Things in our industry are always changing—but nothing has changed it like COVID-19. It is difficult to wrap my head around what I have read about this virus.
Coronavirus is thought to be a zoonotic disease, which happens through various types of contact between humans and animals. Some cause illness in people, others cause illness in certain types of animals, and still others infect animals but can also infect people. Zoonotic corona viruses are rare. From what I found, seven have made this migration: four little known ones that have been implicated in causing mild flu-like symptoms; and three originating in wildlife that cause more severe health issues in humans.
The Ohio State University (OSU) College of Veterinary Medicine shared that COVID-19 originated from wild animals (likely bats) in China. Due to mutations that created a new virus, it developed the ability to infect humans and spread efficiently from person to person. A few dogs and cats living with COVID-19 patients have tested positive for the presence of virus, but overall, research is still ongoing to determine how all different kinds of animals may be affected.
OSU also stated that SARS-CoV-2 can infect some animals under certain conditions. Other human viruses—like H1N1 influenza and SARS-CoV-1, which is very similar to SARS-CoV-2—have also spread from people to animals in low numbers, most notably in cats, ferrets and pigs. There is no evidence to suggest that a naturally infected animal is capable of transmitting infection back to humans.
We do need to remember there is also a slim chance that pets can be a fomite when in direct contact with a human that is infected with the virus, like anything else. To prevent pets from carrying this virus, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends practicing good pet hygiene and to clean up after pets properly.
Taking into account everything I’ve read and my understanding of the COVID-19 virus, I proceed with caution. In the salon we watch for the initial symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. We need to protect our family, staff and ourselves.
As of mid-March, masks are still recommended whenever you’re away from home. I think of it like we would never run our furnace without a filter because particles in our environment will damage this expensive appliance, and the same with cars and their filters. We also need to consider the quality of the filter we use—the better the filter, the better the job the filter does. So, wearing a mask to filter this virus only makes sense. How you protect yourself in your surroundings is up to you.
There are two main manufactured designs for masks: surgical and respirator. A surgical mask is meant to protect the environment from the wearer and it does a good job of trapping large droplets and some aerosol transmission to prevent contaminating others. Remember that surgical masks should be disposed of after any single use and handmade cloth masks washed after every use. On the other hand, the N95 respirator mask fits tighter around the nose and cheeks. This type of mask catches the viral particles coming inward, and is what health care workers will use when going in a room with a sick patient. To remove N95 respirator mask, take the straps from the back of your head and pull forward—do not touch the material part of the mask. Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after you touch your mask.
At my salon, we wear masks and ask our clients to do the same when we are within 6 ft. of each other, such as when we take a pet from the owner or the car. If you think there is a chance the client is sick, you need to discard the protective gear, wash up and start with clean gear. It does no good to wear the gear and touch things after being exposed.
Keep your Distance
While using masks is a great start, additional measures are needed to prevent the spread of this virus. Avoid close contact with people not in your household and especially those who are sick. If you or a family member is sick, stay home to avoid contact with people. To keep the salon as virus-free as possible, I now ask all my clients and employees to stay home if they are sick with no penalties. I have explained to my family and staff anything you do; I do. If you or the people around you are careless, I am careless. I have explained to them I cannot afford to be off work again following Ohio’s 6-week mandatory grooming salon shut down last year.
Employees must inform management if they have been exposed to the virus or show symptoms of infection, or if they, or a member of their household, have been exposed to the virus or show symptoms of infection. Each state has its own recommendations on how to proceed.
In the U.S., employees are protected under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act is the general duty clause, which requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace “free from recognized hazards … likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can cite employers for violating the general duty clause if there is a recognized hazard and they do not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate the hazard. However, OSHA citations can only be based on standards, regulations or the general duty clause. This is why it is important for shop owners to stay up to the minute on any changes or updates. Many of the changes are mandated orders and must be followed.
We also need to consider liability to third parties, such as customers, which may not be so limited. For example, a restaurant employee infected on the job will only be entitled to workers’ compensation, but theoretically the patrons they may infect could seek greater damages.
Employers should understand which personal health data an employee is obligated to disclose such as if he or she becomes infected or is at high risk for infection — likely, anything that could interfere with the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job, or that could increase the risk to coworkers or third parties through workplace contact. Failure to understand the legal obligations in relation to such data could expose the company to breach of privacy claims.
Communicating with Clients
When it comes to facing clients, consider adjusting how you meet and greet customers to limit contact and avoid crowding. One way is by booking and scheduling to stagger client flow in and call or text clients to pick up at separate designated times. I am also trying to keep clients out of my shop all together, as I have three staff members that have compromised immune systems. Anything I can do to limit exposure is better.
To start, I created a drive around loop with signage to make it clear we will go out and get the pets. I put in a driveway alert, which is buried about a foot in the ground and only goes off when a heavy metal object is within 9 ft. of it, to give us a heads up when a client is pulling up. I also spray painted arrows in the parking lot to direct traffic. I have verbiage explaining how to proceed on signage placed on my door, on the phone message and in my Groomsoft text reminders. I tell my clients to stay in their car. We are using face masks and sanitizing our hand after handling each customer. The hardest thing has been making sure the owner knows how to properly fit their collar properly, but take a kennel lead out just in case.
You can disinfect the leash and collar once inside the salon or clean your kennel lead between pets. I prefer to place pets directly in the tub to be washed when possible. Do your ears and nails and sanitary trimming after the bath. This will minimize possible exposure of the virus on a pet’s coat. Also in my shop, there’s no food sharing. We use only individually wrapped treats now. They are easy to find and there is a big selection such as trail mixes, nuts, crackers and many other treats. When we eat, we always stay 6 ft. or more from one another.
When charging customers, you can use online or over the phone payment transactions when possible. When I call or text for pick-up, I explain how they can pay. We run their cards over the phone when possible, but PayPal and other methods are handy as well. The idea is to limit any physical contact with your clients.
It has been hard, but we have stopped handshaking and hugs. We use our voice and our eyes to express how happy we are to have the client’s business.
Cleaning with Care
At this point, everyone knows how critical it is to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. I have hand sanitizer on the front counter and hand soap at every faucet. Everyone should be washing their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
I recommend using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol when soap and water are not available, and to always let hand sanitizer air dry. Clean your hands at the door and encourage regular hand washing before and after interacting with each client.
On top of making sure you’re clean, you need to be cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces. For example, think all doorknobs, door frames and door edges, stair rails, counter tops, card reader, keyboards, pens, dryer nozzle, shared tools, a sink or tub faucet and I even disinfect cash. I have a few checklists placed in each room with cleaning duties. We use clean towels to dry each client, clean paper towels to dry hands and we don’t share any towels or bedding. On the CDC’s website, there are specific cleaning recommendations that you can reference.
All that being said, thank goodness the vaccines are here. The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19. My doctor friend said it best: I would rather take my chances with the typical minimal side effects from a vaccine then deal with the virus itself. It is taking time to get them in our arms but at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
This is a rapidly evolving situation. Information is being shared as it becomes available, and to learn more, visit the www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.
I have a few close friends in the medical community who insist the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be around for a long time. A lot depends on how quickly people are vaccinated and if how many decide to get the vaccine at all. For now, we will need to continue to use masks and take precautions.
To slow the spread and keep everyone healthy, it’s imperative we continuously monitor and uphold the U.S. and local health’s safety precautions. Monitor your health and take temperatures when working. Make sure to stay home if you or someone in the household is sick.
I know it would break my heart if I spread the COVID-19 virus to someone I care about. Be safe. PB
Chris Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder, grooming show judge and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. For 20 years, she served as national training manager for Oster Professional Products, where she developed new initiative educational material to educate at schools and conventions all over the world. Pawlosky is currently working with Judy Hudson to produce the Grooming Professors—a service through which the two industry veterans share their many years of grooming, competing, dog show conditioning and handling with groomers across the country via Facebook and through an interactive website where visitors can access webcasts and videos about everything grooming related.