A circle with the words Georgia Coronavirus on the outside and a map of Georgia over a U.S. flag on the inside.

Many states’ orders for businesses to close and residents to shelter at home are scheduled to be lifted in late April or early May. Georgia is one of the first states to allow many nonessential businesses, including massage practices, to open back up.

In Georgia, massage practices are reopening in more of a patchwork manner rather than as the result of any blanket decision. Some therapists are seeing clients again, while others are still wary of transmitting or being infected with coronavirus, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

(When will your state re-open? Find out in this interactive state-by-state guide to where all 50 states stand on reopening, published by CNN.)

Not Business As Usual

Georgia Governor Brian P. Kemp announced some businesses — including massage practices — could reopen April 24, but that it would not be “business as usual.”

Massage therapist Tammy Burney Stringer began seeing clients again on April 24. “I only scheduled regular clients that I have a relationship with,” said Stringer. “It was my experience that clients were happy to be back, were indifferent toward me wearing a mask or not, and took advantage of hand sanitizer upon walking in my room.”

Stringer had instituted what she called an open door policy, based on a measure stipulated by the governor. “Meaning, if my door was open I was ready for them to enter,” she said. “If the door was closed, please wait in your car.”

Calhoun, Georgia, massage therapist Sara Morrow Rickett also reopened her massage practice on April 24. She said she wore a mask and gloves, and that “a few” clients wore masks when they were supine on the table.

But other massage therapists, discussing in a Facebook group for Georgia massage therapists and bodyworkers (which a reporter was allowed to join in order to gauge therapists’ reactions) their governor’s decision to allow some businesses to reopen, expressed trepidation about doing so.

One massage therapist said her practice wouldn’t reopen now because the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus in her county was still too high. Another said she wouldn’t consider going back to her practice until official agencies estimate the number of COVID-19 diagnoses has begun to go down.

“I will not be returning until June 1 at the earliest,” said Atlanta massage therapist Sara Nesselbush. “I need the numbers to start declining as advised by the CDC [and] the scientists.”

Coronavirus, which causes the disease called COVID-19, can be contagious even when a carrier is asymptomatic. The disease has been identified as the official cause of death for more than 54,000 people in the U.S. since February, with more than 985,000 people diagnosed with COVID-19 nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. In Georgia, almost 24,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 971 people have died of the disease as of April 27, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Rickett has limited sessions to returning clients, and is spreading clients out throughout the day, which she said is giving her time to sanitize surfaces and door handles in her restroom and session room between sessions.  “I thought the day would drag, considering I am normally [scheduled] back to back,” she said, “but I honestly, loved it — maybe just because I haven’t had my hands on anyone in six weeks.”

Stringer said her open-door policy is working well for her. “I’m off today,” she said, “but have clients tomorrow and the rest of the week.”

Another Georgia massage therapist said clients began calling her for appointments as soon as Kemp made the reopening announcement, but she would not choose to see clients anytime in April — or in May.

Minimum Basic Operations

The new normal could mean changing how many businesses, including massage practices, are run. In the absence of nationwide guidelines, states are issuing their own guidelines.

According to a statement by the Georgia Board of Massage Therapy, “all licensed massage therapists in the state of Georgia may begin in-person Minimum Basic Operations [which are] limited to the minimum activities necessary to maintain the value of the business, provide services, manage inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits to include remaining open to the public subject to the measures required to mitigate the exposure and spread of COVID-19.”

The  measures required to mitigate the exposure and spread of COVID-19 are stipulated in the governor’s executive order, with a section specifically addressing massage therapists, hair designers, tanning facilities and estheticians, and which include:

• Providing services by appointment only. No walk-ins allowed;

• Customers must sanitize their hands when they enter the facility and before any treatment, and the business has to provide a hand-sanitizing product upon the customer’s arrival;

• Posting signs stating that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms has to reschedule;

• Requiring customers to wait in their car rather than in a waiting room before their session;

• Staggering work schedules so that no more than half the usual number of employees is on site at the same time;

• Sanitizing all equipment, chairs and tables used by employees and patrons between each client visit;

• Utilizing disposable materials and supplies as much as practicable according to state rules and regulations;

• Requiring all employees to wear Personal Protective Equipment “as available and appropriate to the function and location of the worker within the business location”; and

• Training all employees on additional measures both verbally and in writing.

Looking forward

Each state’s businesses will reopen according to its governor’s decisions regarding types of businesses considered essential. Many states have shut-down and shelter-in-place orders that do not yet have an expiration date.

For more information, visit MASSAGE Magazine’s COVID-19 Resource Page, where you’ll find news on COVID-19 and the massage field; articles about federal and state financial help available to small-business owners and independent contractors; input on keeping your practice posed to re-open; and advice on self-care during this challenging time.

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief. Her recent articles include “MTs Ask: What’s Really in My CBD Topical?,”  “Aging Baby Boomers are Changing the Way Senior Massage is Delivered” and “Do You Need Help? Here are 17 Resources on Finances, Business & Self-Care for Massage Therapists Coping with the COVID-19 Shut-Down.”