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‘Thrilled to be back’: Hair salons reopen as coronavirus restrictions continue to loosen

Ashley Kouza does Jo Anne Moran's hair at Velvet Hair Lounge while both wear masks to follow public health guidelines.
Ashley Kouza does Jo Anne Moran’s hair at Velvet Hair Lounge in Ocean Beach while both wear masks to follow public health guidelines.
(Courtesy)

After some two months of figuring out at-home hair care and watching how-to videos on YouTube, San Diego County residents are able to return to salons and barbershops under government health and safety guidelines resulting from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

For Lynnel Goncalves of Lynnel’s Hair Design on Poinsettia Drive in Point Loma, that meant she was back at work the day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the guidelines May 26.

“We already had all our ducks in a row,” said the hairstylist of 40 years.

The guidance says customers and workers must wear face coverings during hair cutting and other close-contact services. The full document is at bit.ly/cahairsalonsguidelines.

Goncalves said she left no stone unturned in her effort to maximize her salon’s safety. She went so far as to repaint it with antibacterial paint, in addition to general requirements such as sanitizing all the workstations, stocking up on masks and gloves and removing items such as magazines.

“We’re here to work and that is it,” she said. “No more socializing!”

For the time being, Lynnel’s Hair Design has just three or four employees working at a time to ensure a 6-foot minimum distance between people. The hair dryers now are back to back rather than side by side. When customers arrive, they must wait outside until it’s time for their appointment.

A stylist at Lynnel’s Hair Design in Point Loma wears a mask while doing a customer's hair.
(Courtesy)

If customers are wearing a mask that the hairdresser cannot work around, they will be supplied with a disposable mask. Each customer also will wear a disposable cape.

When salons first reopened, Goncalves had appointments “from the crack of dawn until late at night,” she said. The pace has slowed since, she said.

“There’s still a lot of fear out there. And my fear with this whole [protest] thing right now is that we’re going to find another increase in COVID cases,” she said, referring to the many protests against racial inequalities and police brutality following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. “And my fear is having to shut back down again.”

For her, salons reopened in the nick of time. “I don’t know that we could do another 2½ months [of closure]. I don’t know that I can survive,” she said.

Hair drying stations at Lynnel’s Hair Design are set back to back to keep customers socially distant.
(Courtesy)

While some salons are still in the process of reopening, Julie Robinson of Notorious for Hair on Canon Street in Point Loma said she had seen the writing on the wall.

“They’ve been doing this, ‘OK, you can reopen — like tomorrow,’” she said. “So I knew they were gonna do that to us. I’ve been stockpiling my hand sanitizer, I got my thermometer, everything prepared.”

Robinson, along with her business partner Jennifer Congernaum, were able to open immediately. By the morning after the news broke, Robinson was back to working on her clients’ hair.

The state guidelines have altered many of the usual practices, however.

“The state has asked us to do limited shampooing, so if we have shorter-haircut people coming in, we ask them to pre-shampoo,” Robinson said, referring to people with shorter hair that can be washed quickly and easily at home, with no need for contact from the hairdresser.

“They’ve also asked us to not blow-dry for a while, so there’s no blow-drying in here,” she said.

With the doors open again (though customers must make appointments), the salon is getting a mixture of excitement and apprehension from clients.

“Generally, most people are really excited to get in here. But I am getting a lot of questions beforehand about what our protocol is,” Robinson said.

She added that the salon has some clients who are at higher risk of the virus, so it tries to book them at 8 a.m. when no one else is there. “That helps them to feel a little bit more comfortable,” she said.

“And ... we’re cleaning all the time.”

Many places of worship threw open their doors to welcome back their congregations and guests after last month’s release of new state safety guidelines for reopening.

Ashley Kouza, co-owner with her sister Anita of Velvet Hair Lounge on Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach, said they were flooded with appointments after news broke that salons could reopen.

“Our clients are so thrilled to be back in our chairs,” Ashley said. “We’re known for always maintaining such a clean salon space that we haven’t had much concern from returning clientele.”

Velvet Hair Lounge employees send a pre-screen checklist to all clients before booking, as well as the new salon guidelines, which include no waiting room, no beverages, no dogs or children, and masks on at all times.

Goncalves at Lynnel’s Hair Design said she’s had a variety of responses from her clients. Some aren’t yet willing to venture back to salons.

“A lot of our clients are like, ‘This is not important to me anymore. The importance is keeping our elderly, our ... children healthy,’” she said.

She has, however, received surprising responses from some of her eldest clients, who are considered among those at highest risk of serious effects from the coronavirus.

“You have those ladies in their 80s and 90s who come on a regular basis … they just don’t care,” Goncalves said with a chuckle. “They feel like they’ve lived long enough right now; they want to look good! They’ve been through it all. They’re not going to miss their appointment.”

The reopening of city piers June 9 brought a return for many to a routine that had come to an abrupt end about two months ago when piers were closed to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Other state reopening guidelines were announced last week for a wide range of businesses and organizations, including schools, child care, day camps, casinos, media production, professional sports without live spectators, campgrounds, hotels, card rooms, satellite wagering facilities and racetracks, family entertainment centers, bars, wineries, fitness facilities, museums, galleries, zoos and aquariums. Some could reopen as early as June 12, though many need county approval and all need to prove they can meet lengthy rules specified by the state.

County officials allowed beach parking lots to reopen this week and sportfishing and small charter boats to resume.

The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.


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