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The Covid-19 Pandemic

by Louis Krauss9:45 amMay 16, 20200

As Baltimore extends stay-at-home order, salon staff is feeling the strain

Mt. Washington’s Studio & Co. was poised to open – safely, its owner says – until the mayor declared the city was not ready

Above: Notice at one of the thousands of city businesses impacted by the pandemic. (Fern Shen)

After two months with her business closed due to the coronavirus lockdown, Karen Bialozynski was thrilled to hear on Wednesday that Gov. Larry Hogan would begin allowing many types of businesses, including hers, to open by the end of this week.

Bialozynski started stocking her Mt. Washington salon, Studio & Co., with all the necessary supplies for a safe re-opening: extra brushes for stylists to switch between clients, masks, cleaning and disinfecting tools.

But one day later, she was disheartened to learn that Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young had declared Baltimore not ready for reopening and issued an executive order keeping the state’s stay-at-home restrictions in place.

“I just don’t understand it,” said Bialozynski, who said she takes Covid-19 seriously but believes salons are well schooled on safe practices that will prevent transmission.

“Most hair salons around here, we’re up on sanitization and disinfection,” Bialozynski said. “I think we’d be fine if we wore masks and stuck to six-foot distancing.”

“Data does not support reopening”

Hogan’s executive order permitted salons, barbers, churches and other religious spaces, pet groomers and other retailers to reopen either by appointment or at half capacity, with masks and distancing required inside.

But the leaders of some jurisdictions, including Baltimore City and Baltimore County, have refused to relax restrictions. Residents there remain under the stay-at-home order, with travel only allowed for essential workers or to essential locations like grocery stores, restaurants and pharmacies.

“While we are continuing to flatten the curve, the data does not support reopening at this time,” Young said on Thursday, issuing his own executive order that countermanded Hogan’s.

Bialozynski said Studio & Co. will abide by the city’s rules and get through the continued stay-at-home order somehow. But she’s uneasy about the situation.

“My fear is that the salons in Harford County are open, while Baltimore’s aren’t. I worry our clients could just go there 20 minutes away to get their haircuts,” she said.

Tough Financially

The salon, a fixture in Mt. Washington since the 1980s, has been closed since March 17. In those two months, Bialozynski said, she has worked out a plan to reduce the 15 stylists stations down to seven and disinfect after every client.

Staff have also taken an online course by the company salon’s disinfectant company, Barbicide, that trains them in how to effectively disinfect after a hair client, the owner noted.

“A lot of my stylists are very nervous. They’re saying, yes they’ll come back, but when push comes to shove, I don’t know”  – Karen Bialozynski.

For her 17 stylists and eight support staff, Bialozynski said it’s been tough financially since some of them have been unable to obtain unemployment benefits due to the state’s overwhelmed system for jobless claim filers. The stylists are contract workers, she noted.

Another potential hurdle for Bialozynski is the fear that some employees and stylists have about returning to the salon due to health concerns.

“One of my shampoo girls has severe asthma, and I don’t know if she’ll feel comfortable coming back,” Bialozynski said.

“A lot of my stylists are very nervous. They’re saying, yes, they’ll come back, but when push comes to shove, I don’t know.”

Lack of Tests

Yesterday, with Hogan’s order taking effect elsewhere at 5 p.m., Young re-emphasized his stance, faulting the state for not doing its part.

“To date, the state has failed to provide local jurisdictions with the testing equipment we need to open safely,” he said.

In order to meet guidelines established by public health experts, Young said roughly 2,700 to 2,800 Covid-19 screening tests should be completed each day based on Baltimore’s population.

However, due to the lack of tests available, he said, an average of 486 tests were conducted per day between April 27 and May 3, and 571 tests per day for the following week of May 4 through May 10.

So far, all Covid-19 test equipment has been provided by the city and local hospitals, highlighting the need for the state to pitch in.

“Until the state steps up to the plate with providing testing help, it would be irresponsible to relax our restrictions at this time,” Young said.

183 Deaths in Baltimore

Yesterday’s press briefing was also an opportunity for Young to present the latest pandemic data for the city.

Since May 13, he said, the city has seen a 4% increase in confirmed Covid-19 cases. As of Friday morning, there have been 3,606 cases, 390 people hospitalized and 183 deaths.

The mayor also announced that the city will be providing mobile testing stations in three neighborhoods – Cherry Hill, Brooklyn and Highlandtown. Citizens will be able to walk-up and get tested without an appointment or referral, as long as supplies last.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison warned that officers will respond to reports of non-compliance with the stay-at-home order and document it with body cameras.

The department would then consult the city’s law department to figure out the appropriate violation, Harrison added.

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