Georgia lawmakers cautious as barbershops, salons reopen

Barbershops and salons can reopen after the governor lifted statewide restrictions effective Friday. Macon's RazorLine Barbershop owner Wade White says he's eyeing a May 4 reopening. Contributed by White Inc. Photography

State Rep. Kasey Carpenter resorted to having his 11- and 8-year-old daughters trim his hair with clippers.

Rep. Terry England of Auburn said his hair currently resembles a mop on his head.

They, like many others, have missed their hair stylists and barbers since non-essential businesses were closed by Gov. Brian Kemp weeks ago to try to limit the spread of COVID-19.

But the two Republicans differ on how soon they’ll be making appointments now that the governor is allowing them to reopen today.

“I probably won’t be there Friday… but I’ll go next week at some point,” said Carpenter.

The Dalton Republican said he supports Kemp’s decision to allow salons, barbershops, gyms and tattoo parlors to reopen Friday.

“This is about allowing people to operate in a safe manner to be able to pay their bills,” he said.

England, on the other hand, plans to wait a bit.

“My 75-year-old dad lives with us, and I’m trying to be very careful not to bring anything home,” he said in a text message.

State House Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and the State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers also backed Kemp’s timeline, but the decision is not without controversy.

Kemp’s plan is also heavily criticized by many health care experts, state Democrats and local officials. They say it makes Georgians more susceptible to a virus that’s still prevalent in many parts of the state.

Even President Donald Trump has said that Kemp is reopening those types of businesses too quickly.

Yet, supporters of Kemp’s move say they’re worried about the long-term financial challenges if these businesses aren’t up and running soon, and say following specific guidelines will allow them to operate in the safest manner possible

Even with the masks and other protective gear, Sen. Donzella James, an Atlanta Democrat, said she’s not ready to take further risks of contracting COVID-19. 

“If you’re not social distancing at all, if you’re that close, I don’t care if you have masks and gloves on, you’re still vulnerable to catching (COVID-19) if someone is positive,” James said.

She’s been styling her hair by following the tips she grew up using in a household with four sisters.

Still, James says it is up to each person to decide if they feel comfortable enough to get their hair styled or maybe head back to the gym.

“(Kemp) just made it elective for them so many of the salons, barbershops, gyms are still going to go along with what he has recommended,” she said. “I know there are many businesses that say they can’t survive now if they can’t go back into business.”

Among the state’s safety recommendations are checking the temperatures of employees and clients, asking health screening questions, limiting the number of people in the shop, and trying to maintain six feet distance as much as possible.

Staff must wear masks and other protective gear, wash hands for at least 20 seconds between seeing customers and disinfect tools and other surfaces. 

Macon barbershop owner Wade White says he is not reopening until May 4 to have more time to monitor how the COVID-19 cases pan out.

Once his RazorLine Barbershop is back open, it’ll be appointment only, and barbers and customers will follow the protocols.

“I don’t want to put my clients and my employees in a direct fire so I’m going to wait and see how the numbers fluctuate,” he said.

Kay Kendrick, chair of the cosmetology and barbers board, says there is a mixed-reaction from many who work in the industry about whether they’re ready to reopen. 

“Most of them are really excited about it. Of course, there are some who are critical and say it’s too soon and they’re not prepared,” she said.

Hair stylists and barbers can’t perform their jobs six feet from their clients, so they need to take as many precautions as possible. 

“The idea is to follow the guidelines for sanitation; don’t breathe in people’s faces, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly between each service and disinfect your work area,” Kendrick said. “Be as cautious as you can.”

Rep. Bee Nguyen said she is holding off on getting her hair cut until the crisis is over. The Atlanta Democrat said she’s avoided getting non-essential services performed over the last month.

Nguyen said she is especially worried about the safety of the large number of minorities who work at places like barbershops, salons and nail shops.

Figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show blacks have higher contraction and death rates than other races. Georgia’s public health data suggests the same.

“I think the conversation we should be having is which communities are going to be impacted by the opening of these services,” she said. “We know those industries that are largely owned and largely employ black Georgians and Asian-Americans.”

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.