Gov. Ned Lamont reversed course on Monday and announced hair salons and barber shops will not reopen on Wednesday, but instead in early June when similar Rhode Island establishments are scheduled to reopen.
Lamont said in a joint announcement with Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo that after “extensive discussions” with business owners and employees, “he feels that it is in everyone’s best interests to provide for some additional preparation time and also align the state with its regional partners.”
“We’ve been hearing a lot of feedback from many owners and employees, and at this time I think the best approach is that we hit pause on the reopening of hair salons and barbershops, take a step back, and allow some more time as preparations continue to be made,” Lamont said in a statement.
At a news conference, Lamont said he had heard from hair stylists and salon owners who weren’t ready for May 20, from employees not feeling comfortable coming back to work, and from businesses needing more time to find cleaning agents and other materials. He said Connecticut will work in collaboration with other states in the region, including Rhode Island, which pushed off the date for salon reopening, and Massachusetts, which set a May 25 date.
“Look, I apologize because I know some of you were all set, ready to go on May 20,” Lamont said. “Give us a little bit more time for all of your peers to get up and operating and make sure your employees feel confident and comfortable going back, if appropriate.”
Salons that reopen before June 1 will be in violation of the governor’s executive order, said Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman.
Lamont’s joint announcement comes as Connecticut gears up for its initial reopening phase on Wednesday, which allows for the reopening, under protocols set by the state, of restaurants, museums, zoos, retail shops and malls, offices, university research programs and outdoor recreation.
Lamont said the state has hit key targets set for the initial reopening phase, including for testing, Personal Protective Equipment, and contact tracing. He said the state is ready for a safe, limited phase of reopening on May 20, taking “baby steps to slowly get our economy moving for each and every one of you.”
But Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said it’s very important from “a public health standpoint that we don’t let our guard down” because Connecticut doesn’t want to see its infection rate climb again.
She reminded people to wear face masks or coverings and limit gatherings to no more than five people, and she encouraged residents 65 or older or those who have high risk factors to continue to stay at home. She said all these strategies are designed to prevent increases in infections.
“The infection is not gone,” Gifford said. “The virus is still with us so we need to continue to take these important steps, which have really helped Connecticut bend the curve.”
Connecticut’s positive COVID-19 cases stand at 38,116, an increase of 697 cases since the day before, according to data released Monday. 3,449 people have died, 41 more since the previous day. Hospitalizations decreased by 17 to 920. A total of 177,679 tests have been performed, up 7,072 since the day before.
From ‘gut punch’ to relief
Lamont’s announcement to push the reopening of hair salons and barber shops to June drew mixed reactions on Monday.
The Connecticut Beauty Association, with 3,600 members, said in a news release that it has “repetitively expressed concerns for their members’ safety with the impending state reopening phase.” The CBA called the original May 20 reopening date an “unfair disadvantage” for the women who comprise 90.7% of the industry and who face uncertainties of how to provide child care and homeschooling for the rest of the school year.
The association also highlighted a lack of “funding available for salons to acquire the necessary PPE, creating limitations on how long a business can remain open and what percentage of (employees that) can go to work safely,” particularly for immune-compromised individuals and people age 65 or older.
When reached by phone Monday afternoon, Nancy Hennigan, the owner of Nancy’s Hair Salon in New London, was in front of her computer searching for hard-to-find PPE and said the governor’s decision brought “a bit of relief.”
“I spend the days spinning my wheels trying to find this stuff, and it’s just not available, so it certainly does help because it gives us more time to get our needed protection gear,” she said.
Without the PPE, the salon couldn’t open on May 20. She said that date “was just too much too soon” to provide a good comfort level for employees.
On Monday afternoon, Danny Garcia, owner of I Got You Next Barbershop in Groton, said the salon was installing a table for PPE, putting up signage, and taking calls from customers seeking appointments. When he heard the news, he said it felt like “a punch in the gut.”
“It definitely sent a shockwave through the industry,” he said.
The shop had already spent up-front costs on high-demand PPE, rearranged stations, and implemented protective barriers in anticipation of starting business up again on May 20.
“We were booked out for a week and a half already,” he said.
Garcia said it’s fine if some shops aren’t ready to open up right now, but those that are ready should be allowed to reopen and serve as an example of what needs to be done to reopen.
Paula Peltier, owner of A Cut Above Hair Design in Waterford, said she was disappointed because the salon was putting the final touches on its reopening Wednesday, and both the salon’s staff and clients were ready.
While she said the salon would be able to survive the reopening delay, it would still be a financial hit. She said the salon had spent a lot of time and money to get supplies and everything ready for May 20, only to be left waiting again.
“It’s going to be a little tough for us, but our clients are supportive and understanding and are willing to wait for us,” Peltier said.
Peggy Roberts, the president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, said she knows Lamont has listened to the experts and it may be a good decision but it’s not clear to her what the reasoning was and it puts an even larger burden on those businesses that are ready to open.
To help businesses navigate reopening, DECD Deputy Commissioner Glendowlyn Thames announced the launch of the Small Business Reopening Resource Guide, which will be available on the DECD’s website. Small businesses can access a list of financial resources, resources for employee training and support, physical layout solutions for social distancing, and a list of vetted suppliers for PPE.
The DECD will also launch this week, in partnership with the Small Business Development Center, a series of webinars on best practices as businesses reopen.