Reopening B.C.: Adapting to new normal in personal services means new habits, safeguards

“The biggest change? It’s probably just ensuring all the protocols are followed. It’s a matter of repetition and learning new habits and learning to work with the new normal.” — Chris Motiu, co-owner of Davie Village Registered Massage Therapy

Vancouver Sun 4 minute read June 26, 2020

When customers walk into Miss CEO Nail Salon on Drake Street, they’re initially a little cautious.

They’ve reached the point where they can no longer wait for a manicure or pedicure but they’re not sure what the new rules are, said salon owner Olga Chernega.

“It’s a little bit of ‘What do I do? Where do I go?’” she said.

But once they get settled into the new routine, they welcome the salon’s initiatives to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Every time we receive feedback, we hear: ‘I feel very safe.’ Everybody is co-operating and polite and understanding the situation,” Chernega said.

Nail salons such as Miss CEO are among the many small businesses that have reopened during the COVID-19 outbreak. But they haven’t returned to business as usual.

Reopening often means making physical changes in the business and behavioural changes for customers — especially where practitioners have to touch people to provide a service such as nail and hair salons or registered massage therapy.

At Miss CEO, one of the most visible changes is Plexiglas screens. They’re custom-made locally with an opening to allow customers to put their hands through for a manicure. For pedicures, a clear-plastic screen protects the customer and nail technician.

The barriers are some of the WorkSafeBC requirements for situations when physical distancing can’t be maintained. The new personal service protocols were released Tuesday, May 19. Two days later, Miss CEO reopened.

Other visible changes at the salon include masks for all nail technicians and customers. After removing two manicure stations, Miss CEO has two manicure stations and two for pedicures. It no longer offers complementary coffee or tea.

Chernega said the salon was really busy the first two days after reopening but things have since settled down. She’s unsure what the future holds.

“To be honest, it’s hard to say,” she said. “It’s really unstable.”

According to the Beauty Council of Western Canada, there are about 22,000 hair stylists, barbers, estheticians and nail technicians in B.C.

Greg Robins, the council’s executive director, estimates that 85 per cent of B.C.’s salons have reopened. They’re staffed at 50 per cent to 75 per cent of what they were before COVID-19.

“If you had 10 stylists, you’re back with between five and eight,” he said. “Most are skewing toward 50 per cent.”

The reduction in staff at hair and nail salons is 100 per cent due to implementing social distancing requirements, he said.

“If you have to shut down every second chair, if you can only use one of two sinks, if your reception area is cut in half, you can’t go back to 100 per cent capacity,” he said. “It’s just not possible.”

While hair stylists are pleased to be back at work serving customers and generating income, Robins said, salons are also wondering how long they can continue working at half capacity along with the added costs of closing down for two months and providing masks and other PPE.

He expects to see prices increase generally or a clear COVID-19 surcharge on bills.

“There is no business model that we know of where a salon can last more than six months at 50 per cent capacity,” he said.

Registered massage therapists are not part of the beauty industry. But like those other fields, therapeutic massage involves a practitioner touching another person for an extended period of time.

As part of B.C.’s Restart Plan, RMTs were allowed to return in mid-May. Davie Village Registered Massage Therapy opened its doors to clients in stages starting on Tuesday, May 19 said co-owner Chris Motiu.

Motiu isn’t an RMT. He owns the business with his husband Kyle Tarry, who is an RMT at the clinic.

Enhanced protocols start before anyone arrives at the clinic. Once a new client starts an online booking, a window pops up requiring the person to read about COVID-19 and to complete a health self-assessment.

The window also informs the patient that any massage therapy involves some risk of COVID-19. While the clinic is following protocols to reduce transmission, “that risk cannot be reduced to zero,” it says.

In the clinic, new protocols include creating a space of 30 minutes between clients so therapists have enough time to clean and sanitize. As an unexpected benefit, it’s created more time for therapists to consult with patients.

The seating area has been transformed into a sanitation station with masks, gloves and hand cleaner.

When a patient arrives, her or his temperature is taken. If a patient touches a hard surface in the clinic, they’re asked to sanitize again.

“If the patient has to go to the bathroom, we walk to the bathroom and open the door,” he said. “No patient opens their own doors.”

Motiu said the clinic goes above and beyond guidelines from WorkSafeBC and the College of Massage Therapists of B.C.

“The biggest change? It’s probably just ensuring all the protocols are followed,” he said.

“It’s a matter of repetition and learning new habits and learning to work with the new normal.”

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