Bruce Waight grappled with one of the new guidelines for reopening laid out by regulators when his Oklahoma City barber shop, Rooted Barber + Shop, opened on Tuesday.
“It’s hard to breathe in these masks,” Waight said. But he was wearing them, and encouraged his customers to wear them, too, although it’s not been deemed mandatory for customers. “I think most are wearing them because they want to support the community. Nobody here is trying to buck the system.”
Oklahoma was among the first states to reopen non-essential businesses like barber shops and salons. Waight could have opened his shop on May 1, but said he delayed reopening to see if there’d be a jump in COVID-19 cases as other businesses opened.
“We got a lot of calls,” Waight said, adding that people seemed disappointed to learn the shop wasn’t open yet. But two weeks later, “we didn’t have a huge spike, so I decided to open.”
Oklahoma, under its Phase 1 reopening plan, mandates masks be worn by cosmetologists, barbers, nail salon workers and aestheticians. Phase 2 is scheduled to begin Friday, and masks will only be recommended for use in those places.
Safety precautions barber shops and salons are taking
“Hair salons, like nail salons, can be challenging to maintain proper social distancing and infection prevention measures,” said Saskia Popescu, Ph.D., an infectious disease epidemiologist & infection prevention expert. “The close, face-to-face contact that the work requires for a prolonged period of time, increases risk.” But states are recommending and shops are often taking other measures to cut down on risk.
The handful of states where barber shops and salons have reopened—or are about to—have established guidelines in an effort to help maintain safety as personal services businesses reopen. The guidelines vary from state to state and also will likely continue to shift rapidly, so check with your haircut spot before you go. But here’s what to expect when you get your hair cut, according to states where these businesses have reopened.
Colorado: Temperature and symptom checks for employees of salons, spas and sole personal services practitioners like barbers. Masks and gloves must be worn by workers. Customers must wear masks and only services where masks can be worn by customers can be conducted.
Georgia: Only one personal services provider and one customer in a business at a time with the exception of a parent/guardian accompanying a minor. Those waiting to be seen must wait in their car.
Montana: Customers must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms, including “fever, shortness of breath or a cough.” Workers must wear face masks and customers should as well “when practical,” and the salon should provide physical barriers between stations.
North Dakota: Use contactless payment systems when possible and, if not, sanitize payment devices. The state also advocates that clients use North Dakota’s contract tracing app, Care19.
All of these states: No walk-ins. Appointments are mandatory.
Pennsylvania is among the states that have kept salons and barber shops closed, although haircuts will be allowed under the second phase of reopening, termed “Phase Green” by state officials.
“Personal services are in the green phase because it is next to impossible to practice social distancing while cutting someone’s hair (and) providing massage therapy,” the Pennsylvania Department of Health said in a statement. “It is a very difficult balance. We know that people need these services, and we know that these people need to get back to work. However, the governor [Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf] is committed to making scientific, data-driven decisions and will continue to do so.”
National Association of Barber Boards of America (NABBA) CEO Maura Scali-Sheahan Scali-Sheahan said the disinfecting practices laid out by state and federal guidelines for barber shops and salons were already in use, including that the ubiquitous blue liquid Barbicide. The company is even offering an online program for a COVID-19 training certification.
Steve Hockett, CEO of Great Clips, said in a statement that his more than 4,000 franchisees in North America are “following all federal, state/provincial and local guidelines or requirements related to social distancing, cleaning, disinfecting and other steps to help ensure customer care.”
“We are working closely with Great Clips franchisees, who independently own and operate salons, to provide recommendations and resources as they reopen salons consistent with guidance from applicable governmental authorities,” Hockett said.
The Regis Corporation—the parent company of Supercuts, MasterCuts and several other brands—declined to comment.
Other challenges the barber shops are facing
While it’s a relief to some to be open again, the shops face more than safety challenges. The guidelines could cut the number of customers seen in half, according to Scali-Sheahan.
“You have to allow for more time when you bring in clients,” Scali-Sheahan says. “You also have to train your clients in terms of booking appointments and letting them know what they have to do (to adhere to state guidelines). There is definitely going to be a transition, and that’s to be expected. Once everyone gets used to the idea—maybe after the first month or six weeks—things will start to flow a little bit more smoothly.”
To meet these new challenges, some shops are getting innovative. In Australia, which initiated a rigorous testing program credited with limiting coronavirus infections and deaths, commerce began to reopen en masse earlier this month. Famed Australian stylist Kevin Murphy, whose name Americans also know via his professional haircare products, told Men’s Health about a salon owner he knows who laid out a thoughtful plan for the post-shutdown rush.
“He told me he was going to get all the men to come in on Wednesday so he can just go bang, bang, bang and be done with the men,” said Murphy. “Then he’ll have the women who need color come in on Thursday and Friday. He’s compartmentalizing everything.
“I think communication is the big key here. You have to be able to communicate with your clients a lot more. You have to be honest with them,” Murphy says.
Waight said that in the first two days of opening, barbers at his shop had to fix some amateur shutdown haircuts. The most notable thing he’s encountered is the appreciation from his clients who can finally shed their locks.
“The diva came out of the men,” Waight joked. His clients were used to coming in a weekly basis until the shutdown. Afterward: “Guys were coming in here with hair and beads out of control. Woman may have had their roots showing, but the guys really couldn’t handle it.”