MUSC Back2Business team gives salon a way to 'stop the questions'

September 10, 2020
Katherine Bailey
Salon Vari owner Katherine Bailey stands in front of styling stations that are widely spaced to limit contact. Photos by Sarah Pack

When South Carolina hair salons were allowed to reopen in May after being shut down earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, Charleston salon owner Katherine Bailey said it was tough to figure out what precautions to take.

“We were given two pages of voluntary guidelines by the state, which was very frustrating. Not even masks were required for stylists. So we took an extra week to think things over and decide what we were going to do. We looked at what other states were doing, advice from the CDC, OSHA, the board of cosmetology. Any recommendation, we took it. We were able to compile a list of things before we reopened.”

Once her downtown Charleston business, Salon Vari, reopened, most people appreciated the steps she’d taken. But some clients weren’t quite ready for what they found. “We got some resistance because people thought we were being extra cautious. That was when people were still arguing about masks.”

Signs at entrance to salon saying it has worked with the Back2Business team 
Signs tell clients that Salon Vari has worked with MUSC Health's Back2Business team to make the salon as safe as possible during the pandemic and to wear face covering.

The Back2Business team at MUSC Health helped her put an end to that, assessing the salon and giving her clear guidelines for operating as safely as possible. “Now that we have these very specific rules from MUSC, we can point to that and say we are following MUSC’s recommendations. That stops the questions. It’s an organization that people know and trust.”

MUSC Health launched Back2Business to help people like Bailey stay in business while protecting customers and employees. Its public health experts have worked not only with personal care businesses such as Salon Vari but also larger operations such as the Charleston County School District, Mount Pleasant Waterworks and the Kiawah Island Club.

Nurse Ryan Howard of the Back2Business team worked with Salon Vari. “The pandemic in this current state has become our new normal, so we’re trying to figure out how we can still go outside, go to the grocery store and have that outlet of utilizing the spa and getting our hair cut,” she said.

“I don’t see this pandemic going away anytime soon. I feel like we’re doing what we can in the current situation to help the community. I mean, the salons have to open or they’re out of business.”

Salon manager Alyssa Godwin holds towels. Owner Katherine Bailey sprays a hair washing station. 
Salon manager Alyssa Godwin carries clean towels as owner Katherine Bailey wipes down a hair-washing station.

At Salon Vari, Bailey and manager Alyssa Godwin described some of the changes they’ve made. “Prior to this, the salon was set up for nine stations,” Bailey said, referring to her stylists’ work spaces. “We rearranged everything so we have six, but we’re not working more than two on each side. We’re also staggering schedules right now to reduce the number of people in here at any one time.”

The salon also screens clients to make sure they haven’t been exposed to the coronavirus recently and don’t have symptoms of COVID-19, the illness that the virus can cause. 

And Godwin said they’ve temporarily done away with the waiting area for clients. “They call us when they arrive in their cars or wait outside if the weather’s nice. When we’re ready, we give them a call. Then we meet them at the door, and I’ll take my thermometer out and take their temperatures. Then we have extra masks here so if someone comes in without one, we can give them one.”

Hand sanitizer and a COVID sign 
A hand sanitizing station stands by the entrance to the salon.

Bailey said they also offer gloves. “Not everyone chooses to take them, but they have the option. We have hand sanitizers, alcohol pads for people to wipe down their phones if they’re using them while they’re here.”

Godwin said the salon has suspended blow drying, a decision supported by the Back2Business team. “We don’t like telling people no –they can’t have their hair blown out. But we have been offering alternatives like how we can air dry your hair better or do you want a leave-in conditioning mask. We’re trying to meet people in the middle. We’ve had to sort of train people. It’s been an interesting journey.”

Howard, the MUSC Health nurse, said working in a pandemic has been an interesting journey for her team, too, as they monitor constantly changing public health guidelines. “We keep up with the updates and we send them to our clients. That’s our job – to be on the front lines and figure out what the changes are and then to streamline them to our clients.”

Bailey is grateful for the guidance. “We’ve always tried to stay very clean, but this is a whole new level.”

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