a woman walks into a massage clinic.

Educator and sports massage therapist Benny Vaughn has some advice for massage therapists wondering how to practice safely during the pandemic.

Benny Vaughn, LMT, BCTMB, ATC, LAT, CSCS, MTI, has practiced massage therapy for 45 years; he owns Benny Vaughn Athletic Therapy Center in Fort Worth, Texas, where he and his team of therapists provide massage to a varied clientele, including professional athletes.

His specialties include NeuroMuscular Therapy, myofascial release, sports and orthopedic massage, and Gua Sha. Vaughn is on the InReach Health & Wellness team, and has participated in four Olympic Games with the USA track and field team.

Here, he shares the steps he uses to ensure the safety of his clients and massage team during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Karen Menehan: Benny, welcome and thank you for sharing your advice on running a massage practice safely and successfully during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Benny Vaughn: It’s good to be here.

Benny Vaughn

KM: What are you doing — and what do you suggest other therapists do — to increase sanitation and safety in the session room?

BV: There are several things that we have done. What the scientists and the medical professionals seem to agree on is that this virus is airborne in droplets expelled from the mouth and nose. So you take care of the air and [engage in] the simple act of wearing a face mask. Public health and constitutional rights get confused on that one, but I wear a face mask. Everyone that comes into our massage facility is required to wear a face mask, no exceptions.

If you have a doctor’s this-or-that [prescription], then you will have to receive a massage somewhere else because you won’t get it in our place. It’s that simple.

I wear a KN95 mask and then I wear a cloth covering mask over that. I wear safety glasses and then I wear a face shield. I also wear a disposable or cloth surgical cap that I can change out with each client. The main reason I wear the surgical cap is so that the foam pad from the face shield doesn’t become an irritant on my forehead.

KM: Do you have clients wait in their cars to be called in for their session?

BV: Yes, the waiting room for us now is the parking lot. The instructions they are given are, “When you park, remain in your car, place your face mask on, and fully cover nose and mouth.” 

And then they are not to enter the building until they receive a text invitation. So you would pull in, you would park, and then you’re required to text “Your name arrived.” You would put, “Karen arrived.” I receive that text. And then when I am ready for you, I will text an invitation for you to enter. And the text goes, “Welcome, Karen. Please come in. I will greet you at the door.” The door is already open so you don’t have to touch anything. 

KM: What do the next steps look like, once the client is inside the building?

BV: The next step is they go to a hand-washing station. I have a timer and a button that I got from Office Depot. You know, where you press it and it goes, “That was easy.”

I turn the water on. I tell them, “Wet your hands.” I squirt some antibacterial soap in their hands. I start a 35-second timer so they don’t have to sing, “Happy Birthday,” two times. And they are required to wash their hands and wrists for 35 seconds until the timer goes off. I give them a paper towel to dry their hands. And then once that’s done, I hit the “That was easy” button.

Then we move to the therapy suite where touchless forehead temperature is taken before they enter. The client, they see that we’re doing these procedures and that we’re serious.

KM: Since COVID-19 is airborne, there is a growing amount of information about the need to replace or cleanse the air, especially in small, enclosed rooms. Do you address that at your practice?

BV: I have two HEPA air filter systems in the 144 sq ft room massage room. One system covers 360 square feet. One covers 160 with a UVC light. It has been demonstrated that viruses exposed to ultraviolet light don’t survive. Between each session, I run those two HEPA air filter units on the high fan setting to move all the air in the room for 20 minutes before the next person comes in. During the massage session both HEPA air filter systems continue to run on a Low Fan setting.

KM: When a client calls to make an appointment or inquire about an appointment, do you ask any questions regarding any potential exposure they might have had to coronavirus or symptoms they might have?

BV: Yes. I just ask them one question: “Have you been exposed to anyone who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19?” And that covers everything. 

What’s amazing, Karen, to this point, I’ve had zero [people say “yes”], which makes me wonder, OK, maybe I live in a different community or something. I mean, I would just think from the number of statistics that we’re given each day, it seems like statistically I should have had one by now.

But here’s what I think. I think those people aren’t calling to make massage appointments because I think they’ve already figured it out.

KM: Figured out they shouldn’t be in a massage therapy practice?

BV: Yes. I think that’s what I’m experiencing here.

KM: What has, in general, client feedback been to your safety and security procedures?

BV: Each time a person has made an appointment, and they’re coming in, especially new people, I send them a text message and I just explain, “Here is what we’re doing for your health and safety.”

I tell them we’ve installed HEPA air filter systems with UV light. I tell them that we run it on a high fan for 20 minutes before they enter the room, after the last person. I tell them that they’re going to have to wash their hands when they show up. I tell them that every contact surface is disinfected and sanitized between clients, any surface that we know of where people put their bags on. We wipe down the door handles so that when they get ready to leave the room and they have to open the door, all those get wiped down between clients.

We just let them know we’re doing that, because they don’t see that part. 

To the letter, every client has said to me, “Benny, I really appreciate everything that you’re doing,” because they see that I’m taking their health and safety seriously. And they have all been so grateful.

KM: Are clients ever surprised to see you’re wearing so much Personal Protective Equipment?

BV: All the other massage therapists wear face masks. I’m the only one in the office wearing a double mask, safety glasses and a face shield. And that’s intentional.

One of my medical-doctor clients said, “Oh, Benny, you don’t have to do all that because you’re in, like, a low-risk situation.” And this is what I told the medical doctor who’s been a longtime client. I said, “That could be, but once the pandemic flattens and is no longer the headline news anymore, which could be a bit of time, I want to be the massage therapist that they say of, ‘Wow, Benny, you didn’t really have to do all of that.’

“Because, you know, maybe we discover something else about the coronavirus. I don’t want to be the massage therapist that people say of, ‘Wow, Benny, you should have done more.’”

About the Author:

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief.