An illustration of a person wearing a face mask holding a sign that says sorry we're closed until end outbreak superimposed over an illustration of coronavirus.

Editors’ note: this is an opinion piece.

Whether you have been mandated to close or not, you must close your massage practice now.

Even with our best intentions, massage therapists are undoubtedly at the forefront of endangering the public in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Not because we are inept or unhygienic, but simply by the nature of the close contact that is inescapable in our treatments.

It is impossible, regardless of how much sanitization we practice, to comply with all the CDC sanitation guidelines related to coronavirus.

As health care professionals, it is imperative that we take our role as seriously as we are asking others to do. We should be on the front lines of ensuring that our industry takes an active role in limiting any possibility of adding to this pandemic.

We must put the health of others ahead of the financial burden that closing our offices undoubtedly entails. [Read “Coronavirus and Its Impact on the Massage Industry.”]

Consider the Consequences

MSNBC and The Today Show, this past week, interviewed a nurse who described her symptoms as starting in mid-February with a slight runny nose and then body aches. She got a massage because she “thought it would help out” since she had been traveling and a carrying a backpack. She said her symptoms kind of waxed and waned over the coming days.

Despite her symptoms, she volunteered for a race and babysat her little nephew. On March 1, 2 and 3 her symptoms worsened and she developed a fever. By this time, she and her husband were both sick.

She went to the ER and a test for the flu was negative. The CDC told her she did not meet the criteria for screening and so she went back to work. March 5 to 8 she became extremely ill with profound weakness and shortness of breath and went to the ER where she was tested for COVID19, but was not diagnosed positive until four days later when the results came back.

Stop and take into consideration all of the people she came into contact with while visiting the ER, out in public, with her family and while at work.

Now, I ask you to picture how your business and your community would have been impacted if you had been the massage therapist she visited.

Let’s consider the numbers using my practice as an example.

I am a person who works hard at least three days a week seeing routinely 10 patients a day, while at the same time there would be three other massage therapists seeing an average of eight patients a day. So, for the sake of the math, let’s say that we are seeing 30 people a day on our busy days and at least 20 a day on our slow days, working six days a week. That is an average of 170 people a week.

That means that my office alone would have the potential to transmit the virus to 260 people in the one- to 14-day incubation period this nurse would have experienced, as reported by the CDC.

Even if only half of those people we were in contact with would get infected, that would be 170 people that would be transmitting the virus within our community had my office not been closed.

Why I Closed My Practice

As a business owner of a massage establishment that has myself and four other self-employed massage therapists working in a small town in Ohio, I was faced with the decision of shutting down. I will admit in hindsight that I did not react as quickly as I should have.

But, as of Tues., March 17, the staff at Quality Health Massotherapy unanimously reached the decision to close our doors at the end of the business day. The following day, Gov. Dewine closed all salons and spas.

This hit home with most of our massage therapists in Ohio — however, there is still the population of massage therapists that views what we do as essential health care and has chosen to remain open.

I am an advocate for our profession and possess one of the loudest voices speaking to the role of massage therapy in health care. I work with government officials on every level, from local to Washington DC, and promote our industry to anyone who will listen. My private practice is 90% medically based, getting referrals on a daily basis from physicians, PTs and chiropractors.

I work with any insurance company that will work with me and I advocate nearly every day to help establish our role with insurance and making us an obvious part of the health care community. I truly believe that if massage therapy had been used all along within the health care system for non-narcotic pain control, we could have helped stave off the narcotic abuse that our country is now faced with.

I tell you all this so that you understand just how essential I think the work that I and all of you are doing really is.

Do No Harm

As I stated, there are five therapists working in our office, two of whom are sole providers and two others who are mothers with young families. As the business owner, of course the bills will continue to roll in even though the income has abruptly shut down.

But in the end, we must first do no harm.

Those of us who lobby for massage therapists understand that this is a huge burden, but I strongly believe we will be recognized for our professionalism in the end. Please close your office immediately.

Melissa Ryan, LMT, owns Quality Health Massotherapy in Steubenville, Ohio. She is on the board of directors and legislative chair for AMTA-Ohio (but is not writing on behalf of that organization). She is an activist for the massage profession, working to promote the role of massage therapy in health care as well as establishing massage therapists as in-network providers with health insurance provers.