Some nonessential businesses in Connecticut will reopen in about a week after being closed down for two months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order that shuttered them on March 16 to encourage social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak. But a recent announcement that businesses like hair salons and barbershops would be included in the first reopening wave has workers worried about the spread of coronavirus in their workplace.
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“This is putting so many people at risk,” said Georgeanne DaCosta, a stylist at the Michael Richards Salon in Shelton.
DaCosta home-schools her two kids now that in-person classes have been canceled for the remainder of the academic year. But if she has to go back to the salon on May 20, she’ll need to leave the kids with her in-laws.
“They are both over the age of 65, and they are both health-compromised,” said DaCosta, who added she won’t return to work. “I cannot leave work, go pick up my children from my in-laws.”
DaCosta wants to know why it’s all right for her to cut hair, but it’s not yet acceptable for her father-in-law to get a surgery follow-up visit to the eye doctor or that she can’t yet give her mother-in-law a hug for Mother’s Day.
“When I left my in-laws yesterday, I cried. But I can go to work?” DaCosta said.
“The people that are making these decisions -- Governor Lamont -- should be choosing humanity over vanity -- we do not belong in phase one.”
For Gov. Ned Lamont, May 20 is the right time. He said as much on a recent edition of Where We Live on Connecticut Public Radio.
“Rhode island is opening next week when it comes to barbershops and hair salons,” Lamont said on May 11. “I think we had to make a judgment.”
He then listed several steps the state has asked salons and barbershops to take upon reopening to keep the virus from spreading -- like “by-appointment only” service and reducing building capacity by 50%. Owners are encouraged to participate only if they’re willing.
While DaCosta acknowledges the voluntary nature of the reopening, the industry’s inclusion in phase one puts a lot of pressure on shop owners.
“You never know if someone is going to say, ‘Well, I’m going to go down the road and get my hair done,’ so if we don’t open the shop, we may lose business, and for the shops that do open, they are continuing to put people greatly at risk,” DaCosta said.
Upon the big reopening, Lamont wants both workers and customers to wear masks.
“I think those are sort of reasons we thought these were baby steps we wanted to take -- including the salons,” Lamont said.
But hairstylists work in a business in which physical distancing isn’t possible.
“Even if we have masks, gloves and the face shields, that’s not preventing anyone from getting sick,” said Sierra Del Gigante, a hairstylist from Danbury.
“God forbid we have a client that coughs, or God forbid there’s someone in the salon that’s asymptomatic -- you never know. Regardless of the protective equipment or not, we’re still literally on top of the clients for, it could be up to two hours depending on what we’re doing.”
Del Gigante also worries about her stepmom. They live together and Del Gigante said her stepmother has a heart condition that puts her at a high risk for COVID-19.
By going back during the first phase, Del Gigante said stylists feel like guinea pigs in a test trial.
“It’s just risking our health and everyone’s health around us,” Del Gigante said.
DaCosta, the Shelton hairstylist, is hopeful state officials will change their mind on including salons and barbershops in the first phase, as it reportedly did with nail salons.
But in fact, it looks as if the state is relaxing the rules further on salons. Last week’s announcement detailed that blow-dryers would be banned on the May 20 reopening for fear they’d spread the airborne disease. But on Monday, the state gave stylists and barbers the green light to use them.