Nail salons are not on the list of businesses that may soon reopen; some wonder why

Nail salon owners and workers say they are prepared to reopen, with safety protocols—including face shields and other protective gear—in place. Yet these businesses were left off a list outlined by the governor last Friday, which included bars, gyms and other industries.

“We just feel like this is our time to reopen, and we don’t know why we haven’t been able to,” said Christie Nguyen, owner of Studio 18 in Tustin, who helped organize a protest in Westminster Monday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom commented last month that the origin of community transmission of the virus in California began at a nail salon, but Nguyen said state public health officials told them last week they could not prove that.

“They have not retracted that statement” publicly, Nguyen said.

“We want to reopen sooner than later,” Nguyen said. “Every day we’re closed it’s another salon unable to sustain itself.”

Some nail salon owners felt the governor’s comment would fan flames of bigotry against Asians because the coronavirus originated in China and because most of the businesses are owned by people of Vietnamese descent, she said.

Jesse Melgar, a spokeswoman for Newsom, said, “The Newsom administration continues to engage with stakeholders in the nail salon industry to gather feedback and participate in constructive dialogue about reopening—with a focus on public health and safety. We remain committed to keeping the lines of communication open as we look to modify our Stay at Home order.”

Feeling the economic pressure of the lockdown and fielding calls from their clients, many nail techs and other beauticians are performing their services despite the governor’s ban, in kitchens and living rooms, said Fred Jones, legal counsel of the Professional Beauty Federation of California.

“Their clients are willing to crawl over broken class every 6 weeks to get a color and a cut. And in sandal season, to get a mani-pedi,” Jones noted. “Trust me when I say: you place 600,000 licensed professionals on the brink of financial ruin and they have all this pent-up demand from their trusted clientele for services.”

For beauty professionals to do house calls instead of performing their services in a well-sanitized professional salon is counterproductive to the government’s goal of flattening the curve, Jones argued. And what’s worse: working in the shadows may tarnish the industry’s overall professionalism, including on the issue of sanitation.

“If this leads to hundreds of thousands of our licensees, going underground, going away from regulations, screwing their license and saying ‘I’m on my own;’ that will hurt our industry in the long run,” Jones said.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who is also president of the California State Association of Counties, said it is her sense from discussions with state public health officials that nail salons will get approval to reopen soon.

“I think they may be coming this week,” Bartlett said. “We’re trying to get some clarification on that.”

The state issued a news release on Friday putting nail salons into the same category of kids sports and weddings as gatherings that would be “addressed soon.”    Bartlett said nail salons are unique and pose more challenges for social distancing than barber shops, which have been allowed to reopen.

“They’re a little bit different because in a barber shop you’re back is facing the person, who is serving you most of the time,” Bartlett said. “In a nail salon, you’re a foot apart, literally facing the person servicing you for an hour and a half or two hours, so it’s that close proximity, face-to- face, and that can be challenging. And they’re touching your hands and filing nails, and all the equipment has to be sanitized.”

Bartlett said plastic shields between service providers and clients will likely be a must.

State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, said the nail salon owners have an effective strategy.

“This governor seems to back down when he is confronted, and maybe the nail salon owners have observed the same and they’re probably thinking we’re not going to get any movement until we start screaming and yelling  like everybody else, so I see it as a strategy that the governor has sort of encouraged,” Moorlach said.

Former state Sen. Janet Nguyen, who is running for Assembly, said she launched an online petition to call for the reopening of nail salons with other businesses slated to reopen this week.

“I’m calling for the governor to finally do the right thing and allow nail salons to open immediately and start the process of recovery,” Janet Nguyen said. “The continued punishment against nail salons will devastate the entire Vietnamese American community in California which depend on these small businesses to provide for their families.”

Staff writer Alena Maschke contributed to this story.

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