There's No Map for This

March 18, 2020

an open laptop in front of a window with greenery outside and a white mug next to it. The laptop has a map on the screen with a nonsensical route between two destinations

i’m standing at the intersection of “room in the hospitals” and “the disease is still spreading”.

Last Thursday, Governor Kelly announced that phase 1.5 can start reopening on 18 May 2020. Massage therapy is lumped in with “personal care services”, more specifically it’s lumped with “tattoo parlors” so we are included with this portion of the phase. (Whether or not massage should be placed here is a whole different conversation.)

On Friday, during the press conference, Governor Kelly stated that (and I’m paraphrasing here) social distancing is working and while the Covid-19 is still spreading in the state, there is room available in the hospitals for people that become ill.

no one is stating that massage therapy is safe at this time.

The State of Kansas does not regulate massage therapy. This leaves us with our hineys in the breeze. No guidance. No regulation. No authority to enforce practicing massage therapy in a safe manner.

Our Sedgwick Board of Health, the County Commissioners, don’t want to make a responsible recommendation. They can’t separate their Commissioner positions from their role as the Board of Health. They have displayed their impotence and are NOT looking out for our public health. I’ve written several emails to them to discuss the nuances of massage therapy. I’ve received several short, dismissive responses and was passed off to someone else, but have not seen any follow through or action.

One colleague pointed out that this is the worst game of Hot Potato ever and I agree. (Here’s a great article she wrote discussing it.)

To be honest, I don’t NEED the government to tell me how to act. I’m good at looking at the relevant information and using my critical thinking skills to make my own decisions. I don’t think the Governor, who doesn’t know my industry, or the Sedgwick County Board of Health, knows what I do better than I do.

how do i navigate away from this intersection back towards business as usual?

This has driven me to look at our industry leaders (experts), colleagues who I respect, and our industry organizations. The consensus is that massage probably isn’t safe right now.

here’s what i know at this time:

  • Covid-19 is still spreading. Social distancing, hand washing, and face coverings help slow transmission.
  • Asymptomatic people can transmit the disease. There have been cases of massage therapists contracting Covid from a client AND transmitting it to other clients before they had any clue they were infected.
  • Universal precautions are time consuming, expensive, and almost impossible to maintain in a massage setting. While the state will only “recommend” face masks, other organizations and massage leaders say they should be worn by both the client and the massage therapist to be as safe as possible.
  • My liability insurance does NOT cover infectious diseases, although there may be coverage if I can prove every single recommendation was followed.
  • I’m intelligent enough to know I don’t have enough information. (Also, someone should do a study on the Dunning-Kruger effect in the massage industry.)
  • The supply chain for PPE and disinfecting supplies is limited. Sourcing products is challenging and expensive and should I be taking them from industries that NEED them?
  • There is no way for me to effectively screen clients to make sure massage therapy is safe.

additional considerations for massage therapy while covid-19 is still spreading.

There isn’t enough information about the symptoms and how they affect people. Especially people that may be asymptomatic. Blood coagulation and blood clots are scary symptoms from a massage therapist’s perspective. Massage is contraindicated when blood clots are present. The issue in this situation is that asymptomatic people can have blood clots and not know. The repercussions could be a heart attack and stroke if a massage is unknowingly provided to a client with blood clots. Ruth Werner, the industry expert on massage and pathology states the risks outweigh the benefits of massage at this time.

so where does that leave me?

I’m the massage professional. If I didn’t hold myself accountable to the highest standards, I should stop calling myself a “Massage Boss”.

I’m the one taking the risk.

I’m the one that could potentially put clients at risk.

Relax Wichita is actually in a very fortunate position. Most of the recommendations and “guidelines” that are being presented are things that I have always practiced at Relax Wichita. I’m not scrambling to comply with these suggestions. (I HAVE been called “high maintenance” by an employer for practicing them.)

  • Impermeable table cover that can be disinfected? Yep, I’ve always had one.
  • Clean blankets for every single client? That’s always been my policy.
  • Wash your hands before starting your massage. ALWAYS and after I’m done too.
  • Chairs that can be cleaned in the room? Have that.
  • Disinfect all the surfaces between clients. Nothing new here.
  • Client intake forms to determine if massage is safe. My intake is even paperless!

the answer for me is clear.

I wait. I wait for more information. I wait for a better understanding of this disease. I wait for social distancing guidelines to be lifted because I cannot maintain social distancing while performing a massage. It does not make sense that we should continue social distancing, avoid close contacts and hugging people, provide touchless payment systems, and request you bring your own pens, but it’s OK to put our hands on you and touch you a lot for an hour or more. I try my best to remove my ego and financial concerns from this situation. It’s the only way I can continue massage in the future and know that I can uphold “do no harm” at the same time.

The time is not now.