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Salons, personal care businesses to reopen Monday to a new normal

As the state progresses into the governor’s Stage 2 of reopening amid the COVID-19 outbreak, salons, barbershops and other personal-care services are permitted to reopen, but with a lot of new safety measures and protocols in place.

Personal care businesses have been closed since mid-March due to the virus, but those businesses have been itching to reopen and are excited to welcome back customers, albeit the experience being a little different.

Inside Dave’s Shave & Barber Parlor in Galloway Township, there’s a small chalkboard with the words “biggest game of cooties ever” written on it. It’s Dave Harrah and wife Jenn’s small way to find humor in the new normal.

The two co-own the barbershop.

Hand sanitizers are at the front door and barber stations. There are also disposable gloves and capes at every station. Reusable capes will be washed and sanitized on site after every use. The shop also has masks for customers who do not have one, Harrah said.

Stations also will get sanitized between every customer. The suede barber chairs are covered in thick plastic. Each chair is 6 feet apart. There are also large plastic partitions between each station.

The reception podium has a sneeze guard and there will be no-contact payment options. Cash payments will be dispensed in a small metal drawer and a touchscreen for card payments will be sanitized after every use.

“On the way in and out, we require hand sanitizer, and we have a forehead thermometer,” he said. “As long as they’re below 100.4 degrees, we are able to service them.”

Jenn Harrah, who is also a radiation therapist at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, said customers who had a fever can return for service after they have been fever free for 72 hours without fever-reducing medications.

“We also have an appointment app that sends out an automatic message whenever someone makes an appointment, informing them of our screener,” she said. “Whether they have a fever, cough, loss of taste or smell or they’ve been in contact with anyone that’s confirmed positive or suspected positive of COVID-19, we’re encouraging them to cancel their appointment if they answer ‘yes’ to any of those, and we’ll gladly reschedule them.”

At the barber stations, disposable razors will be used and all other tools will be sanitized after each use.

Both customers and staff members must wear a face mask at all times. A customer can only take his mask off for a beard shave, which requires the barber to wear both a face mask and a face shield, Harrah said.

Because of the shop’s computer system, all customers’ contact information is on file so contact tracing can be easily performed. The shop is also offering coffee and water, but it must be served by an employee.

Customers must also wait in their cars until the time of their appointment instead of coming in and sitting in the waiting area. Customers cannot bring guests with them into the shop.

One parent can accompany their child for a hair cut if the child is under 3. Children under 2 do not have to wear masks, Jenn Harrah said.

A common experience seen in barber shops is customers gathering in the waiting area and chatting while waiting for a shave. That experience, though, is on hold until further notice.

“It is sad,” Dave Harrah said. “That was one of the main reasons I wanted to open my own business, to kind of bring that old-timey feel back. People come in, hang out for a cup of coffee and just shoot the breeze with us for a little while. It’s nice to have an open-door policy, but unfortunately, for the time being, our open door is closed to nonappointment customers.”

Like Harrah, Rez Salama also said it’s upsetting to not be able to have that culture of customers waiting together and enjoying good conversation.

Salama owns Headliners Barbershop in Egg Harbor Township.

“But there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “We’re going to have to take these steps for right now. We are all worried about our health, so we have to take that precaution. Even though the world isn’t going back to normal, not 100%, we’re happy to be back at work.”

Salama said his shop will be appointment only until further notice. His business will have all the same protocols as Dave’s Shave, including service chairs 6 feet apart and temperature checks.

Appointments are also more spread out, with 10 to 15 minutes between each customer to sanitize the service chair and station.

“Instead of our barbers booking every 30-35 minutes, now it’s every 45 to 50 minutes,” he said. “So it’s not going to be as busy as we were before COVID-19.”

Similar measures are in place for all personal care services including massage parlors and hair and nail salons.

Patti Burns, owner of Color Room, a hair salon in Northfield, said customers must get their temperature checked upon arrival and answer the following questions when they make an appointment — if they’ve had a cough or a fever over 100 degrees in the last 14 days, if they have been around anyone showing signs or symptoms related to COVID-19 and if they’re living with anyone who is currently quarantined due to the virus.

When customers show up for their appointment they also must wash their hands. Ten extra minutes is also allotted between clients for sanitation. To allow for social distancing, Burns had to eliminate one hair station. The waiting area, with magazines that clients used to thumb through, is now gone.

“We’re a small salon, and we’re going to miss the mingling of the clients,” she said. “A client would come in, they pull up a chair, they talk to each other, they have a cup of coffee or a glass of Prosecco … they were hanging out. We’ve always been a common room, a small space with a lot of energy. Now we have to take it one step at a time, one haircut at a time, one foil at a time, but we’re doing it, and we’re all very excited to come back.”

With eliminating a hair station, spacing out clients and purchasing sanitation items, Burns said she had to increase pricing by about 15%.

“It’s our first increase since we’ve opened,” she said, adding that the salon opened in November 2016.

Her clients still can’t wait to come back, so much so that the salon is booked into August.

Appointments have been flowing in for Salama and Harrah as well. Harrah said his shop is almost fully booked the week of June 22. The owner is personally booked until July 3.

“I’m very pleased with the amount of people showing their support,” he said. “There are people who are nervous out there, but everyone’s in the same boat with wanting to get their hair cut.”

Tattoo parlors will be less social when reopening Monday, but safety protocols nothing new

For the eight years she has owned her tattoo business, there was something of a party atmosphere, said Sue Moerder of Moerder Tattoos in Hammonton.

“Normally somebody would come in, and I’d have a cheese platter, water, soda and other drinks,” said Moerder, 60. “They would bring friends. This room has been filled up with people.”

Moerder’s tattoo room sits just off an art gallery full of her “assemblage art,” pieces made of animal bones combined with man-made items.

When she reopens Monday, the social interaction will be one-on-one.

Monday is the first day that personal care businesses, including barber shops, hair salons and tattoo parlors, can reopen according to Stage 2 of Gov. Phil Murphy’s multistage approach.

As part of the adjustments to adhere to state guidelines, only minors will be permitted to bring friends or family members with them, Moerder said. Everyone else will have to come alone, have his or her temperature taken before entering, wear a mask and face shield, and liberally use hand sanitizer.

“If they don’t have a mask, I will supply one,” said Moerder, who has a solo business so doesn’t have to worry about social distancing for co-workers. “We will both wear a mask and a (plastic) face shield.”

It’s part of the new reality during the ongoing attempt to quell spread of the novel coronavirus.

Jamie Corpes, 35, owner and one of six tattoo artists and one piercer at Inkuisition in Egg Harbor Township, stressed that tattoo businesses have always taken strict infection control measures, because tattooing involves exposure to blood.

“We’re kind of set up for it already,” Corpes said of her five-year-old business. But she was spending a few days leading up to reopening Monday making some changes, like deep cleaning the shop and putting tape on the floor to guide social distancing.

“We already use (disposable) barriers on tables, and treat everyone that comes in as if they have a communicable disease,” Corpes said. “The difference is that face shield.”

She said a couple of the artists already used the plastic coverings over the entire face including the eyes.

Now all the artists will use them — particularly whenever working on a part of the body, like a collarbone, that is close to someone’s face.

“As a tattoo shop in general there are already guidelines we have to adhere to — every 6 to 8 feet we have to have a washing station. It dictates how close together artists are when working,” Corpes said. “We have private rooms, so when someone comes in, they are already in an enclosed space.”

She, too, will only allow the person getting the tattoo in the room with the artist.

“They have to leave their moral support at home and come alone,” Corpes said.

Social media makes it easier to minimize face-to-face interactions, Corpes said. Appointments and other interactions can be done via email or the website.

“It’s not a big deal to cut back on in-person discussions as far as design work goes,” she said. “Customers upload an image of what they want, and pick style, price range, dates, artists and contact information. Reception forwards it to artists. We screen everything to make sure it’s the best fit and correspond to set up the appointment. It’s not that crazy different.”

Most of the real differences are administrative, she said. She has augmented consent forms to make sure people are aware of the risks of being exposed to the virus in public spaces. She has also had to submit documents to her insurance company, to make sure she is covered for COVID-related issues.

Hammonton’s Moerder said the COVID-19 pandemic and the business shutdown to control the virus gave her a chance to reevaluate her life.

“I’m 60, and I’m tired,” Moerder said. “I have been tattooing 17 years, and I’m looking forward to doing art the way I want to do it.”

She stressed she is not leaving the field because of financial strain from the shutdown, or worries about operating in the post-COVID era. She will keep doing tattoos for customers who were in the process of getting one when the shutdown happened, and for the many people who still hold her gift certificates.

It’s more about having three months to reevaluate her future, she said.

Before becoming a tattoo artist she was a commercial artist for 20 years. Now it’s time to do what she really loves, she said.

She won’t miss the stress of tattooing, a business in which she creates permanent art on people’s bodies, and needs their cooperation in keeping still for the end result to be excellent.

But she said, she will miss the conversations.

“You are kind of like a therapist,” Moerder said. “I have stopped doing a tattoo and called for resources to get (a woman who is being abused) out of a home. I’m a Christian, and a couple of times I have been in the right situation to lead someone to Christ.”

She is selling much of her art and putting the building — which includes her second floor home — on the market, Moerder said.

Corpes is ready to move into the post-COVID world and make adjustments, she said.

But she hopes the public will understand that things may take a little longer.

“With businesses opening back up, people just naturally want to revert to normalcy and we’re not able to do that,” Corpes said. “I know people are trying to be patient ... but we need a little more patience. Give us a minute to breathe and get it together to make sure you have the same level of attention.”

Shore amusement parks getting impatient with Murphy about reopening

OCEAN CITY — The toughest part is not knowing, according to Brian Hartley, the vice president of Playland’s Castaway Cove on the Ocean City Boardwalk.

As with other amusement parks throughout the state, Hartley doesn’t know when he’ll be able to turn on the rides, or under what conditions. He expects Gov. Phil Murphy to impose limits on how many people will be allowed in the park once the rides reopen, but he does not know if that’s going to be at 25%, 50% or some other number.

Meanwhile, staff members who planned to be back for the summer of 2020 are taking other jobs, he said. New employees will need to be trained to operate the rides and to meet the likely new standards for cleaning and disinfecting between customers, while when things do open, those customers will expect everything to be ready immediately.

“Everything’s really going to be jammed into a quick timeline,” he said. “It’s going to go from zero to 100 in one day.”

New Jersey is in its fourth month of emergency restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Murphy signed his original executive order March 9, declaring a public health emergency and authorizing broad emergency powers that meant shuttered businesses, closed public areas and a statewide stay at home order.

Even with these extraordinary steps, New Jersey was one of the hardest hit states, with more than 168,000 confirmed cases and 12,800 deaths. But even as cases rise in Florida, Texas and elsewhere, New Jersey has seen a steady decrease in the number of new cases through May and June.

Last week, New Jersey officially entered Stage 2 of its reopening plan, allowing outdoor dining, nonessential retail and other activity, with restrictions. At the time, Murphy said Stage 3 could be here in a matter of weeks, not months.

That would include indoor dining, reopening bars and entertainment.

For the area’s amusement parks, reopening can’t come soon enough. Most would have opened by March, according to Michele Gillian, the executive director of Ocean City’s Chamber of Commerce.

“If were don’t open by July 4, it will be catastrophic for the amusement industry,” she said.

The chamber has launched an online petition to push Murphy to speed reopening the amusements.

“During the reopening of the state, this business segment has been overlooked and discriminated against — amusements, attractions and recreational activities,” the petition reads.

According to Gillian, the amusements are an important draw for shore communities, with some families delaying their visits until the rides reopen. It has an impact on hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

“We get calls every day at the Welcome Center asking when the rides are going to open,” she said.

No one from Murphy’s office responded to a request for comment on this story. At a briefing on Friday, June 19, the next step in reopening will take place Monday, and will include hair and nail salons, barber shops, tanning places and tattoo parlors.

At the briefing, Murphy called on residents to remain careful, wearing masks and washing their hands frequently. Speaking specifically about indoor dining, he said the state would reach the next step in reopening.

“We want to get there, we will get there, we’ve just got to do it carefully,” Murphy said.

Gillian said most amusements are outside and that participants will remain distant on rides. She said the return of outside dining was great news for the region, but she wants to see faster action.

“It really is time to open the amusements,” Gillian said, adding that arcades also remain closed with no timeline for that to change. “We’re ready, all we need to know is when.”

Ocean City has three amusement parks on its Boardwalk, including a water park. Gillian said the amusement parks in Wildwood, Atlantic City and Seaside Heights and farther north in New Jersey face the same concerns. Most are family-owned, she said, and many have been in operation for generations.

Her husband, Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian, operates Gillian’s Wonderland Pier on the Boardwalk, which was opened by his grandfather. Gillian said she would be pushing for a reopening regardless of her personal connection.

“I don’t see it as self-serving. Amusements are going to be the last to be open,” she said. “If I were pressing for it to be first, that would be uncomfortable.”

“I think our whole industry has been very patient and understanding,” said Jay Gillian in a separate interview, adding that his and other parks have created new procedures and safety protocols. “It just would be nice to have a date so we could hire our team and get them ready.”

He said keeping the parks closed impacts every taxpayer because of the reduction in collected sales tax.

Michele Gillian said the governor should trust people to decide whether or not to visit an amusement park with their children.

“If consumers weren’t thinking that it was safe, they wouldn’t do it,” she said.

Look back at rides on the Ocean City Boardwalk

Schools to continue with remote special ed services amid frustrations with state guidelines

Special education officials around the state said they won’t make New Jersey’s most vulnerable student population guinea pigs for a school reopening plan, even though the need for in-person instruction in some students’ cases is desperate.

“Children with the most intensive disabilities cannot serve as the test case for whether New Jersey schools can reopen safely,” said Howard Lerner, superintendent of the Bergen County Special Services School District and chairman of the New Jersey Joint Council of County Special Services School Districts.

The council, which includes the state’s eight special services districts, announced last week it would deliver all instruction and related services for extended school year programs remotely, despite guidance from the Department of Education last week on how to implement in-person programs.

The guidance is part of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan. As part of its response to the virus, the state shut down all schools in mid-March and they transitioned to remote instruction, including for special education and related therapies.

There are 241,000 students classified with a disability in New Jersey. The extended school-year programs are offered in the summer by districts to students who qualify to prevent summer learning loss and regression of skills.

Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet called the guidelines, which allow programs to begin July 6 and mirror those for summer camps, a “crucial step” for children with disabilities and their families. Spokesman Mike Yaple said that throughout the planning process, the Department of Education listened to numerous members of the education community.

“The guidance is designed to provide for the safety of students and staff, while increasing flexibility for schools,” Yaple said. “Schools may decide to continue with their plans for remote learning, move to in-person programming or continue with the majority of their ESY services remotely and serve those who have faced the most challenges of remote instruction by providing in-person services. The guidance also opens up opportunities to catch up with required individual evaluations that were not possible during remote instruction.”

Remote learning for many special education students and their families has been a struggle. Liz Parlett-Butcher, of Egg Harbor Township, an advocate for and parent of children with special needs, said she has had a significant increase in calls for help from parents of children in special education since schools closed in March.

“We’re hearing instances where children’s behaviors have escalated to the point that they’re self-injurious,” Parlett-Butcher said. She also said students with dyslexia lose reading skills. “Every story is as individualized as the children’s IEP (individualized education program) as far as what’s going on inside the child’s home.”

She testified in early June before the New Jersey Senate Education Recovery Task Force Committee on the impact of mental health for special education students and their families. She said a small handful of students in New Jersey with IEPs have severe situations and that accommodations for them, including in-person care, should have been made sooner.

Some public school districts are trying to get in-person programs in place, such as Lower Cape May Regional, while others have announced plans to continue virtually due to the timing of the guidelines, which administrators said gave districts too little time to plan and not enough assurance of safety due to the one-on-one nature of the programs, severity of the disabilities of the students and health concerns.

“We know that our eligible students would benefit the most from an in-person program compared to a remote learning plan,” said Lower Cape May Regional Superintendent Joe Castellucci. “We are prepared to delay the start date to enable us to adequately prepare to run the program within the guidelines.”

They will have a decision sometime this week.

Millville Public Schools said they will continue special education services virtually this summer. The district began planning two months ago for the possibility of an in-person summer program for special education students but quickly found it wasn’t feasible.

“You started to run into a lot of dead ends,” said Steve Matusz, Millville’s executive director of special services, including how to adhere to social distancing, finding enough staff and busing. “You get the air let out of you because no matter how hard you try, there’s just so many variables and unknowns.”

Kerri McGinley, assistant superintendent of the Atlantic County Special Services School District, which is part of the council, said the district’s biggest barrier so far is how to get students to the program and home, as social distancing guidelines for buses would require more runs and a bigger fleet, and much more money from sending districts, which are now dealing with losses in state aid.

Susan Coll-Guedes, of Galloway Township, a parent of three children with varying degrees of special needs, and also a teacher in a different district, said she understands both sides of the issue.

While she would have preferred an in-person educational experience for her children, she knows the circumstances are unprecedented.

“We need human connection and one of the best ways of learning is through play and human connection and not having that was really depressing for our children,” she said.

Coll-Guedes’ oldest is 19 with multiple disabilities, including Down syndrome and autism, and attends a private school. Her two younger children are both on the autism spectrum and receive services through Galloway public schools.

Over the summer, Coll-Guedes’ oldest child will return to an in-person program at his private school. She said she understands why some schools can’t offer that.

“I know people want it, and I know we all need a break, but I don’t see how it can be safely done having people who are medically fragile and trying to protect the most vulnerable,” she said. “I feel like there is not enough information, guidance or lead time for people to really be successful.”