May 12, 2020 -- A beauty industry group in California and others filed a lawsuit Tuesday against California Gov. Gavin Newsom for his decision to keep nail salons and beauty shops closed while allowing other businesses to open.
In the lawsuit, the Professional Beauty Federation of California and others say that the order to remain closed deprives salon workers of their constitutional rights and that the classifications of "essential" vs. "nonessential" businesses are arbitrary, among other complaints.
Newsom announced last week that salons could not reopen yet after revealing that the first case of known community-to-community transmission of the coronavirus in the state, in February, had been traced to a nail salon. He did not give further details about the salon or the patient.
The revelation came in response to a reporter's question about why salons were put in phase 3 of reopening, after parks and retail stores were allowed to reopen Friday, May 8. "This whole thing started in the state of California -- the first community spread -- at a nail salon," Newson said at a news briefing. "I'm very worried about that."
Phase 3, when the salons are due to open, "may not even be more than a month away," he said.
The February transmission occurred, he said, even though salon workers were already practicing protective measures such as wearing masks and gloves.
Before opening the salons and beauty colleges back up, he said, "We just want to make sure we have a protocol in place to secure the safety of customers, the safety of employees, and allow the business to thrive in a way that is sustainable."
California’s shutdown that went into effect in mid-March affects barbers, aestheticians, electrologists, hair stylists, cosmetologists, and manicurists, said Fred Jones, counsel for the Professional Beauty Federation of California and a lobbyist.
He says that health and safety instruction make up a large part of the salon workers' training.
In California, 621,742 people hold licenses from the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.
Perspectives on the Risk
Nail salons do carry "a potential for trouble" for disease transmission, says Aaron Glatt, MD, chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, NY. Clients and manicurists are in close proximity, he says, and sometimes in close quarters. They are also together for an extended period of time. A manicure and pedicure can typically take an hour.
Hair styling services, such as coloring and straightening, can also involve close contact for extended periods. For now, Glatt's advice for people who go to salons in states where they are open is to "decide if they really need to go. As much as possible, make sure things are cleaned properly."
At first, Jones says, his group supported the governor in the temporary shutdown to help with public health measures. But he now says the length of the shutdown is causing financial harm. The federation is one of many associations and industry groups representing the beauty industry, Jones says. And, he says, the industry is willing to step up precautions.
The lawsuit also says Newsom is now allowing licensed professionals to perform services to support the entertainment industry while keeping other establishments closed.
Since 2006, Larry and Jill Cromwell have operated three hair and nail salons in Folsom, CA, with 45 employees and another 30 who rent booths. When they were ordered to close on March 20 due to COVID-19, "we were completely paid up to date on all of our business and personal expenses," says Larry Cromwell, 46.
Now, he says, they are living in unimaginable debt, with three children at home. "We are living off my unemployment," he says. "We did get the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which is basically like getting an additional mortgage, at a higher interest rate than our home mortgage, that we will now be paying on until we are 76 years old."
The Board of Barbering and Cosmetology's laws and regulations that cover people providing salon services already require a number of health and safety measures, such as disinfecting tools and foot spas, single use of towels and robes, and personal cleanliness for workers providing services. Cheri Gyuro, a spokesperson for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, says the board is working on guidelines for COVID-19 that will be made public when they are complete.
Christie Smaidris, director of education for the International Nail Technicians Association, based in Chicago, said two of her members are drawing up suggestions for safety protocols, and her group plans to work with the state of Illinois when their recommendations are available.
The industry is proceeding cautiously, and once salons do reopen, she says, "it will be a whole new world." How it will work will depend on each state's protocols for the industry. Clients may have their temperatures checked as they enter and be asked to wash their hands before manicure services are done, she predicts. Workers will wear a mask, gloves, and may have protective shields between them and the clients. They may also be required to change clothes between clients.
She expects customers to also be required to wear masks. Stations will be far apart, with no clients sitting close to one another, she says.
Cromwell is on the health and safety advisory committee for the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, an unpaid volunteer position, and he stays updated about the best safety protocols. He is planning to follow the new state rules, and he predicts his salons will take additional measures, such as taking the temperatures of clients and workers, having clients wait in their cars until the appointment time, and requiring masks.
In Georgia, where salons reopened May 1, clients have been cooperating with new rules, says Chung Mai, the owner of Piedmont Nails and Spa in Atlanta. He says they check the temperature of all clients and require them to wash their hands at a sink in the salon before the service begins.
Some carry hand sanitizer and want to use that, but they are told to wash with soap and water. Stations "are 6 feet apart," he says. "There's been no backlash" from clients about following the new requirements, Mai says.