are not in control of this. That is perhaps the hardest mental adjustment to make of all.