COVID-19 Safety & Massage Therapy: How Bodyworks DW Has Safely Reopened
by Owner David Weintraub, LMT
Hi 🙂 This is David, the owner at Bodyworks DW. Like most of you, I’ve been in lockdown at home in my Brooklyn apartment. We’ve been keeping ourselves busy providing all of you virtual pain relief options. Such as our 1-on-1 Video Visits, Group Classes, and BWDWTV, our self care video subscription library. I’ve also been keeping myself busy learning as much as possible about this virus. So that we will have a COVID-19 safety plan that is medically sound. And scientifically informed.
(Updated on September 3rd)
NYS updated their guidelines on September 3rd in one significant way: we are now allowed to perform services which require removing masks again. For us, this means that we can finally do inner mouth work for TMJ and migraine sufferers again! This work is important, highly specialized, and something very few massage studios can offer. We don’t give it to all clients, but for those of you with TMJ, jaw tension, and migraine issue, this is really great news!
How the new guidelines will work
Specifically, if this is work we feel that would help you and you want to receive it, we will only remove your mask during the few minutes this work takes and we will don a face shield as well as mask and goggles. For the safety of our therapists and other clients, we will only remove masks for this kind of work, which usually takes about 5-8 minutes during a session and is performed at the end.
As part of the new guidelines, our therapists who have trained for this work will be taking new COVID-19 diagnostic tests. You can see who has received a negative test result after September 3rd here.
New NYS guidelines allow inner mouth work for TMJ, click on image for full NYS guidelines
(Updated on August 13th)
Now that we have reopened, we have finalized and submitted our COVID-19 safety plan. This plan is comprehensive and as up to date as possible based on the newest science. We are sharing it with you for transparency! That way, you can see the new steps we will be taking to keep our clients and staff as safe as possible.
Since reopening on July 6th, we have started with our “soft” reopening (see below). About 1/2 of our therapists have come back and we have seen over 250 clients in our first month back! All therapists who have started seeing clients in Phase 3 have tested per NYS guidelines. I personally had a negative Covid-19 diagnostic test on 6/29/20 before working with clients. And a follow up test on Monday 7/13/20 and again on 7/27/20. Both were negative. Off to a great start 🙂
If you’d like to read more about how things have been going (great!) since we’ve reopened, click here for my update blog on massage therapy covid safety!
We Are Committed to Your Safety
Above & Beyond What NYS May Require
We are implementing as many feasible safety measures as possible. Our studio wants to keep both our clients and out therapists as safe as possible. Regardless of whether NYS mandates specific measures. We still haven’t finalized our exact COVID-19 safety plan. However, there are some things we know for sure that we will be changing for safety. In addition, I am personally researching everything I can about workplace safety, health, and this virus. We make decisions based on the advice of well informed public health experts.
Following NYS, CDC, and OSHA Guidelines
In preparing our safety plan, we will be relying on several federal and state agency documents. The main document is the NYS Guidelines for Personal Care Services. (1) In addition, these guidelines refer to federal guidelines including the OSHA Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 (2) and the CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses (3) page.
References are listed at the bottom of this post. We will be updating this COVID-19 safety plan regularly with any new relevant information available, as it comes out.
Our COVID-19 Safety Plan
Both diagnostic and antibody testing is becoming far more widely available in NYC. And the NYS on Pause mitigation strategy has flattened the curve significantly. We are at the point where the virus is mostly isolated in NYC. With proper safety measures, containment strategies such as testing and tracing, and all of us being smart about our actions, we believe that it is relatively safe to start reopening Bodyworks DW for business. With several new safety measures in place.
Some basics to know first
- The virus is not known to be transmitted through your skin. So the fact that massage is a touch based modality does not make it inherently more risky than other activities. It is also not known to be transmitted through sweat. (4)
- The main vector of transmissions is respiratory, through sneezing, coughing, and talking. This is why six foot social distancing is one of the main safety measures. We will be practicing distancing whenever possible at the studio.
- Virus transmission requires a certain amount of the virus to be inhaled or entering through your eyes. It has to be enough to overwhelm your immune system to point where it can replicate and cause an infection. Simply breathing in one exhalation of an infected person is extremely unlikely to give you COVID-19. However, breathing in the same space as an infected person for an extended time increases the risk of infection. Therefore, our safety plan, and any other businesses safety plan, includes air circulation practices such as opening windows.
Distancing is Not Always Possible
- We are a touch based modality. We cannot socially distance the minimum recommended six feet between us and you during many parts of a massage. Therefore, strict adherence to all other available safety measures is vital for the safety of you and our staff.
- We understand that some of these measures may be slightly less comfortable. For both our clients and our staff. However, we will always prioritize safety over comfort when a choice has to be made between them.
- Since this virus can spread asymptomatically, we will be implementing many safety measures beyond simply screening for symptoms. None individually would be enough to stop all transmissions, but collectively will offer a very high degree of safety. (5)
Safety Measure 1: A “Soft” Reopening Stage for a Minimum of 2 Weeks
- For the initial 2-4 weeks we will have only a limited number of therapists working at any given time. This is to keep contact between people controlled.
- In Fidi, we will have only 2 practitioners working in the studio, one on each end of the studio. On days where Dr Findling is seeing chiropractic patients we will have only 1 therapist working. On the opposite end of the studio from him.
- This “soft” stage will last a minimum of 2 weeks. To give us time to evaluate how our safety measures are working. We may extend this period. If we feel that it is warranted.
- Our front desk staff will continue to work from home rather than at the studio. This is to cut down the number of persons in contact with each other. This may continue after the “soft” reopening phase.
Safety Measure 2: Strict Screening
Risk Group Screening
- If you are in a high risk group we strongly encourage you not to schedule an appointment. This includes persons over the age of 65, or with any of the top 10 co-morbidities. These include: hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, dementia, coronary artery disease, renal disease, COPD, atrial fibrillation, cancer, and stroke. (7) While we understand this may be upsetting, the risk of bad to fatal outcomes from COVID-19 infection in this group are significantly higher. We are fairly confident that our safety measures will prevent us and our clients from getting COVID-19. However, we cannot guarantee this (nor can any business or institution).
Symptom Screening Prior to Appointment
- As part of our COVID-19 safety plan, we will be screening all therapists and clients before allowing any into the studio. Anyone entering the studio will be asked to attest to not having had any symptoms related to COVID-19 in the last 14 days. In addition, we will need our staff and clients to attest to not having had any contact with anyone with a known case of COVID-19 or symptoms related to it in the last 14 days.
Temperature Screening Upon Arrival
- We will be screening temperatures of all persons entering the studios including our own staff. We will ask anyone with temperature above 100.4 degrees to leave (as per the CDC) (6). If we do find that you have a temperature over 100.4, we strongly encourage you to get a diagnostic test to determine if you have the virus. Having a fever is a symptom of COVID-19. All persons with symptoms can make an appointment to get a test. We will not charge a cancellation fee for the missed appointment.
- If you start having symptoms the day of your appointment, please call to reschedule your appointment at no charge. While we ask that clients still honor our 24 hour cancellation policy, we will be waiving it for any possible cases of COVID-19. That includes any possible symptoms for it.
We understand that screening is not foolproof due to a number of people being asymptomatic carriers of the virus. However, it is still an important part of any safety plan and will help all the other safety measures be that much more effective.
- UPDATE on TESTING 7/30/2020: NYS is now in Phase 4 and testing is longer required for massage therapists. David had planned on continuing to test every two weeks even though it would not be required. However, testing is currently experiencing breakdowns in supply chains resulting in long wait times for results. Therefore, in the interest of public health, we are no longer asking our therapists to get tested every two weeks to help free up testing capacity for people who are actually experiencing symptoms.
- As per NYS guidelines for massage therapists returning to work in Phase 3, we required therapists to get a diagnostic test every two weeks while NYC is in Phase 3. You can view the results of our therapists’ tests and the dates of those tests here!
- Antibody testing is widely available in NYS at this time. The assumption is that, like other viruses, having the antibodies confers some level of immunity. However, there is very little scientific confirmation of this as of yet. There are viruses that do not act this way. And there are viruses that do but immunity only lasts weeks to months. So, even if immunity turns out to be true, we don’t know how long that immunity lasts. We encourage everyone to take the antibody test at this time. Then again at a later date to back it up. If you have a positive result for the antibodies that information will be useful to you as the science on immunity grows.
Safety Measure 3: Strict Hygiene & Disinfection Protocols
- As licensed massage therapists in NYS, we already had fairly strict virus protection hygiene practices at our studio. Hand-washing, sanitizing, not touching our face, and wiping down all touched surfaces after sessions were all already part of our normal daily routine. In addition, every client has always received a freshly laundered (by an industrial hospital grade machine) set of linens for their session.
- In addition to these existing practices, for our new COVID-19 safety plan, we will be making hand sanitizer stations prominent in the studio. We ask that you use these upon entering the studio, and before entering the restrooms.
- All sanitizers at the studio will have at least a 60% alcohol content as recommended by the CDC. In addition, we have checked to make sure they are not on the FDA recall list.
- We will be eliminating unnecessary points of contact such as credit cards and cash. All checkouts will use the credit cards that you have on file. We will ask that you use hand sanitizer right before signing at the end of the checkout process.
- We will be adding an additional 15 minutes of time between appointments to allow for extra cleaning time.
Safety Measure 4: Social Distancing Wherever Possible
- As per NYS guidelines, our waiting area is closed. Therefore, we ask that clients arrive no earlier than 5 minutes before their appointments.
- We will be blocking off the waiting area couch due to the difficulty of disinfecting fabric.
- We’ll be placing waiting area chairs 6 feet apart.
- At the bathroom where there is sometimes a wait, there will be a distanced sign of where to stand away from the door.
- When we greet you and during intake and outtake we will keep a 6 foot distance, especially as this time of talking has a slightly higher risk of transmission
- While we love chatting with all of you, we will ask to keep talking during sessions both as quiet as possible, and brief. Loud talking vs simply breathing may have an impact on virus spread. We don’t know that for sure yet through studies, but we think it’s better to be safer than sorry at this time.
Safety Measure 5: Masks are Required in the Studio At All Times by Everyone
- Again, we will be requiring that all persons in the studio be wearing a face mask at all times, including during the massage therapy session itself. This has been mandated by NYS. These can be any type of face covering including cloth masks, surgical masks, etc. N-95 and respirator type masks are not required.
- In addition to a mask, your therapist is required by NYS to wear either goggles or a face shield while working on you during treatment. Therapists and employees are required to wear masks at all times when interacting with clients, even when you and a therapist are socially distanced and further than 6 feet apart.
- While we understand that it might be slightly less relaxing to wear a mask during your session, both you and a therapist wearing a mask is one of the single most effective safety measures that can be taken.
- In order to make lying face down more comfortable on the table, we will be using pillowcases as a drape shield that hangs below the face cradle. The pillowcase will not have to touch your face but will create an enclosed space for you air. In practice, this is more comfortable than wearing a mask while in the face cradle. You will need to wear a mask when switching from this position to side lying or face up.
Inner Mouth Work for TMJ and Migraines
- See update from September 3rd at top of post for newest guidelines:
For the time being, and as mandated by NYS in the guidelines document, we will no longer be performing inner mouth release work for TMJ due to the direct possibility for transmission this work would have. We can still do exterior jaw and head work for headaches, jaw tension, and TMJ.
Safety Measure 6: Air Circulation & Purification
- The main risk factor for transmission will be between therapist and client during the massage therapy sessions. Talking and breathing the same air in an enclosed space can cause asymptomatic transmission.
- Our treatment rooms have windows and high ceilings.
- We will be keeping medical grade (HEPA-13 filters) air purifiers in each treatment room and in the waiting areas. While the science isn’t in yet on whether HEPA filters are effective for this particular virus, they are effective for similar viruses. We are adding these as an “every little bit helps” preventative measure. These particular air purifiers cycle the air through an entire cycle for our treatment rooms about every 10 minutes or so. In addition, their simply being on means that there is a constant low level air flow in the treatment rooms which helps to prevent build up of aerosol clouds.
- We will keep windows in treatment rooms open from time to time order to allow for air circulation to the outside.
Our Goal is to Make Our Studios as Safe As Possible, Always
We’ve always had a commitment to safety at our studios. As a practitioner, I’ve made sure to keep up to date with the latest practices and have always taken my responsibilities as a licensed massage therapist seriously. In the past, this included strict hygiene protocols on hand washing and disinfecting, laundering our linens at hospital grade levels, and asking both staff and clients to self-screen for cold and flu, and other communicable diseases.
This specific coronavirus does require a new and stricter COVID-19 safety plan for massage therapy to prevent transmission than businesses had engaged in before. Preventing colds or flu is always a worthwhile goal. But like this virus, not 100% possible. The consequences for flu were both known and less severe.
Our COVID-19 Safety Plan for Massage Therapy Needs Everyone to Work Properly
Our new COVID-19 safety measures, as well as any further measures that become recommended will make the likelihood of getting the virus at our studio extremely low. We will be continually monitoring their effectiveness and making decisions to open up further, stay open, or potentially partially or fully close down again, entirely based on science and data.
We hope that all of this information help you stay informed and allows you to make your own decisions about your health and safety. Choosing whether to come to our studio to get a massage is an individual choice based on a number of important factors for each of you. As we all start poking our heads out of full quarantine, we will each have our own needs and risk tolerances.
Our hope is to be able to provide the pain and stress relief that you’ve come to count on at our studio to you in the safest way possible. So that it is there for you whenever you are ready.
Thanks to each and every one of you for your support to me and the studio over the years! – David & the Staff @ Bodyworks DW
- NYS Guidelines for Personal Care Services
- OSHA Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
- CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses
- CDC How Coronavirus Spreads
- Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, a Regimen for Reëntry
- CDC FAQ
- NYS COVID-19 Tracker on Fatalties