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Before opening, some salons consulting infectious disease physicians for more COVID-19 guidance

At least one barbershop and one salon/spa consulted a third party infectious disease expert on how to best keep clients safe before reopening.

AUSTIN, Texas — As salons and barbershops across Texas opened up for business on Friday, at least a handful decided not to do so, citing lack of preparedness and feeling they could not keep clients as safe as possible.

Birds Barbershop sent out an email to clients earlier this week saying the shop workers miss their clients, but it's not time for them to open up yet. Co-founder Jayson Rapaport added their new policies and changes to protect clients are not fully in place yet.

"We wanted to make sure to get a second opinion to make sure we weren't missing anything," Rapaport said. "We wanted to be able to see around corners."

Rapaport talked with an infectious disease physician, who is also a Birds Barbershop client, to get his opinion on their new policies and how to improve them.

For the time being, Birds Barbershop's new policies include wiping down seats after every haircut, placing barriers between stylists' stations and getting rid of the traditional waiting room while asking guests to wait outside or in their cars. Texas, Travis County and the city of Austin have released their own guidelines for salons that are opening. 

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In addition to their already self-imposed policies, the infectious disease physician recommended not using hair dryers for the time being. According to Rapaport, the physician said the coronavirus is able to be spread through the air, so blow dryers could spread the virus quickly.

"He was a little bit concerned about what the hair dryer would do in terms of blowing the air around," Rapaport said. "We're also going to limit chitchat in the chairs. This is an airborne, respiratory virus, so I think the less talking the better. Once you sit in the chair, you'll still have a consultation. We'll still make sure we understand what needs to be done, but we're going to ask chitchat to remain at a minimum."

CEO of Milk + Honey Spa, Shon Bayer, also had his company consult with an infectious disease expert. The salon/spa's work breakdown is about two-thirds spa related and one-third hair care related.

Prior to meeting with the physician, Bayer and the leadership team at Milk + Honey already had a four-phase plan to reopen:

  • Phase 1: opening with very limited hours, small staff of voluntary workers, taking temperatures of clients and staff, wearing masks/PPE, additional time between appointments for more thorough cleaning and sanitation, no blow drying hair
  • Phase 2: open spa and nail services with more staff, move from one shift per day to two shifts per day, same sanitation protocols as phase 1.
  • Phase 3: relaxation of some of the sanitation protocols based on public health data assessment and experiences of other businesses, may include less time between services, reopen all spa services but no locker room use or related amenities
  • Phase 4: A further relaxation of sanitation protocols and other policies enacted during phases 1, 2 and 3. This will be the operative phase until a vaccine is developed for COVID-19. Higher safety protocols than before the coronavirus pandemic will still be in place.

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There's no specific timeline for any of these phases to take place. According to Bayer, it will be dependent on public health data, customer experience and confidence and what the leadership at Milk + Honey deem to be the safest procedures. To that effect, Milk + Honey will also be putting 12 feet between stylist chairs, as well as barriers between them to accommodate increased social distancing.

After meeting with the infectious disease physician, Milk + Honey will be enacting other protocols for the safest customer experience.

"We learned flushing toilets potentially aerosols water droplets that often will take three minutes to drop to the ground where they're essentially not really going to spread to people's eyes, nose or mouth," Bayer said. "That's going to influence us to putting a timer of some kind before somebody can use the restroom again."

For now, Milk + Honey opened four of the six locations for retail sales only. According to Bayer, with Mother's Day coming up, people wanted to come in to purchase items. To keep his employees safe, only general managers and one or two employees per location have been back in each location at any given time and any purchases made are pick-up only. Milk + Honey is also making sure only two customers are in each spa location at a time.

Neither Birds Barbershop or Milk + Honey has a set date to reopen. Both Rapaport and Bayer say reopening will depend on their own team's confidence in making sure all clients are safe.

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