How a New York City hairstylist has made drastic changes to do her high-risk job during the pandemic

  • Styling hair is one of the most dangerous jobs during the pandemic because there's so much physical contact involved, according to Visual Capitalist's COVID-19 Risk Score based on the US Labor Department's O*NET database.
  • Insider visited a Fox & Jane salon in Brooklyn, New York, and spoke with their lead hairstylist, Nicole Cordoba, about how her job has changed since reopening in late June.
  • The salon is operating at half its pre-pandemic capacity, all employees must wear masks and either safety goggles or a face shield throughout their shifts, and the waiting room is closed.
  • From having clients wait outside to sanitizing everything but the walls, here's an inside look at what it's like to be a hairstylist right now.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

On the eve of Fox & Jane salon's June 29 reopening, Nicole Cordoba, the lead hairstylist there, said she had an anxiety attack.

Fox & Jane had been closed since March 18 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"My fear was me contracting something and then passing it on to my child, or my in-laws who live with me, and putting them at risk," Cordoba told Insider.

Hairstylists have one of the most dangerous jobs during the pandemic because there is so much physical contact, per Visual Capitalist's COVID-19 Risk Score.

On the Monday that Fox & Jane reopened, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the worst of the pandemic was "yet to come."

During this time, the WHO said the spread of the virus was speeding up. Spikes of positive cases were popping up around New York, prompting a delay in the city's plan to restart indoor dining.

While the city slowed down its reopening plan, Fox & Jane had three months of delayed appointments to reschedule. This was a struggle to manage, especially while operating at half capacity.

New York salons were allowed to reopen a week earlier on June 22, but Fox & Jane took an extra week to prepare all the new procedures.

"Within the first week of reopening, I started seeing how my entire team and everyone that came into our space was really respectful of everything," Cordoba said. "I think everybody has been doing such a phenomenal job at taking it seriously."

But it wasn't an easygoing time. After three months of closure, Fox & Jane had to figure out how to stagger three months of delayed appointments while maintaining a social distance.

"Most of us, in the beginning, were coming in at 9 a.m. and staying until 9 p.m. because we were taking six or seven clients a day," Cordoba said. 

The first month was hard, Cordoba told Insider. "There were so many things to remember and so many new processes that it felt very overwhelming," she said.

Three months later, Fox & Jane hairstylists are seeing an average of three to four clients each day, and the Brooklyn location has been extremely busy.

"We have clients that typically would go into the city locations, and I think that now there's a lot of people that are uncomfortable taking a train or getting in an Uber, so they've been coming to us," Cordoba told Insider.

The first month back was one of adjustment, but now, she says it feels almost normal.

"COVID is obviously still very much a real thing, but it feels like there's some sort of normalcy again," she said, referencing COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. "Minus all of the mask-wearing, it feels like how it felt last summer," she added.

Here's an inside look at how hairstylists are operating during the ongoing pandemic.

Before you even walk in the door, the salon's coronavirus-era procedures stare you in the face. If an employee was exposed to the virus, they'd likely be out of work for at least a week.

Fox & Jane is operating at 50% capacity to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

If an employee is exposed to the virus, they have to test negative twice before returning to the salon, which normally results in a week out of work.

"Let's say they were exposed on Sunday," Cordoba explained. "On Monday, they would be asked to go get tested, and on Thursday, they would be asked to be tested again."

If the employee tested positive, the entire location would shut down and anyone who came into contact with the employee would be notified, including clients and other stylists.

Public health experts say that after being exposed to the virus, you should wait five days to get tested because it can take that long for the infection to incubate in your body, Business Insider previously reported.

Once inside, all the stations are either six feet apart or separated by partitions to keep clients spaced out.

The salon is also no longer accepting cash.

The first thing hairstylists do when they walk in the door is check their temperatures.

Before that, they'll get a notification on their phone that reminds them to fill out their coronavirus questionnaire of the day, which asks employees when they were last tested, if they are showing symptoms, and if they have been exposed in the last two weeks.

Staff members get tested for coronavirus every two weeks, and they are required to wear face masks and their goggles or face shields throughout their shifts.

It's worth noting that temperature checks are more of a performative effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as Business Insider's Hilary Brueck previously reported. This is because people are typically most infectious days before showing symptoms like fever. 

Staff members set up their stations after they go through these safety procedures, which includes disinfecting everything, from the tools to the chairs.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, stylists could share sanitation equipment. Now, they all have their own disinfectant boxes.

When customers arrive before their scheduled appointment times, they have to wait outside because the waiting area is closed.

Prior to the pandemic, employees would check clients in. Now, they check-in through an iPad after sanitizing their hands.

Health questions for clients are stuck on the mirror in front of each chair.

After checking in and washing their hands, clients take a seat in the stylist's chair and are asked five questions about their health, like if they've recently experienced coughing, fever, or shortness of breath.

Throughout the day, staff members are constantly using Clorox wipes and hospital-grade cleaner to sanitize everything they touch, Cordoba said.

"We're constantly cleaning the bathroom, wiping down any door handles, any cabinet handles, everything that we touch, we instantly wiped down," Cordoba told Insider. "So after each person uses the computer, they wipe it down."

She added that they sanitize pretty much everything but the walls.

Cordoba says it can be challenging when her clients talk about the pandemic. "If I have five clients in a day and if all five of them have something that happened very close to home, it's hard to change that subject and pull them out and let them know that they are safe and everything is okay," she added.

Before the pandemic, Cordoba often saw multiple clients at once. But at 50% capacity, that's usually not possible.

The biggest difference Cordoba notices in her workday is how she converses with clients. 

"Everybody has a story about COVID," she told Insider. "Sometimes you have somebody come in and they're quiet or you can tell something's going on with them inside, but sometimes you have the client that comes in and they had such a traumatic experience and it's almost like they want to talk about it."

It can be challenging, she says, to keep her clients feeling positive. 

Despite the challenges, Cordoba said she thinks Fox & Jane came back from the pandemic "stronger than ever."

"Everybody has been so supportive during all of this and making sure that the staff is always feeling supported, so there's nothing really that I would change," Cordoba told Insider. "I feel very supported when going to work now."

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