Sharon Tranter was prepared to be out of work for at least another month, but when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced last week that hairstylists and barbers could get back to work starting April 27, she had no choice but to reopen her salon.
"Within three minutes I had four text messages, and within 10 minutes I had 11," Tranter told BuzzFeed News. "There was this huge pressure on me, 'I can’t wait — I can't wait to see you next week,'" she said her clients texted her.
"The ball started rolling immediately as soon as the governor stopped speaking," she said.
As officials in multiple states put out timelines for when hairstylists, barbers, and other personal service workers can go back to work, Tranter, who runs her own salon in the Atlanta area, shared in a Facebook post Wednesday some of the things she's learned about what hairdressers can do to keep themselves and their clients safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It is much harder than you think," she wrote. "Clients have been wonderful but still nervous. This is not like working before. This is a reset button for your business."
From wearing a visor and a mask to limiting talking — especially when the hairdryer is on because it gets super hot under all the protective gear — to making time to sanitize in between appointments, eat, and take the gear off, cutting and coloring hair looks and feels a lot different during the pandemic.
"What you don't predict is it’s hot. It’s like running in the sand. You can't breathe under that stuff when you put the hair dryer on it," Tranter, 48, said in a phone interview.
On top of that, she's dealing with not only her clients' stressors from being stuck at home for the last five weeks, but also her own anxieties about whether she's doing enough to keep herself and her clients safe.
"Am I doing this right? Am I keeping everyone safe? Did I touch that? And then you're looking at everything going, 'Oh my god, is that clean?'" Tranter said.
Despite criticism by some public health experts and elected officials, including President Donald Trump, who said it was too soon for the state to begin restarting its economy, Kemp allowed hair salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, and gyms to reopen last week as Georgia continued to see hundreds of new cases each day.
As of Friday, the state confirmed more than 27,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 1,147 deaths, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Governors in a few other states, like Oklahoma and Alaska, have also allowed hair salons to reopen as they begin to ease restrictions, however, others, like California Gov. Gavin Newsom, have said they don't think it will be safe to resume haircuts and other personal services for several more months due to the close proximity between clients and workers.
Even though she has so far figured out a new way to operate her business, Tranter said she does still think it is too soon for hairdressers to be working given that they cannot stay 6 feet away from their clients when cutting their hair.
"I think Georgia is ridiculous to go back," she said. "I was so upset that the state got opened because then it put me in this rock and a hard place."
Tranter worried if she didn't go back now and waited a couple of months, she may not have a business to come back to because her clients could have found someone else who did reopen, and she may have had trouble paying the summer bills to keep the salon.
She and her husband also are still paying for two of their kids' college educations and they can't live just on his salary.
Still, gearing up to go back to work was an emotional journey of its own.
"I cried for two days before coming back," Tranter said. "I was like, This is too soon. What am I going to bring home to my family? I'm not ready — I'm not emotionally ready for this. I don't know what I’m going into."
She said getting the salon ready was difficult because she had to reorganize the space to limit soft furnishes and ensure she had all her supplies and equipment in the right place to minimize the chances of cross-contaminating products. The day before she opened, Tranter did a test run with her son, which she recommends other hairdressers do because it helped her figure out how to set up everything.
Georgia businesses that choose to open under need to follow strict safety protocols, including requiring employees to wear masks and wash hands in between each client. Under guidelines from the state's cosmetology board, hair salons and barbershops should screen all employees and clients for symptoms and keep people at least 6 feet apart, "except when staff are servicing clients."
In addition to following those guidelines, Tranter has come up with some of her own protocols, like using a fresh set of tools for each client rather than just sanitizing them after each use and turning the air off at night so hair and other particles that are still circulating in the air fall to the ground.
"There's all these things I’m trying to see what else I can do to keep safe," she said.
Still, amid the anxiety and fear, Tranter said she has been able to find some joy in going back to work and hopes others can find some of that, too
"When they are coming in, you’re like, 'Hey, look at me! I look like a riot police,' and, 'Oh my god, it's mental isn't it?'" she said. "If you can remain upbeat and positive and try and create this really fun, silly just a happy environment, it goes a long way."
It was scary at first to be back, but once she shifted her mindset Tranter was laughing again.
"We just giggled through our masks," she said. "At least we were giggling again."