Sonoma County says not yet to hair salons seeking to reopen
Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said Tuesday it is still too dangerous to reopen hair salons and barbershops that have been closed for 10 weeks during the coronavirus pandemic, a decision that left many salon owners baffled and dismayed.
“We do understand that safety is No. 1 with our clients. So we will continue to comply and follow orders,” said Giselle Salazar, owner of the Color Bar Salon in Petaluma. “But I think as hairdressers there’s a lot we can do to ensure sanitary conditions and take care of our clients. It’s unfortunate that we’re not getting the chance to do that.”
Mase announced her decision only hours after Gov. Gavin Newsom gave Sonoma County and most other counties in the state permission to reopen local hair-cutting businesses. While she has often followed Newsom’s lead on pandemic-related guidelines, Mase said she is not ready to phase in haircuts after examining local coronavirus infection rates, hospitalization numbers and continued PPE shortages in the county, among other red flags.
Mase has specific concerns with that line of work in a period of contagion.
“It’s very close, one-on-one interaction between two people, for a prolonged period of time,” she said. “It could be a half-hour, it could be three hours, as we all know. It’s an indoor setting. There are often going to be smaller establishments that don’t have a lot of air exchange.”
Mase also noted that many hair customers use bathrooms and other common areas while waiting for their appointments.
“All of that makes it a little bit more risky,” she said. “Which is why we want to see where our data is before we move toward opening indoor facilities like that.”
Hairdressers are worried the OK sign will come too late. Salazar said she did not accept an SBA loan, fearing it would plunge her into debt. She is grateful to be receiving unemployment benefits.
“Still, it made it a challenge,” she said. “I lease a condo in Rohnert Park. I don’t get rent forgiveness. And I’ve got a shop that also doesn’t get rent forgiveness. Now my savings are being drained.”
Salazar worries, too, about her four employees. Some hair salons don’t have employees at all, but rather operate on a commission basis, with hairdressers more or less renting space in chairs. Those workers have their own overhead — trimming tools, shampoo supplies and, perhaps soon, personal protective equipment.
That’s the case for Danielle Molkenbuhr, an independent contractor who cuts hair at Halo Salon in Santa Rosa. After a series of complications, she finally began getting unemployment checks three weeks ago. Once she gets to back to work, Molkenbuhr said, it will take her at least a couple months to recover from the lost wages.
“Because the thing is with my business, the second I walk in the door, I have to pay in advance for that month,” she explained. “I’m already set back, because I didn’t make any money the last month.”
What vexes many stylists — and people in adjacent industries, like manicurists and tattoo artists — is that training in sanitary procedures is a prerequisite for the job.
“As hairdressers, we’ve spoken amongst each other, and we sometimes feel it’s unfair that certain businesses are opening before us,” Salazar said. “We go to school to learn about sanitation operations, even more than cutting hair.”