To owners of spas, franchises, chiropractic offices. High-volume massage therapy settings. You in Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma and so many other states allowing re-opening:
Employers, much has been made of your efforts to step up your safety protocols and get ready for re-opening.
On the face of it, your efforts are admirable. You have devised cloth PPE, and swapped leads on EPA-registered disinfectants. You have added time between clients for your therapists to wipe down the room. You’ve stepped up contactless payment, and some of you have installed arrays of Plexiglas in the reception area.
All for the Grand Re-Opening of 2020.
For guidance, you have consulted the CDC, OSHA, other professions, your governors, massage therapy professional associations, and boards. Some of you have hired consultants. You have processed a dizzying amount of information.
I’ve read a lot of it. Much of it seems earnest and thoughtful. An attempt to protect your staff and the public while re-opening.
You’ve left out only one thing.
You cannot really protect your staff and the public while re-opening.
Not now, anyway. All of the cloth, paper, products, clothing changes, intake questions, turnaround time, and Plexiglas cannot and will not protect them.
Deep down, I think you know this.
You know this.
Proof: You set up contactless payment, right?
Because contact is not safe.
You know this situation reads like a Saturday Night Live cold open? It is parody.
Denial is a fine thing, but it takes some mental gymnastics sometimes: “Maybe contact is safe! Sort of safe. Some contact is safe…as long as other people do it.”
Many meetings later, voila! We can make contact safe. In our contact-free formula, each therapist will:
• Make contact, while standing a foot or so away from a client
• Place hands right on the skin—as in, can’t even slide a credit card between the therapist’s hand and the client’s skin (so much for contactless payment.)
• For an hour
• With a mask that, when worn perfectly, is only partially effective
• While remembering not to touch anything—except the client—after handwashing/gloving.
All in the same small airspace. A therapist, a client, and a highly contagious virus.
What could go wrong?
You cannot operate at volume, while fully protecting your staff or the public.
The word is out. In the groups, on the webs. Some self-employed massage therapists are making those lists, too, itching to come back. Gloves, check. Masks, check. Bleach, check.
But many other MTs are confused and terrified. Clients, too: The majority of Americans want to continue our current measures for a while, until it’s safer. Until we know more.
I’ve seen all these opinions out there, but I’ve missed hearing from you. You’re not out there making statements about really protecting people. If you are, you’re not amplifying them.
Real protection would look like this:
• Form coalitions of employers (e.g., whole franchise chains, or all the franchises in a certain state, or within spa organizations)
• Take the position that massage therapy cannot be done safely and sustainably right now, just a few months into a pandemic and a poorly understood disease;
• Remain closed, so that employees can continue to collect unemployment benefits;
• Advocate for those benefits. Advocate for public safety. Be vocal: Put direct pressure on governors to carry out contact tracing, testing, and isolation. Insist they allow close-contact workers access to relief and stay closed until infections drop and PPE is widely available;
• Hold press conferences and town halls. Write op-eds. Dominate media and social media;
• Ask why governors’ mansions, courts, and government buildings are not open for tours/business, while bowling alleys, restaurants, and your close-contact businesses are opening.
The following behaviors are not real protection:
• Working without a clear understanding of treatment room/building ventilation, and what that means for virus transmission;
• Offering massage without an understanding of COVID’s clotting risks, how stroke presents early in younger people (newly identified complications of COVID), and whether it’s even possible to manage that risk in massage therapy;
• Assuming that we can effectively screen for COVID by taking temperatures (Remember: In asymptomatic people, absence of fever doesn’t indicate absence of infection);
• Providing sub-optimal PPE and disinfecting products;
• Opening while testing, tracing, and isolation are inadequate;
• Opening before infections have declined;
• “Learning as we go” – trying to employ conflicting, confusing messages about infection control protocols;
• Adding just 15 minutes between clients for infection steps that may require 20-25+ minutes on a good day. (I am hopeful that you plan to pay them for the additional time that this will take.)
You have an opportunity to protect people.
Instead, you’re rushing to re-open.
The bottom line: It is not yet safe to return. The preponderance of public health opinion tells us that. We are still learning some of the basics about this virus. Our first death occurred just 9 weeks ago.
In the absence of benchmarks and information, governors who reopen are trivializing human life and safety. It is a social experiment—their experiment.
It is an outrage.
During an outrage, your best approach is to be outraged. Instead, you’re focused on masks, disinfection, turnaround times, client communication. All important for seeing clients.
All when it is too early to see clients.
Please push back.
Refuse to supply the subjects for this experiment.
Support the safety and safety nets of your MTs. Coordinate a vocal, organized refusal to re-open prematurely.
Lobby on behalf of massage therapists.
They have no union and little bargaining power. They have been abandoned by some of our key leadership. They have been pummeled with conflicting information.
I’ve listened to employers and read some of that information. I think, it all sounds so reasonable. These are reasonable efforts, from good people who want to get people back to work just as much as their people want to work. Everyone wants to reassure. One colleague I admire—a franchise owner—reported on re-opening conversations among her peers and other leaders. Plenty of plans, protocols, and supplies.
When I asked, she reported not one conversation about the possibility of delaying re-opening. Nothing about putting on the brakes a bit, until more information comes in. Nothing about holding off until benchmarks are met.
No sense that a more reasonable approach would be to wait. Wait until it is clear how to navigate business with a brand new, highly contagious, deadly disease.
Your workers are your livelihood.
You can’t prosper without them.
Now, they will hole up in your treatment rooms with your clients and guests, playing roulette at close range. You will have tried to do your best, but they’ll still be unprotected.
There’s still time to step out of the rush. If your state chooses not to care for your workers, you still can! Stop going along with the state, pretending contact is not contact and close contact is safe. Be that Plexiglas, for real. Shield your workers from loss of unemployment benefits. Agitate for relief.
Be the employer your massage therapists want to return to. Be the employer they trust with their safety.
It is tempting to return to normal.
This is America, the land of resourcefulness. Staggered schedules, clients waiting in the car instead of the waiting room. An intake from 6 feet away, cleanable covers over everything.
These measures might prevent most infections, but minor errors in infection control could be deadly.
Do you really want to experiment, a few weeks into an unprecedented pandemic?
For now, we are not ready.
Scientists after scientist has given us the requirements: that safe re-opening is conditioned on extensive testing, contact tracing, and isolation of infected individuals. Public health has not wavered on this point, yet it has not taken effect in any state. Not one.
Your governor’s willingness to sidestep these norms is a willingness to light up in a dry forest, just miles from fires already raging. On April 2, just 4 weeks ago, one governor claimed he had just learned the virus could be transmitted by someone who was asymptomatic. Everyone else had known that for weeks.
Yet the same governor continues to ignore public health experts, and is willing to play fast-and-loose with your business, your workers, your clients, and your guests.
I really appreciate the attempts from all of you managing the spa and franchise industries, but no amount of your good faith effort can counteract that kind of recklessness.
And the heartbreak?
I don’t claim to speak for all massage therapists, but I’ve listened to thousands of them over 30 years in the field. Most earn modest incomes. Little safety net, hardly any vacation. Occasional health insurance. Paycheck to paycheck. Massage therapy may be satisfying work, but our numbers have been dropping for years.
Now the lease is up. Some are closing permanently, retiring early, retraining. Social media is filling with sad, empty offices.
The results of this experiment will be more sadness and emptiness. We’ll lose MTs to further disengagement from the field. If public health experts predict correctly, we’ll lose more to illness and even death. Our numbers are heading fiercely in that direction.
As for the kind, compassionate, skilled people left standing in the profession? If you want a future with them, help them through this.
Otherwise, it’s just a show.