It feels strange to say we’re coming up on one year of living in a global pandemic, but here we are.
One year of a constant barrage of breaking news on this virus.One year of homeschooling and mask–wearing. One year of hand–washing and social distancing. You might be tempted into feeling like the world is a bit safer now; after all, didn’t we get through the worst of it already?
The short answer is, yes, and no.
How We Got Here and What Happens Next
There were two peaks, with one in early April and the other in late July. As we come off the second peak and enter flu season, it’s easy to feel COVID fatigue. Despite our best efforts, the virus continues to spread.
During that first peak (which looks pretty small on the graph now), many groomers found themselves out of work due to government–mandated or voluntary shutdowns. Many of those restrictions loosened just in time for groomers to be back to work for the second, much larger wave of cases. At the time of writing, the daily cases are dropping, but are still higher than the daily cases during the first wave.
Why does all this background information about the peaks and waves matter? Because groomers have to learn to operate in this new world and be prepared for the next wave, which is inevitably coming. Until we achieve sufficient levels of immunity, we live in this careful balance of trying to keep the virus under control through public health measures.
By now we’ve all had our fill of information on the virus, but there is always more to learn.
In decreasing order of risk, transmission of the virus can occur through droplet, direct, indirect or airborne transmission.
Droplet: Respiratory droplet transmission occurs when an infected individual expels virus through coughing, sneezing or talking. This is the primary source of transmission of SARS–CoV–2, and it’s the target of most of our infection control practices. Respiratory droplets are tiny water droplets in the air, usually small enough that they are not visible. They are large enough, however, that they typically fall to the ground within six feet of emission. This property of respiratory droplets being large enough that they are unable to travel across large distances is where the six–feet rule of social distancing comes from.
Bottom line for groomers: Stay six feet away from other people at all times to protect yourself, but also wear a mask to catch your own droplets and protect others.
Direct Contact: Direct contact with an infected person just increases your chances of being infected by respiratory droplet. For the reasons listed above, you shouldn’t have direct contact with your clients or staff anyway.
Bottom line for groomers: Continue to stay six feet away from other people at all times and don’t touch other people directly.
Indirect Contact: Indirect contact is where you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your nose or face. This is NOT the primary source of transmission for the virus. Theoretically, indirect contact can cause transmission, but luckily simple hand hygiene will cover this.
Bottom line for groomers: Limit in–person customer interactions and wipe down surfaces with a suitable disinfectant between customers.
Airborne: Airborne transmission occurs when smaller droplets than the aforementioned respiratory droplets travel longer distances (beyond six feet). There has been mixed evidence on airborne transmission’s role in propagating COVID–19, but primarily seems to happen in hospitals and small, inadequately–ventilated spaces. Just as discussed with indirect contact, airborne transmission is not the primary source of transmission.
Bottom line for groomers: Continue to stay six feet away from other people at all times to protect yourself, but also wear a mask to catch your own droplets and protect others.
Grooming Best Practices
Understanding all the science behind transmission can help us make informed decisions in the grooming salon to keep us and our customers safe.
Social Distancing: Stay six feet away from other humans. The important part about this recommendation is to never let it compromise a dog’s safety. If you need an extra set of hands for handling a dog, then the rule must temporarily be broken. This is why a second level of protection is critical, which brings us to masks.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Masks: All humans should be masked–up when interacting with one another—no exceptions! If a customer has a legitimate medical reason why they cannot wear a mask, feel free to make other accommodations for them to avoid direct contact (ask if a third party can facilitate drop–off and take payment over phone). The type of mask doesn’t matter nearly as much as vigilant compliance in wearing a mask at all times.
If you work alone or in a secluded workstation, it is okay to pull your mask down when no one else is around. In salons with many other employees, remember that your mask is a gesture of goodwill. Wearing a mask demonstrates that you care about the safety of others and are willing to accept a minor inconvenience to lower their risk.
Face Shields: Face shields are a less invasive way to cut down on respiratory droplets, but wearing them alone is not nearly as effective as wearing a mask. If you are looking for extra protection, consider wearing a face shield in addition to a mask, but never instead of one. Added bonus: they’re kind of nice for doing messy double–coat blowouts.
Gowns: Gowns are probably overkill and expensive to use all the time unless you are a house–call groomer (discussed below). A less expensive option is to wear a vinyl or rubber apron over your smock that can be easily wiped down between clients.
Gloves: Gloves are a good idea but ONLY if you change them between each dog. It is easier and cheaper to just be diligent about hand–washing. However, this might be a nice option if you already have issues with skin allergies or are sensitive to constant hand–washing and sanitizing. Make sure you get latex–free because latex allergies are quite common, and always wash your hands immediately upon removing.
General Disinfecting: The single most important thing to disinfect is YOUR HANDS! Not with disinfectant; just wash them with soap. Viruses are protected by a simple oily lipid layer, which is easily disrupted by soap. Without a stable membrane, the virus quickly falls apart. Any regular old soap will do the trick, so long as you wash for 20 seconds and get all the nooks and crannies on your hands. You should be washing your hands before and after every customer interaction, and between each dog.
Other important places include anything the customer touches, like door handles, counters and card readers. The hot spots of your grooming station should be disinfected regularly anyway, including the table top, loop, arm and tools.
When choosing a disinfectant, look for EPA–Registered Disinfectants1. These are disinfectants that have demonstrated significant evidence that they can inactivate the virus—but remember—not all will be pet–safe. If you have a pet–safe disinfectant and are wondering if it’s effective against SARS–CoV–2, look for an EPA registration number and then check the EPA website.
The good news is, SARS–CoV–2 is not a super sturdy virus and many common disinfectants will easily deactivate it. The bad news is, these common cleaners are absolutely NOT recommended: ammonia, vinegar, pinesol, fabuloso, thieves’ cleaner and essential oils.
At the beginning of each shift, confirm with a daily sign–in sheet that employees have no symptoms of COVID–19 and have not been in contact with anyone who is COIVD–19 positive. Also consider a quick temperature check with an infrared thermometer upon entering the building.
Throughout their shift, make sure employees are wearing a mask and maintaining a minimum of six feet of distance from other people. Encourage hand–washing at a minimum of between customers, but preferably more. Grooming stations and tools should be disinfected thoroughly between customers as well.
If an employee calls in with symptoms, DO NOT let them come in, and immediately direct them to get tested. Require a negative test to return to work. It can be a major inconvenience to have to move scheduled appointments when groomers call in to work, but it pales in comparison to the inconvenience of having to notify customers of an exposure event in your salon. If they are positive, direct all employees and customers who were in contact with them during their infectious period to self–isolate, and call your local health department for further guidance.
Curbside drop–off: This is a great option if you can safely do it. Curbside will always be safer for your human customers, but riskier for the dogs. Don’t do curbside if you are on a busy street, or if you can’t safely contain the dogs.
Going cash–free: If you handle a lot of cash, this may feel like a safer option for you. Alternatively, good hand–hygiene practices before and after handling money is a lot easier and doesn’t require you to completely revamp your business practices.
Workplace–Specific Best Practices
Salon: The lobby is your biggest liability, as it’s the source of customer interaction. If you’re not doing curbside or contactless drop–off, then only allow one customer/family in the lobby at a time. Require masks in the lobby for anyone who wants to enter, and maintain six feet of distance when interacting with customers.
You MUST be able to track down everyone you interacted with on a specific day. Keep your appointment log and, if you allow walk–ins, require them to check in with at least their name and phone number so you can contact them in the event of an exposure.
Consider asking all clients if they currently have symptoms, have interacted with someone who has tested positive for COVID–19 or have recently travelled out of state. For added safety, these verification questions may be asked when booking an appointment, at check–in or both.
MobilE: Even if you don’t have a lobby, any time you directly interact with the customer is your biggest liability. Consider a hands–free exchange by bringing a foldable kennel, require masks and maintain six feet of distance when interacting with customers. Disinfect everything in your workspace between customers (which is already standard best–practice) and do not allow customers in your workspace.
For mobile groomers who work with assistants, it will be impossible for you to maintain distance in your workspace. So you will need to be extra vigilant outside of the workplace so as to not inadvertently expose your grooming partner. When working alongside others, masks are strongly recommended at all times.
House–call: Of all the grooming formats, house–call puts you the most at risk. It is strongly recommended to follow all of the above precautions, and, if possible, groom outside or in a garage. A separate, well–ventilated area will be safer than indoors. Disinfect your entire working area before and after the groom. This is the only environment where more PPE is recommended. Wear gloves and a gown, or something that is easily wiped down between clients.
Limit your interactions with people whenever you can, but wear a mask when contact can’t be avoided. Wash your hands often throughout the day, but specifically before and after each client. Wipe down your work area with an appropriate disinfectant before and after each client. And perhaps, most importantly—stay vigilant! It’s easy to feel COVID fatigue from months of social distancing, but this isn’t over. Stick to these practices and they will soon become good habits. ✂️
*Even well into the pandemic, we’re constantly learning new information about this disease and best prevention practices. All data is up to date at time of publication. Remember to always follow state and local guidelines.