• Pandemic Ponderings Part 2: Safety Vs. Safety Theater

    drawing of woman in mask at podium with red flashing light, viruses on map behind her, and holding a banner that says "virus."

    Many of the states that had imposed some form of shelter in place order are starting to open back up. With businesses re-opening to the public there’s a lot of talk about keeping customers, clients, and employees safe. Emails and websites are filled with long lists of what businesses are doing to make sure that it’s safe for everyone to be there. I applaud their safety efforts, but some seem more rigorous than others. So today I want to talk about safety vs safety theater.

    Are They Really Keeping You Safe?

    I honestly believe that most business owners want to keep their employees and customers or clients safe. But there are problems:

    • We are still learning new things about the virus on a regular basis, such as new signs and symptoms, new complications, new populations that are affected, new organs and systems that are affected, and new chronic problems people who’ve recovered may face for the rest of their life.
    • COVOD units in hospitals are still experiencing a shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
    • Demand for EPA approved disinfectants is high, consequently they are in short supply
    • There are purchase limits on EPA disinfectants from most suppliers (especially retail stores and companies that sell to microbusinesses like mine)
    • We still lack adequate testing (for both antigens (infection) and antibodies (recovery/possible immunity)
    • We still lack adequate contact tracing
    • PPE, disinfectants, increased cleaning/disinfection schedules, fewer people allowed in at a time, and increased time between clients to allow time for proper disinfection cost money. Lots of money. Money that may (or may not – depending on the business) be hard to come by if they’ve been paying to keep their business location without having paying customers for the last 2 months.

    Safety

    I want to start with the measures that we know will keep people safe and what that looks like in a business setting. Safety in a grocery store might look different than at a restaurant or bar, which will definitely look different than at a spa, or at a massage or chiropractic office. I’m going to limit myself to service and healthcare businesses since that’s what I know. Good safety measures include:

    Social Distancing – The virus is spread via respiratory droplets which fall to the ground within 6 feet under normal circumstancesn although sneezes, coughs, singing, and yelling can propel them much further. Staying 6 feet away from other people (that you do not share living space with) is considered best practice among public health experts, virologists, and epidemiologists. Policies that support social distancing include:

    • Fewer people allowed in the business at any one time to allow a minimum of 6 feet between customers or clients
    • Removal of lobby spaces where people congregate before services
    • Asking clients or patients to wait in their cars until the provider is ready and sends them a text saying they may now enter the building
    • Staggered service times to prevent a scrum at the door (i.e. you don’t have 10 people all arriving for their 11am appointment at the same time)
    • Longer hours to accomodate staggered start times and increased disinfection procedures (more on that in a bit)

    No Handshakes or Hugs – Self-explanatory. You can’t practice social distancing while doing either of these.

    Face Masks – Like I said above, this virus is spread via respiratory droplets. Face masks help contain your droplets so they don’t infect anyone else. Since we know that some people my have the virus but never have symptoms (be asymptomatic) and that people may have the virus up to 14 days prior to having symptoms (be presymptomatic) it’s important to stay masked when you’re around people you do not share living space with. Remember, while the mask may only provide a small amount of protection to you, the purpose of wearing one is to protect others. To be safe, look for policies that include all of the following:

    • All staff must wear face masks
    • All customers or clients must wear face masks
    • Face masks must cover both nose and mouth
    • Face masks must be worn at all times
    • Bonus if providers change face masks between each client, although you will likely have no way of knowing this is happening without asking unless they have signs in the building or a put statement on their website or in an email.

    Hand Washing or Use of Hand Sanitizer – We know that the best way to prevent the spread of the SARS CoV-2 virus (along with not touching your face) is frequent and thorough hand washing for at least 20 seconds. When hand washing isn’t an option, the use of hand sanitizer for a minimum of 20 seconds is the second best option. You should see policies like these:

    • All customers, guests, or patients must wash their hands or use hand sanitizer when entering the building or office
    • Both clients and practitioners must wash hands or use hand sanitizer before entering the treatment room if there’s any lag time between entering the building/office/suite and entering the treatment room
    • Practitioners mush wash hands or use sanitizer immediately before starting a service or treatment
    • Practitioners mush wash hands or use sanitizer immediately after completing a service or treatment
    • Clients/patients must wash or sanitize hands after their treatment before checking out or leaving, especially if their hands were treated or touched by the practitioner or if they had to change/take off clothes for the treatment and need to change back into street clothes afterward
    • Clients must wash or sanitize their hands immediately before removing facemask (for work in the mouth or near the jaw) and immediately after replacing it when the work is complete

    Gloves – If the practitioner is going to do any type of work inside your mouth, they need to wash or sanitize their hands immediately before donning a new pair of disposable gloves. When finished, they need to take them off properly (meaning the end up inside out without actually touching the outer surface) and immediately wash or sanitize their hands before touching you again.

    Goggles – If there’s going to be work done inside the mouth or near the jaw, or if your facemask will need to be removed for any reason, the practitioner needs to be wearing goggles, in addition to any eyeglasses they may normally wear.

    Thorough and Frequent Disinfection – Although this virus is spread primarily through respiratory droplets while they’re still in the air, it is possible to contract the virus from inanimate objects. For this reason, treatment rooms will need to be properly and thoroughly disinfected (not just cleaned) before the first client of the day, between each client, and after the last client of the day. Feel free to ask about disinfection policies such as frequency of and items disinfected if they have not supplied you with that information in some way. Some of the surfaces that will need to be disinfected include:

    • Door handles, door frames, and the surface of each side of the door
    • Chairs that either of you sat on
    • Anything you put your clothes or belongings on or in
    • The surface or covering of the massage table and face rest (after placing all linens into the dirty linen hamper/basket)
    • All bolsters that were used or touched
    • The legs of the massage table
    • The face cradle frame
    • The stool surface, legs, and adjusting lever
    • The control for the table warmer (if adjusted during the session)
    • The music device controls (if adjusted during the session)
    • All oil, lotion, or gel bottles or tubes that are touched during the session
    • Any surface the oil, lotion, or gel bottles were placed on while in use
    • The bottle of hand sanitizer (Yes, for real)
    • The tissue box (or, hopefully, the pretty plastic cover which will be easier to disinfect than a cardboard box)
    • The Towel cabbie doors and handles (if used during the session)
    • Computer keyboard and/or track pad
    • Any electronic device used during check in, session, or check out including tablets, iPods, styluses, and cell phones
    • The floor
    • Toilet flush handle
    • Sink faucets and handles

    Contactless payment options – We know that this virus can spread via contact with others or the things they’ve touched. This includes credit cards, credit card processing terminal key pads, as well as pens and styluses. Due to the nature of many credit card processing terminals and their associated contracts and costs, it may not be easy or financially feasible to add the ability to accept contactless payments if a business didn’t take them prior to the shut down. That said, there are many ways to mitigate the risk associated with taking payment. Some of them include:

    • Accept Apple and Google Pay
    • Accept contactless credit cards (Yep, some banks have been sending these out for at least a year when cards are approaching their expiration date)
    • Accept Venmo, Cash App, or Pay Pal transfers
    • Wipe down/ disinfect the credit card processor’s stylus and keypad after every transaction

    Safety Theater

    Many businesses will engage in a bit of safety theater when they reopen, hopefully in addition to the necessary things I listed above. This doesn’t mean that they’re intentionally misleading you, it just means that these things don’t make us as safe as some people think. Here’s my short list of things that aren’t the best measure of safety:

    Taking temperatures – Yes, one of the main symptoms of COVID-19 is a fever, or temperature greater than 100.4 degrees. However, this safety step only indicates whether someone has a fever, not whether they have and are shedding the SARS CoV-2 virus. While you definitely don’t want anyone in the building who has a fever, there is some debate on whether you can force someone to have their temperature taken if you’re not a doctor’s office offering care for the cause of their fever. So, taking temps is fine as long as everything in the safety section is also being done and people are not allowed in if they either have a fever or refuse to have their temperature taken. If that’s not the case, this is nothing more than theater.

    Disinfecting shoes – Can we track the virus into building on the bottoms of our shoes? Yes. The question to ask is, how likely is a virus tracked in via shoes going to make us sick? Unless we’re licking our shoes or eating off the floor, it’s not likely; especially if the floor is being disinfected after every client. Yes, that means there’s no 5 second rule anymore. Sorry.

    Muscle testing for COVID-19 infection – This is gonna be a hot button issue but it can’t be helped. First off, let me say that I’ve used muscle testing and had some good results with it when both parties were objective. However, muscle testing can be gamed or influenced both intentionally and unintentionally. I’ve intentionally tried to influence a test as both the tester and the testee, just to see if I could. Spoiler alert: I influenced it each and every time I tried. I’ve also unintentionally influenced the testing with my own biases. It would be SO easy for a struggling business owner or practitioner who needs to see as many clients as possible, to want/need their clients to be healthy so badly, that everyone tests strong/healthy. I know the testing situation out there is a far cry from what it should be in both quantity and quality, but this is not a replacement for an actual COVID-19 test. This is nothing more than theater. SorryNotSorry.

    This is by no means a comprehensive list of safety measures that can be undertaken but it does cover the most common steps that owners and practitioners are taking to keep everyone safe. As more places open and you begin to venture out more, please be aware of which measures those businesses are taking and make an informed decision as to whether to return just yet.