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Close contact: Spa and salon experiences to be vastly different upon reopening

Danielle Starkey

Tahoe Daily Tribune

The owner of Blue Water Day Spa in Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe says many things are going change.
Photo: Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — In what feels like ancient history but was really only seven weeks ago, a visit to a spa or salon meant many things: a trim to brighten your look; a visit with old friends; a break from the pressures of the world for a small dose of pampering.

Be prepared for a very different experience when they reopen.

“Lots of times, we used to have 10 women at a bridal party getting services together,” said Kimberly McMaster, co-owner of Blue Water Day Spa. “That can’t happen anymore. Clients won’t be congregating at all anymore, whether they’re waiting their turn for an appointment or waiting for polish to dry. All the chairs in the lounge have been removed.

“Everyone’s temperature will be taken upon arrival and everyone will be wearing a mask,” she added. “Clients getting a facial will wear specially designed headgear to protect them and the person giving them a facial. Some treatments, like waxing, probably won’t be on the menu anymore. There are a lot of different things that could happen with waxing, with cross-contamination.”

A 15-minute breather between massage clients used to be standard to give staff time to change the sheets and sanitize hard surfaces.

“Now, we’ve extended that to 30 minutes to do a deeper cleaning,” said McMaster. “Before, the pump (for the massage lotion bottle) was sanitized because there was a slight possibility of cross-contamination (when the masseuse’s hands went from pump to skin). Now, one-cup disposable servings will be used for each person so there is no possibility of cross-contamination.”

Not only will the health of the planet suffer from the massive quantities of single-use containers they and other businesses will switch to using, so will their bottom line.

“Right now, we’re going above and beyond what they’re requiring, we always have,” said McMaster.

The longer chairs and massage tables stay empty, and the more they have to spend on sanitizing, the less income they will see

“Our revenues will be reduced, on average 75%,” she predicted.

Even that might be optimistic if the customers are wary about returning.

“I sneezed the other day in the grocery store. I was wearing a mask, but somebody lost their mind,” said McMaster.

Many people are scared, and likely will be until effective treatments for Covid-19 and a vaccine are developed. That goes for clients as well as staff, she added.

The 11 employees at Blue Water Day Spa (and the 11 at the Napa Blue Water Day Spa) have been laid off and are collecting unemployment benefits. But as with anyone collecting benefits, if they are offered their job back and refuse it, they could lose those benefits, she said.

“We’re all waiting for Phase 3 (which would allow them to reopen) but also until our employees feel comfortable,” she said.

Even with new safety guidelines in place, there is the risk that not every salon will follow them, and an even bigger risk that policing won’t be adequate, said Sherry Hawks, who has been doing nails in the Lake Tahoe area since 1992, for the past five years in a private room she rents in Sessions Salon.

“I’ve had a surprise, general inspection (by the California State Board of Cosmetology) at least once a year in the past five years,” she said.

The investigator checked her license, her labeling, her trash can, and other aspects of her operation. Is that enough to protect the public health from less careful operators in this new environment, she wonders?

“I’ll do whatever I have to do,” said Hawks, who used to see 50 to 60 clients per week. “I’ve always been very clean. I’m just concerned about people who aren’t clean. I have two kids; one in college. I’ve been supporting them both through this,” though her income evaporated on March 20. Still, she said, “I’m a little bit nervous about going back. I want to make sure everyone is safe and everyone is abiding by the rules. I don’t want to open up too early; I want to wait and see.”

Dr. Barry Triestman, a chiropractor in private practice in Truckee, shut down his office for three weeks until he felt he was taking all necessary measures to ensure the safety of his clients and himself.

Even now, though, he is acutely aware of the balancing act he’s performing. It is one of the reasons he saw just six patients last week, down from 35 to 40 per week before the pandemic.

“I had several senior citizens I have not seen (since reopening) because there’s too much risk in that — especially if they’re in pain, but still able to move,” he said. “But if you’re in too much pain and can’t move, it’s going to affect your immune system.”

The State of California requires chiropractors perform 24 hours of continuing education annually; last year, much of the coursework was on ethics, Triestman said.

“During the (early years of the) AIDS epidemic, there were lots of courses on the immune system,” he said. “I’d be very surprised if this year, (the state) didn’t mandate COVID-19-related courses.”

This article was first published May 14 by the Tahoe Daily Tribune and is published here with permission.