It's been three weeks since Missouri's state governor allowed businesses to reopen amid the widespread Coronavirus pandemic. While the state hoped to restore business and boost its economy, store owners are grappling with the reality of continuing their work during an ongoing health crisis — especially when that work requires close contact with others.
Just this past weekend, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department announced that two hairstylists in a recently reopened Great Clips salon tested positive for COVID-19, exposing nearly 140 people, including staff and customers. According to city officials, one hairstylist from the chain salon exposed 84 clients after working for eight days, and a second stylist at the same location exposed 56 clients while working five days. Together, the two employees exposed seven coworkers.
Despite posted guidelines by the Missouri Board of Cosmetology stating that services should not be offered to or given to anyone who is sick or exhibiting signs of illness, both employees were symptomatic when they returned to work. "The 84 clients potentially directly exposed will be notified by the Health Department and be offered testing, as will seven coworkers," the Health Department said in the statement, adding that the two employees were wearing face coverings. As of Friday, one exposed person who underwent screening tested positive for the virus.
Great Clips responded to the news, telling NBC that safety is its top priority. "Both stylists are following medical advice and taking appropriate actions, and the local health department notified individuals who came in close contact with those stylists," a spokesperson said in a statement. "The franchise owners have closed the salon to undergo additional sanitisation and deep cleaning, consistent with guidance from health officials."
The incident comes after Missouri included salons in its phase one reopening plan, which went into effect 4th May. While states have had varied approaches to hair salons — California, for example, listed them in phase three — salon owners across the country have started petitioning to return to work while planning precautionary measures to protect clients and stylists. Some salons intend to require contactless temperature checks, a move that might have prevented these two employees from working in the first place.
Customers like Erik Chase, one of the exposed Missouri Great Clips clients, says businesses should take greater responsibility — especially when employees are experiencing symptoms. "All of this because someone wasn't responsible. They should've stayed home," he told NBC affiliate KYTV of Springfield. "I also think that the employer had a great responsibility that if one of their employees wasn't feeling well, especially with this pandemic, [they] should've sent their employee home."
Chase also revealed that after his haircut, he came in contact with about 15 to 20 people, adding, "I don't think that the story is ending any time soon." Ultimately, it's clear that it won't be business as usual as states reopen, and it's on everyone — from government officials to store owners to clients — to seek the proper precautions and prioritise health first.