ATLANTA - In the last year of the pandemic, Atlanta-area hair salon owners Emily Galbaugh and Shanikia Bass have been forced to make a lot of tough choices.
Both shared their stories in the summer of 2020 as they were struggling to keep their salons afloat and open, coping with a series of COVID-19 safety requirements from public health officials.
"I feel like this whole thing has been decision after decision after decision, and they're hard ones," Galbaugh says.
Now that the CDC has said fully vaccinated Americans no longer need a mask in most public settings, Galbaugh, who owns Atlanta Hair Color Studio in Morningside and Bass, the owner of Press Express Hair Salon in Lawrenceville, Georgia, has come to the same conclusion.
They are keeping their year-old mask requirement in place, for both their clients and stylists.
"We will wear masks until everyone feels comfortable and feels safe," Bass says. "The choice is yours to wear them. I choose to wear them, and I choose for everyone to wear them as they enter into the salon."
About a third of Georgians are now fully vaccinated.
But, Galbaugh says she and her stylist work in close quarters, and they have only recently started double-booking clients again, which is bringing more customers into the salon.
"And, really, we don't have a way of checking who's been vaccinated and who hasn't," she says. "So, I just don't feel like the number of people vaccinated is high enough for me to feel comfortable with that yet."
Bass says her clients have not challenged her about the mask rule, but Galbaugh says some of hers have.
"People are ready, and I'm even ready," Galbaugh says. "Summer is coming. It was miserable wearing a mask all last summer and working, but it's not worth the risk for me until we see where the numbers go."
Both salon owners know requiring masks is a gamble.
They say it is one they are willing to take.
"I just want everyone to feel safe," Bass says. "I want everyone to be safe, and to feel comfortable coming into the salon."
Galbaugh says she will wait until the infection rates not only drop but stay down.
"I don't want to be the first salon that says, 'I'm done,'" she says.
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