Last Thursday, while discussing plans for reopening California’s economy, Governor Gavin Newsom threw a curveball: He suddenly announced that the first community transmission of COVID-19 had occurred in a nail salon, so they wouldn’t be allowed to reopen alongside thousands of other service businesses.
The off-hand statement, which Newsom refused to elaborate on even after he was questioned about it the following day, has thrown the entire nail industry into a panic in California. I spoke with Stephanie Lavery, Executive Editor of NailPro magazine, about the effect the governor’s statement will have on the industry, after she penned an open letter to him denouncing the accusation.
Read the full letter below:
A Dangerous Proclamation
Governor Newsom has so far declined to elaborate at all about how it was confirmed that the first case of community transmission occurred in a nail salon. He swatted away questions from reporters when asked, citing privacy laws. But you don’t have to commit a HIPAA violation to explain how he knows that it was indeed transmitted at a nail salon.
“If it was an outbreak, then that’s a different story,” says Lavery, but Newsom seems to have implied that it was one infection. Without clarifying his methods, it defies belief that the government could positively confirm a nail salon as the point of transmission if there was only one patient. By refusing to tell the public how this type of business was identified, the governor is just spreading fear and misinformation, rather than providing helpful guidance.
Governor Newsom has so far declined to elaborate at all about how he has confirmed that the first case of community transmission occurred in a nail salon.
Let’s say we give the governor the benefit of the doubt. Suppose that a state agency was able to positively identify that the transmission occurred at a nail salon. First, there is absolutely no reason to single out the nail industry as problematic in a huge press conference. Lavery points out that in the early days of infection, “no business was prepared to address and prevent the spread of the virus at that time." Grocery stores, gyms, flower shops, and nail salons were all equally unprepared to take appropriate preventative measures in a pandemic. The infection (if it happened) may have even occurred before the general population knew to be careful about spreading it, and therefore to place the blame specifically on one type of business is reckless and irresponsible.
Why Single Out the Nail Industry?
Ironically, the nail industry is probably more prepared than most to respond to health and safety measures. Lavery stresses that “salons in general are doing something in terms of sanitation and disinfection on a daily basis, whereas again a lot of these businesses that have been allowed to open up...flower shops, sporting goods stores, these businesses are not required to keep the same kind of sanitation and disinfection procedures.”
Nail salons are required to follow strict guidelines laid down by the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. Supposedly, these guidelines work to ensure the health and safety of customers visiting nails salons. If the state feels that the standards are not sufficient to keep customers safe, or if they “have heard that there are enough infractions at salons that are not adhering to the state board guidelines, then there should be more people going through the salons and visiting them on a regular basis,” says Lavery. In short, the state should be taking responsibility for monitoring salons that are not compliant, rather than shutting down an entire industry with no clear cause.
Salons in general are doing something in terms of sanitation and disinfection on a daily basis.
The governor must explain why wearing masks and practicing social distancing works for other businesses, but isn’t sufficient for nail salons, especially given their already high standards for sanitation. All his statement has done so far is create alarm based on a mythical fear of the virus, not concrete evidence or practical guidelines.
Punishing Small Business Owners and Immigrants
California is home to 11,000 nail salons, most of which are small businesses. 80% are owned by Vietnamese Americans. Unlike the owners of many other small businesses that have been able to find ways to make money during the shutdown (think, curbside pickup for restaurants), hair and nail salons have been shuttered completely. Nail technicians are overwhelmingly female, and are often single mothers and immigrants. Their only source of income since the shutdown is hoping to qualify for unemployment payments. Many of them are women who came to America to pursue the American dream, only to see it dashed before their eyes.
Unlike many other small businesses that have been able to find ways to make money during the shutdown, hair and nail salons have been shuttered completely.
The owners of the salons are suffering too. Owners are being forced to pay rent on locations they cannot access, and nail salons have high overhead from equipment and sanitation compliance. Large companies, like Neiman Marcus or J. Crew, have been able to declare bankruptcy to protect their assets during the shutdown. But for small, unincorporated businesses, banks could pursue the private savings and assets of the owners if they’re unable to meet their financial obligations. None of this would be thanks to the owner’s mismanagement or bad business sense, but because the government had effectively made it illegal for them to run their business. What responsibility do bureaucrats or the governor bear for the dreams they’ve destroyed with their destructive and short-sighted policies?
Why Are Nail Salons Safe in Nevada but Not in California?
Unlike many other states, Nevada has decided to allow nail salons to reopen. They must only take clients by appointment, use every other chair if there are no dividers, and employees are encouraged to wear masks. In short, the same guidance given to every other business for reopening. The order only went into effect on Saturday, May 9, so we won’t know if these measures are sufficient for a few weeks. But that begs the question, if it’s safe enough to reopen in Nevada, why isn’t it safe to reopen in California? Instead of providing useful guidance for salons desperate to reopen, Governor Newsom is spreading fear by demonizing an industry he can’t (or won’t) prove is more dangerous than others.
Governor Newsom is spreading fear by demonizing an industry he can’t (or won’t) prove is more dangerous than others.
Governor Newsom’s proclamation about nail salons being the first source of community transmission in California does nothing to resolve the issues the state is facing today. His refusal to elaborate on how the transmission was confirmed leaves gaping holes that terrified citizens can fill with fear and discrimination. Without specifying his reasoning, the Governor seems to be arbitrarily punishing the nail industry, when everyone was equally unprepared at the outbreak of the virus. Inciting fear and distrust around the nail salon industry punishes small business owners, many of whom are immigrants building their American dream. So Mr. Newsom, instead of spreading fear and leaving room for misinformation, try speaking candidly to the citizens of California. Stop punishing an industry that has done nothing wrong.