In response to coronavirus (COVID-19), massage therapists are adapting to necessary safety procedures — and massage clients are too.
Massage therapists around the nation are adapting to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) — masks, gloves, aprons and face shields — while taking clients’ temperatures, changing their clothes between sessions, and employing more in-depth sanitizing practices than they might have before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began.
Regulations — and what massage therapists are doing in response to the virus — vary from one place to another, yet in all cases, epidemiologists and other medical experts say, at a bare minimum, when everyone wears a mask the spread of coronavirus is mitigated.
We spoke with therapists around the U.S. and also polled our Facebook group of massage professionals to take a snapshot of the use of PPE and safety practices, and what it feels like to practice massage with increased precautions.
Massage therapist Joy Specht works and lives in Ozark, Missouri. She said she wears a mask during massage sessions but does not require her clients to do so.
Before any client comes in, she asks them if they have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms. Her appointments are now spaced out far enough to allow time for disinfection of all high-touch surfaces, the bathroom, massage table and face cradle.
“I have become used to the extra disinfecting and it has become natural to me now,” Specht said. “I’m used to the mask now. It did take getting used to.”
David J. Otto, LMT, who practices outcall-only massage in Nevada’s Las Vegas Valley, on-site sanitation of all massage equipment pre- and post-session, along with transporting linens in heavy-duty, vinyl storage bags, is now part of his on-site routine.
“My practice will require my client uses a face-covering of some sort, so this is a new frontier for my effective client-communication skills,” he said. “I’ve only had a few say, ‘Oh, do I have to wear a mask?'”
Otto also stays on top of information on local directives regarding massage therapy and communicates that to clients.
“Except for my first session back, I have not had a problem focusing on my client and their session because of additional procedures or conditions, like wearing a face-covering,” he said.
In Tucson, Arizona, a state that adopted the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s Guidelines for Opening Up America Again and the White House Coronavirus Task Force criteria, a school owner who spoke on condition of anonymity due to what he said is a politicization of coronavirus and PPE, said everyone in his facility must wear a mask. Some clients coming into the student clinic had balked at doing so, he said, and “only a couple have argued against mask-wearing.”
Staff takes everyone’s temperature upon entry, and increased hand-washing is required of all staff, instructors, students and clients at the school.
In Lapeer, Michigan, franchise owner Sandy Fritz requires employees to wear masks, face shields and aprons, and has installed a shield at the reception counter. Her massage therapists also perform a pre-massage health check that includes taking clients’ temperature.
“We chose to actually hire an attendant to turn over rooms, clean and disinfect and manage increase in laundry,” Fritz said. “It is expensive for sure.”
Holland, Michigan, massage therapist Teresa Piatek, LMT, wears a mask and sometimes a face shield, and changes her smock between clients. She also calls clients to screen them for COVID-19 the night before their appointment and has them sign a waiver. Each client waits in their car until Piatek texts them that the session room is ready for them.
Piatek uses a HEPA air purifier in her session room, has covered her table, stool and pillow with hospital-grade vinyl covers, and will wear gloves if clients ask her to. She spends 30 minutes between each session sanitizing everything in her session room.
“Ninety percent of clients have been thankful I took these steps,” Piatek said.
In Tallahassee, Florida, massage therapist Brandi McIntosh, LMT, has adopted many of the PPE and practices mentioned here — mask, shield, changing her scrub top, sanitizing, taking temperatures.
“I have been in massage therapy for 20 years, and have built a fantastic clientele, but this is a struggle still,” she said, adding that she believes COVID-10 is keeping some regular clients from coming in, “especially the ones at high risk for themselves or loved ones.”
But overall, McIntosh added, she believes clients she is seeing accept the PPE and new procedures, and they tell her how much they appreciate how clean she keeps her session room.
About the Author:
Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. Her reporting on coronavirus (COVID-19) includes “Voices of COVID-19: Massage Therapists Share Stories of Challenge & Hope” and “Best Practices for Maintaining Safety & Sanitation in a Massage Practice: An Interview with Educator Anne Williams, LMT.”