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Group of hairdressers wants to keep hands-on professionals out of first phase of reopening

Standing on the other side of the fight to reopen, many hairdressers feel it's reckless to include services that require personal touch in Phase 1 of reopening.

PORTLAND, Ore — Under Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's framework for safely and slowly reopening Oregon, personal care services like salons and barber shops are allowed to open in a county's first phase - but with a number of restrictions.

Many hairdressers in Oregon are pushing back on the guidelines, and don't believe industries that require hands-on services should be included in Phase 1 of reopening at all. 

They started a petition to tell the governor to keep hands-on professionals out of the first phase.

They stand on the opposite side of the fight to reopen than many other hairdressers, who were pushing to be included in Phase 1 because the lack of income has been so financially straining.

Portland hairdressers Nicola Corl and Katie Pattison share their thoughts on Sunrise Extra.

RELATED: Salem warns salon owner that opening in defiance of governor's executive order violates her lease

Among a number of requirements for personal service providers, the governor's Phase 1 guidelines require personal care businesses to:

  • constantly and thoroughly sanitize their space
  • screen clients prior to their appointment
  • screen employees
  • maintain a customer list
  • limit business to appointment-only
  • implement physical distancing measures, including limiting capacity so there is at least 6 feet of distance between clients and limiting the overall number of people in a space at one time. The governor's requirements say "focus on maintaining at least six feet of physical distance between people in the facility except when required to provide services such as massage, haircuts, etc."
  • employees must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) that covers their nose and mouth.

Whenever possible personal service providers are encouraged, but not required, to:

  • Wear medical grade face masks when providing services that require close contact (within six feet), like when cutting hair, giving massages or doing someone's nails.
  • Wear face shields in addition to a face coverings for face-to-face services, like facial hair trims and eyebrow waxing.
  • If business is requiring workers use that PPE, they must be able to provide the gear for their workers.
  • Have clients wear some form of paper covering, as appropriate for the service they're receiving.
  • Wear gloves when providing client services and change them between each client.
  • Change into clean clothes before leaving the business each day.

Read the full list of Phase One guidance for personal services

KGW spoke with several hairstylists on Saturday who say it is impossible to be safe and maintain social distancing in a hair salon where stylists are required to touch their customers. Reopening in any capacity puts the stylists' and their clients' health at risk of contracting COVID-19, they say.

"It is dehumanizing to require clients to be six feet away but not the service provider. You have collectively failed to acknowledge that hairdressers are a part of this equation and have not protected us as service providers," the creators of the petition said.

PPE and cleaning supplies are in high demand in all sectors and, most importantly, in the medical field. But during the pandemic, the supply of PPE has been tight and many frontline workers are still struggling to come by any protective gear. 

RELATED: Do Oregonians have to wear masks in public?

Therefore, many hairdressers say it's unsustainable to try to keep enough on hand at salons and will put more pressure on their overhead and operational spending. 

With less capacity for clients because of social distancing requirements, they feel the cost of PPE and cleaning supplies will hurt their business. As non-essential workers, they don't feel it's right to take these crucial supplies away from those deemed essential.

They also fear a loss of productivity and, eventually, permanent closure of salons. They say personal care services will be operating at a loss for months because they will have increased overhead but a decreased ability to serve clients.

"With ourselves and our small businesses receiving very little in the way of personal relief, business grants/loans, or rent/mortgage freezes, we are looking down the barrel of financial devastation," the petition says.

Many worry the quality of their services and the customer experience will also dramatically decrease. The need for so many requirements for reopening underscores the fact that they can't safely and reasonably reopen yet, they say.

RELATED: Summer camps may reopen May 15; large gatherings canceled until at least September in Oregon

"We will not be able to make a profit when we have to cut our business at least in half, and premature reopening is condemning us to work to lose money and expose ourselves and, by extension, our loved ones at home to get sick," the creators of the petition said, "This is unconscionable."

They are seeking to be included in the last phase of reopening. 

But in the interim, they are calling on elected officials to help them get the unemployment benefits they've applied for. Many are independent contractors and weren't able to apply for unemployment benefits initially in Oregon.

We heard from several hairdressers who have yet to see any unemployment payouts. Several salon owners tell us they haven't received any relief from the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.

The governor’s plan requires individual Oregon counties to meet certain criteria before they will be allowed to enter “Phase 1” of the reopening plan. Some rural counties with relatively few cases could start that phase as early as next week.

But it will be longer before more urban counties with more cases can begin the process. On Friday, Multnomah County's top health officer said it could be about a month before the county can even apply to ease many restrictions under Gov. Brown's plan to reopen Oregon. 

RELATED: Oregon coronavirus updates May 8: Metro areas weeks from reopening