Hair and nail salons along with barber shops began reopening in much of Florida on Monday as the state took another baby step out of the economic abyss caused by the new coronavirus shutdown while it works toward clearing a backlog of unemployment claims that haven't been paid.
Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed such businesses to reopen with tight regulations except in hard-hit Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the state's two most-populous. That comes almost six weeks after they were ordered closed statewide — some counties closed them earlier — and one week after sit-down dining was allowed in most of the state's restaurants, also with heavy restrictions such as limiting capacity to 25% of normal.
DeSantis himself has expressed eagerness to get a haircut, saying last week he hasn't had one since February.
The state has ordered that barbers, cosmetologists and manicurists wear masks when seeing customers, that they require appointments so that few people will be waiting inside and that they spend 15 minutes between each customer sanitizing the work station.
Customers were already waiting when J. Henry opened his barber shop early Monday in downtown Orlando. Folding chairs lined the outside front window for waiting customers so they wouldn't be inside and there was a sign-in notebook on a stand next to the door to fulfill the appointment requirement.
Last week, Henry made the announcement on behalf of DeSantis on social media that hair salons and barber shops in Florida could reopen.
“It feels great to be back,” said Henry, wearing rubber gloves and a blue surgical mask that kept slipping down his nose.
In the shop, three barbers were spaced out among the seven barber chairs. Each barber had Lysol spray, hand sanitizer and a bottle of Clorox bleach at their stations. They wore rubber gloves and masks as they trimmed beards and hairlines. Customers wore white disposable “drapes” as they sat in the barber chairs.
Buying the extra safety items is going to make his costs go up, but Henry said it was worth it to make customers feel comfortable.
“Things are going to change, not because we want them to, but because that’s just where we are in the process,” Henry said. “We’ll be OK. Everyone has a part to play.”
Regular customers at the Fringe Salon in downtown Naples may have a hard time getting in. The salon is already booked for the week. With the new social distancing guidelines, the salon had to reduce the number of stations from seven to two.
“It’s just pure chaos. Everybody’s excited about getting their haircut,” said owner Trish Boettcher. “People are just randomly calling who are not our regular clients.”
“Everybody’s sitting outside wearing masks,” she said.
Meanwhile, DeSantis told a press conference Monday in Fort Myers that the state made large strides over the weekend in lessening the backlog of unemployment claims that haven't been processed and paid, a major problem that has plagued his administration over the last two months.
He said more than 166,000 new claimants were approved over the weekend and paid more than $400 million. Overall, the state says it has paid more than 650,000 unemployed workers $1.5 billion.
“Compared to where we were six weeks ago when the system was basically dead, I think that is the type of progress I want to see,” DeSantis said.
Almost 41,000 Floridians have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since early March and at least 1,735 have died.
Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale. Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.
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