The City of San Francisco has recently announced that massage therapy, and other personal services, will likely be allowed to open in July. Although I respect the dedication and leadership our city has shown in its efforts to contain the virus, given the numbers as of today, and the increase in cases being reported, this is confounding to me. After careful consideration, and extensive research, we have decided not to reopen as of yet. Here’s why:
No matter how therapeutic and healing it is, and how valuable I feel our work is, massage is not essential. More importantly, many experts believe that massage therapy is a high risk profession when it comes to transmission of COVID-19. There is too much we don’t know or understand to be able to practice safely and confidently yet.
According to the CDC, “COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet) for a prolonged period… Recent studies indicate that people who are infected but do not have symptoms likely play a role in the spread of COVID-19.”
There are many aspects of the practice of massage therapy which fundamentally violate the CDC recommendations for reducing the transmission of COVID-19, and are of vital concern:
We typically spend 60-90 minutes with each client
The majority of that time is spent in direct physical contact. Social distancing is impossible. Measures like contactless payment systems and asking clients to wait outside until their appointments are laughable precautions when we are about to 60-90 minutes with skin-to-skin contact.
Treatment rooms are small, enclosed, often poorly ventilated spaces.
We cannot screen clients who are asymptomatic. A majority of COVID-19 infections may be asymptomatic. Taking temperatures at the door and screening for symptoms will not catch many folks who are carriers.
Blood clotting. COVID-19 related blood clots occur even in asymptomatic cases. Clots are an extreme contraindication for massage therapy. Pregnant folks, our main client base, are especially vulnerable to blood clots. We may not know if a client comes in with a clot. Further, early symptoms of clots may include sore leg muscles, which is often a reason someone would seek out massage therapy. Movement of a blood clot induced by massage can be deadly.
There is not nearly enough research on the effects of COVID-19 among pregnant folks, our main client base. We also work with many other clients who fall under the “high-risk” category.
Best practice guidelines for the massage therapy profession returning to work requires full PPE. Not just cloth masks, but full PPE (respirator masks, face shields, gloves, disposable smocks or scrubs). Considering availability of PPE is still of concern, the supply MUST go to essential medical professionals, which massage therapy/bodywork is not.
The costs associated with spacing clients, cleaning procedures, supplies and PPE, staffing costs, etc. are not sustainable for our small business right now.
Make no mistake, I desperately want to return to work. I love my job. I miss you all. Massage therapy is not a lucrative profession. None of us make anywhere near the median salary in San Francisco. Many of us have second, or even third jobs to make ends meet, but continue for our love of the work and the value we feel it has in our community. I feel truly blessed to have found this work. The connections it has helped me build in our community are priceless.
On a personal note, as a solo mom without family nearby, I’m aware that my tolerance for risk is lower than many. Quarantining on my own with a child in a very small apartment has been difficult. But I feel my first responsibility is to keep my son and myself safe, the second my amazingly dedicated and talented staff, and third my community.
We will be back when it is safer. At that time, I know safe therapeutic touch will be valued more than ever. I look forward to seeing you again as soon as we can. But now is not that time.