Go outside. Stay indoors. Alameda County’s health advice perplexes businesses
Alicia Orabella wanted action from her government.
Instead, the Oakland hair salon owner got a riddle. Starting Friday, she and other Alameda County businesses could start serving customers outdoors. As long as they stayed inside.
On that day, many in the beauty industry can resume operations, but only outside. This includes hair salons and barbershops, nail salons, waxing services, skin care and non-medical massages, but not tattoos, piercings, electrolysis or anything that involves removing a face covering.
Dr. Nicholas Moss, Alameda County’s acting health officer, said in the order that those businesses can operate outdoors because they are deemed low risk for spreading the coronavirus — and that people should avoid going out, because of the wildfire smoke blanketing the area.
Orabella, who has called elected officials about the closure of businesses like hers under shelter-in-place orders, and gone as far as cutting hair on the steps of the Capitol in protest, doesn’t see humor in the irony. Instead, issuing the order as fires blaze and smoke chokes the air strikes her as an insult.
“I think it’s done in poor taste,” said the owner of Orabella Hair Studio on Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue. “Really? Opening outside during this is a gift?”
You can also go for a swim, though the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals warns that pools in wildfire zones may contain toxic ash.
Wineries will be allowed to offer outdoor tastings, by appointment, without having to provide food. The new order does not change closures of bars, breweries or pubs.
Moss hardly endorsed the new opportunities.
“These outdoor activities we are allowing to reopen are relatively low risk, but whenever we increase opportunities for people to mix, we see an increase in cases,” Moss said. “... As we continue to experience poor air quality, there is no better time to stay home as much as possible.”
Alameda County remains on the state’s watch list, with 130 positive cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days. Its 17,000-plus cases are the highest among Bay Area counties. Allowing outdoor operations is one of the few measures the county can take under state restrictions.
Allowing outdoor tastings won’t change much for Eric Callahan, the general manager of the Rubino Estates and Ruby Hill wineries in Pleasanton. With on-site delis, his wineries have been allowed to serve wine alongside food since June.
“Up until this previous weekend, when the smoke really became an issue, operating outdoors has not been much of a problem for us,” Callahan said. “We already had large outdoor seating areas, so we were in the best shape possible for outdoor-only. … The heat has played some role in keeping people away, but we have nice big fans and ice-cold water. We are more concerned about the upcoming rainy season.”
For others, the rains to come are far from their first worry. Or second. Or 25th.
“Whoever is hanging on by a thread might not make it much longer, and if we get shut down again, how do you make it to the end of the year?” said Orabella, who is also an instructor at Keune Haircosmetics. “I’m wearing a hole in my carpet for the twenty-fifth time this month by pacing. There’s anxiety and frustration. I’m still pushing forward, but it’s hard.”
Orabella said it’s not logistically feasible to reopen the two-chair salon she has owned for seven years Friday, even though she’s found herself in debt for the first time in her life — about $100,000, some of it through taking out a Small Business Administration disaster-relief loan.
She ticked off reasons: Coloring services that make up 90% of Orabella’s services are not allowed outside; the concrete is uneven; a small breezeway would make it tough to distance properly; she could not find insurance for outdoor operations. None of it is as sanitary as being inside.