The journalists at BuzzFeed News are proud to bring you trustworthy and relevant reporting about the coronavirus. To help keep this news free, become a member and sign up for our newsletter, Outbreak Today.
Two hair stylists in Springfield, Missouri, have tested positive for COVID-19 and possibly exposed more than 140 clients, underscoring the difficulty local health departments will face in tracing the coronavirus as businesses reopen.
The Springfield-Greene County Health Department announced the potential exposures in press conferences Friday and Saturday, adding that their team of seven contact tracers is in the process of getting in touch with anyone who may have been affected. They will undergo an interview with an immunologist and will be asked to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
Though businesses in Missouri have been legally reopening, the health department’s director, Clay Goddard, warned that can only continue safely if contact tracers can keep up with potential exposures.
“This scenario is well within our capacity of our staff to contact trace and hopefully contain,” said Clay Goddard, Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director, in a press conference. “But I’m going to be honest with you, we can’t have many more of these. We can’t make this a regular habit or our capability as a community will be strained and we will have to reevaluate what things look like going forward.”
Both hairstylists worked while exhibiting symptoms but, according to Goddard, the salon had a strict face mask policy for employees and customers which may have helped minimize the damage. Great Clips has also closed the salon for deep cleaning to lower the potential for future exposure.
“As Great Clips franchisees and co-owners of CM Clips, LLC, we recently learned that an employee in one of our salons in Springfield, Missouri has tested positive for COVID-19 and is following medical advice and taking appropriate actions,” co-owners Brittany Hager and Jennifer Small said in an emailed statement to KYTV before the second case was announced. “The well-being of Great Clips customers and stylists in the salon is our top priority and proper sanitization has always been an important cosmetology industry practice for Great Clips salons.”
The health department announced the first case on Friday, saying the hair stylist potentially exposed 7 coworkers and 84 clients. The second case, announced Saturday, potentially exposed 56 more clients at the hair salon. The first hair dresser also visited Dairy Queen, Walmart, and a gym, according to the public exposure tracking available on the county health department website. That makes for 147 potential exposures at the hair salon alone.
The news comes as the county is entering the second phase of its recovery plan, which allows for many businesses to reopen at a quarter capacity.
“Our community is shifting from a phase with mandated restrictions and limitations to a phase of this response that calls on all of us to exercise our own personal responsibility,” Goddard said. “Each of us has to be thinking of ourselves, our family, and our community. We can’t go backwards.”
Missouri has had 650 deaths out of about 12,000 COVID-19 cases so far, and the National Guard has been called in to help with testing. Goddard said he recognized the economic strain the strict lockdown put on people, but he urged them to stay home if they felt sick and not “make assumptions” if they typically suffer from allergies or summer colds.
“It’s not elderly, it’s not always comorbid, it’s also happening to children and to healthy young people as well,” he said.
Staying home when sick remains critical to stopping the spread of the virus, he added, and allowing businesses to operate.
“We’re moving out of a phase where we took enormous sacrifices as a community and there are economic hardships as a result of that. We’re in a new phase of this disease where we’re going to walk that tightrope between disease control and economic harm. If we’re going to work sick and share this illness with others, it’s not a good approach.”