NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> The day after Governor Wolf began easing COVID-19 restrictions in Bucks County, David Witchell’s popular South State Street beauty salon remained dark.
Instead of returning to work, he was standing out on the sidewalk with a group of bipartisan lawmakers making his case on why beauty salons, barbershops and nail salons should be allowed to reopen.
Under the Governor’s yellow phased COVID-19 reopening plan, which took affect on Friday in Bucks County, salons, barbershops and nail salons must remain closed, along with indoor malls, casinos and movie theaters.
Addressing a gathering of reporters and other salon and business owners, Witchell said the salon industry is ready to get back to work safely, but warned that the continued closure is creating unsafe conditions - “unlike any we have seen since the 1930s.
“This closure is no longer about public safety,” said Witchell. “It is having the opposite effect.
“While salons remain in a state of forced closure,” Witchell said “well-trained and highly-skilled professionals are being pushed out from safe, controlled environments into garages, backyards, bathrooms and kitchens or at best they are sneaking clients through the backdoor of their salons.
“The perception of unsafe conditions in the professional beauty industry has been created by our state leadership who, by their own admission, know nothing about our industry.
“Don’t mistake this for begging to open our doors,” said Witchell. “This is speaking out loudly that our industry must be recognized as professionals trained in sterilization and sanitation that can work safely under CDC guidelines.
“At some point, everyone has to take a stand,” said Witchell. “We have taken ours. On one side, someone calls us cowards for not joining the movement to boldly reopen against the Governor’s orders. On the other side, the Governor calls us cowards simply because we disagree with him.”
Witchell said from the start, their goal has been to exhaust every possibility to arrive at a reasonable compromise.
“Now we finally achieved the bi-partisan support to get the professional beauty industry back to work,” he said.
But, he added, where logic ends, defiance begins.
“Governor Wolf, don’t underestimate the will of the American entrepreneurial spirit. Listen to the bipartisan and logical voices of your constituents and reopen all remaining industries in yellow.”
Joining Witchell at Saturday’s press conference was the county’s health
director, Dr. David Damsker, along with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including State Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10) and State Reps. Frank Farry (R-142), Wendi Thomas (R-178) and Meghan Schroeder (R-29) Unable to attend was State Rep. Perry Warren (D-31).
Damsker told the gathering the number of COVID-19 cases in Bucks County has flattened from what had been a quickly escalating uphill climb.
“Taking the steps the governor did made a lot of sense. And it still makes a lot of sense,” he said. “We had to get the numbers down. Now that we have gotten it down to a reasonable level we’re all on the same page that we have to do extra things to maintain that low number of cases.
“I believe that places like salons and gyms, they are in a different frame of mind then where they were before,” said Damsker. “And if they follow the four basic rules of the overall plan I think they can all probably reopen this minute.”
Those rules, he said, include pre-screening for the virus; social distancing between salon stations; masking when appropriate; and paying special attention to the sanitation and cleanliness of the facility.
“We have to make things safe for people,” said Damsker. “I believe if anyone has a good plan they can open up just as safely than businesses that are already open now. I can’t override the Governor. All I can talk about is logic and reason and common sense.”
The lawmakers promised a bipartisan campaign to persuade the governor to change his mind. They have already
sent letters asking the governor to reopen the beauty industry under the yellow phase.
Farry said Republicans proposed legislation to that affect, which ultimately was vetoed by the governor. He said they’ll try again with a bill this week that would give counties the decision-making power on whether salons and barbershops can open under yellow.
“We are with you. We have heard your collective voices,” Farry told the salon owners. “A lot of these businesses can be opened ... We’re hopeful that with continued effort we can get the Governor, with just the stroke of a pen, to sign an executive order providing the proper guidance that would allow salons and fitness facilities to open under yellow and allow our restaurants to begin limited capacity seating inside.
“As Dr. Damsker touched on, these decisions can be done safely,” said Farry. “Here’s your science and here’s your medicine right here. He is not going to recommend you do anything that is unsafe.
“We stand with Dr. Damsker. We stand with our small business owners,” said Farry. “Right now you can be cattle-herded into a big box store to pick up your garden supplies and whatnot, but you can’t get your hair cut.”
Santarsiero, like his colleagues across the aisle, promised to continue lobbying the governor to change his mind and to issue an executive order allowing salons to open under yellow.
“I am happy to stand here with David and Galina because I know they are committed to doing the right thing. They are committed to reopening and to making sure the protocols are followed,” said Santarsiero.
Santarsiero sent a letter to the governor on May 28 asking that the beauty industry be allowed to reopen under yellow. So far the Governor has been resistant to making that change.
Santarsiero pointed to protocols adopted by the state of Ohio that have been successful. “They have not seen an increase in cases in those areas and that’s proof that it can be done safely,” he said. “And I believe there are similar protocols that can be done in the fitness industry that would allow them to open up in the yellow as well.”
While standing with his GOP colleagues in urging the governor to sign an executive order reopening salons in the yellow phase, Santarsiero differed on seceding the decision-making to the individual counties.
“With 57 countries, that would be a very disjointed effort. I think it’s better for the state government to make that decision,” he said.
With businesses reopening and the potential of salons and barbershops reopening soon, Santarsiero said now is not the time for residents or business owners to ease up on precautions.
“We are now almost three months into this pandemic and as Dr. Damsker alluded to a few moments ago, we have been largely successful. We have been able to flatten the curve. And flattening the curve has meant our hospitals have not been overwhelmed.
“This is early June and the experts say we may face a threat of the virus coming back in late fall,” said Santarsiero. “But they’re also saying that a second phase will be directly impacted by what we do now. So while we’re here today to talk about reopening our salons, we cannot forget that over the next three to four months how we behave and what we do, whether we’re businessowners or ordinary citizens, it’s going to have a direct impact on that severity.”