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Eastern Cape Healthcare Overwhelmed: Tips to Keep Safe in the Salon

By Simon Clark of Simon Clark Hairdressing, Port Elizabeth

Washing your hands is not going to save you!

We’ve been back at work a week and I am terrified. The Eastern Cape has run out of ICU beds and ventilators, with the rest of the country not far behind and I am reliably informed that one of our private hospitals has instituted a blanket DNR order. In simple terms if you crash (need to be resuscitated) they will leave you to die! That’s if you are lucky enough to get a bed in the first place.

Dailymaverick.co.za published the following article late last week, “Distance, Dose, Dispersion: An experts’ guide on Covid-19 risks in South Africa and how to manage them, By Covid-19 academics and medical professionals.” Reading it filled me with hope that we can beat this thing and then I visited Facebook and saw all the latest salon postings and my heart sank.

To summarise the brilliant article there are three risk factors you need to consider when dealing with the virus, Distance, Dose and Dispersion. The article talks about how we all take risks everyday like when we get in a car but because we understand them we can manage them. However it is clear that hairdressers have become caught up in the government’s sanitize mantra and may be putting themselves at greater risk as a result!

First off let’s look at how you can get infected. The usual method is someone who is infected breaths out little infected droplets of moisture and you in turn breath them in. It is possible to get infected by touching the virus that has been deposited on a surface and then touching your eyes or mouth but this is now thought to be much less likely. But this is not a reason to stop washing your hands or sterilizing surfaces.

Distance as we all know by now refers to social distancing. The further away you are from someone the less chance you have of getting infected. Distance is however impossible if you are working someone’s hair. So we need to look at and understand the next 2 D’s if we are to minimise our risks.

Dose refers to exposure you have to the virus. A certain dose of the virus will mean you get infected. This means the longer you spend with someone who is infectious the more like you are to get sufficient exposure to catch it. This is why in our salon we will not do blow drys and try to avoid lengthy colour corrections. (they are also, unless you charge the earth, probably not profitable as they take up a chair that could be turning over clients). Leaving money aside I would rather stay risk free at the moment than have a good Instagram photo!

Dispersion refers to the air movement in the area you are working. And this is a big one. Most salons especially those in shopping centers are poorly ventilated. If the air is not moving around and replaced by fresh air the virus will hang around and your risk of catching it goes up.

To quote the article “The three Ds interact! If you are outdoors, at least one metre (but preferably two metres) apart from others, for less than 10 minutes, your risk of becoming infected is incredibly low. On the other hand, if you are stuck in a room with closed windows, with someone with symptoms, your risk of getting the disease increases, whether or not you wear a cloth mask.”

Taking all this into consideration this probably means that the average salon is far higher risk than we would like to believe, as we violate all of the 3 D’s; we are extremely close to our clients when we work on them, some techniques take hours to do and salons, especially in shopping centres poorly ventilated.

So how can salons minimise their risks:

  1. Always insist you and your clients wear a cloth mask, properly! Face shields work by providing a barrier against direct spray but all the air and droplets still get round them. Whereas cloth masks work by trapping the droplets in the fabric.

  2. Keep appointments as short as possible. Less contact means less chance to catch the virus. Explain this to your clients and they will understand, no one wants to get sick.

  3. Do not use assistants when you are coloring. You are effectively doubling your and your clients risk as you are doubling the contact you both have. This then gets worse if your assistant then goes and helps someone else.

  4. Likewise do your own shampooing! Every contact with an extra person is an additional risk. Our policy is the same person helps a single customer from beginning to end. No Exceptions!

  5. We are still selling huge quantities of color kits. We make money on the color sale and we minimise contact so it is win - win for everyone We have also had clients who use a box color move over to buying our color! So we are in fact growing our market.

  6. Work outside if you can or open all the windows doors.

  7. Work next to an open window or door if possible.

  8. Try to get the air moving around as much as possible. Possibly use some fans to get the air moving around more.

  9. First prize to create a flow through the salon so that you constantly have fresh air coming in.

  10. It also means that putting screens up is a bad idea as this will decrease dispersion and increase you and your clients exposure and risk as the air will hang around where you are! Rather take the screens down and increase the air flow and space between clients.

  11. I realise that during a blow dry the hairdryer will create some dispersion, that should mitigate the extra dose but in the absence of any concrete research I would prefer not to take the risk. Remember it is contact time that increases your risk.

  12. Check whether or not your air conditioner reticulates or brings in fresh air. Reticulating air conditioners have already been linked to a number of out breaks.

  13. Treat any staff member who travels to work by mini bus taxi as high risk, and put extra precautions into place to minimise infection. For example, having work clothes or overalls for that employee, which remain at work.

Lastly, take the whole thing seriously. Yes we have all been financially hurt by the virus but we only live once and the gung-ho approach I see from some salons really frightens me. I leave you with the case, yesterday in the Eastern Cape where a young wealthy man with the best medical aid died a lonely death, as there was no ventilator to save him. Don’t let that happen to you. This is real and the virus will not discriminate! Do not take unnecessary risks!

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