UPDATE: 3 hours after publishing this post I’m back in self-quarantine because a client I saw 9 days ago is in the ER with high fever and trouble breathing. They are negative for flu and strep and presumed positive for COVID-19, but can’t actually get tested, because there are no tests. I have called all of last week’s clients and my colleagues to warn about possible exposure.
I closed Friday 3/13 and it was still 7 days too late.
I spent Friday and Saturday self-quarantined because I massaged 2 healthy clients in the same family with no fever or symptoms of coronavirus. One had a runny nose. But hey, it’s tree pollen season. I have a runny nose, too.
I saw those clients March 7. Then I went about my week, keeping up on the news, seeing clients, even making you this now very out-of-date video about cleaning. Thursday night I decided I would shut down for a few weeks to keep my clients, my family and myself safer. Also, my seasonal allergies were sprouting into a bitchin’ head cold and I just needed a break.
Friday morning I found out that the perfect healthy March 7 clients were both sick with varieties of the head cold I also had. I also found out that a care worker they had spent lots of time with on March 6 was very sick and being tested for COVID-19. So they may have been exposed. I may have been exposed.
You know what I thought about while stuck in my bedroom for 2 days? How many clients I worked on that week and how I may have exposed them. Hopefully, my meticulous cleaning spared them. Unless I missed wiping the top of an oil bottle. Or the handle of my towel cabi. Or the mirror they adjusted to fix their hair. OBVIOUSLY I missed something, right? Because my 2 clients and I were all sporting the same head cold. Or COVID-19?
I spent 2 days in limbo. Worried that with the kids home for 2+ weeks (at least) and I wouldn’t be able to help my partner care for them because I couldn’t leave my bedroom until we got test results. And I spent 2 days terrified that a client would get sick. It would absolutely be my fault. I practiced the conversations in my head, “Hi, I’m calling to let you know that I was exposed to the coronavirus and I’m now experiencing symptoms. I may have exposed you at your massage last week.” I spent 2 days googling the symptoms and trying to reassure myself that because I didn’t have a fever (yet) I was probably fine.
I found out Sunday morning that the care worker tested negative. We all just have a bad cold. Probably. I could have been exposed by any number of people since then. The moral of the story is this:
THERE IS NO AMOUNT OF PRECAUTION YOU CAN TAKE TO KEEP YOU OR YOUR CLIENTS SAFE FROM COVID-19 WHILE CONTINUING TO WORK.
There is no way we can be safe in small rooms being so physically close to clients. It violates every recommendation for social distancing and safety. We can be contagious well before symptoms appear. So “Don’t come in if you are sick” isn’t particularly helpful in this situation. Once they actually feel sick, we’re 1-14 days too late.
Schools are closing. Museums, restaurants, even dentists and eye doctors are limiting patients to those who need urgent care.
Still feeling resistant to close? Practice that conversation in your head, telling a client you may have exposed them. Practice that conversation, looking at your schedule for the last 10 days. Tell every one of those client that they are in danger. As are their family, friends and coworkers.
I know this is crazy hard. I know we are terrified of losing income. I also don’t know how I’ll pay my rent (or my student loans or my car payment) if this goes on longer than a month. But we cannot put our clients in danger.
Everyone is afraid to lead, to be seen as over reacting. Our organizations, state boards, and even massage schools are moving at their usual glacial speed and doing very little to support or guide us. The best leadership and guidance I’ve seen has come from colleagues like Rhonda Henry, who was the first person I saw shut down her practice and be loud about why.
Also the Association of Massage Therapists in Australia just put out this recommendation to its members (and all of us).
Don’t make excuses, deny credible data or pretend you are somehow safer than the rest of us. Don’t wait until there are multiple cases in your area. Don’t wait until the authorities shut you down. Do it now.
Shut it down or be responsible for someone’s illness or death. That’s it. That’s the bottom line.
PS-I reserve the right to delete any comments that imply or encourage MTs to keep working. Because I’m not screwing around here.
PPS- When I kick this head cold I’ll be back with ideas and tools to help us all through this surreal and awful time.