KEY POINTS
  • Community spread of the coronavirus in California began in a nail salon, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday, as other states allow their manicurists to reopen.
  • "This whole thing started in the state of California, the first community spread, in a nail salon," Newsom said at a news briefing. "I'm very worried about that."
  • State health directors have put some "red flags" on nail salons as a high-risk business, Newsom added, likening them to gyms and hair salons.

Community spread of the coronavirus in California began in a nail salon, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday, as other states allow their manicurists to reopen.

Newsom has announced a four-phase plan to reopening the state's economy that begins on Friday. Unlike some other states that have announced reopenings, California nail salons won't be allowed to reopen until the state's phase 3. The state is currently shifting from phase 1 to phase 2.

"This whole thing started in the state of California, the first community spread, in a nail salon," Newsom said at a news briefing. "I'm very worried about that."

State health directors have put some "red flags" on nail salons as a high-risk business, Newsom added, likening them to gyms and hair salons. He announced Monday that the state will allow some low-risk businesses, including bookstores, warehouses, florists and more, to begin reopening with modifications and offering curbside pick up as soon as Friday.

However, owner of Saunders and James Nail Care in Oakland, California Michelle Saunders James said she was "shocked" by the governor's remarks. She said she hasn't heard anything from health officials nor the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology about coronavirus outbreaks stemming from nail salons.

"Had they known that this was the situation, absolutely zero information was ever sent to any nail care people in the industry at all," she said in an interview. "It was very scary to hear that."

Newsom did not provide any specific information about the alleged link between California's coronavirus outbreak and nail salons. 

Saunders James said she's not surprised that nail salons are in phase 3 of the state's reopening plan. But she's concerned that Newsom's remarks will keep people away from the industry even after they can reopen.

Saunders James said she employs 12 people in her business, which opened in January and has been closed since mid-March. In preparation for reopening, whenever that may be, she said she's stocking up on personal protective equipment and disinfectants.

"I am just intuitively kind of following the rules of what a nurse would wear or a physician, or something that is more in the medical field," she said. "Because if you're comfortable enough to go to the dentist, or go in to see your physician, then if we're wearing the same thing and our environment is as sterile and sanitized as a medical office, then why wouldn't the customer feel comfortable getting a manicure in that situation?"

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Newsom has not offered a timeline for when other businesses such as nail salons can reopen, which will likely depend on the local containment of the outbreak in different parts of the state.

Covid-19 has infected more than 60,600 people in California and killed at least 2,460 people in the state, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Other states haven't been as cautions when it comes to reopening personal care locations like nail salons. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced earlier this week hair and nail salons, barber shops and tanning salons will be allowed to reopen with modifications on Friday. 

As states reopen in various ways and to different degrees, epidemiologists are eagerly watching the data to try to glean some results. However, in the absence of a comprehensive coronavirus test and trace program, researchers say it will likely be weeks after reopening until the policy decisions are evident in the data.