Tattoo shops in Toronto say they should be allowed to open
Tattoo shops are saying they should be allowed to open in Toronto's grey zone not just because they've been struggling, but because they feel they have regulations at least as stringent as many businesses that are open.
"Even before COVID, our shop has had a high standard for cleanliness and procedure as guided by BodySafe," Tina Puedmag of Puedmag Inkpire tells blogTO. Her shop, which she owns with her husband Luis, has been closed since November.
"Not only are we required to have yearly inspections, but we have many procedures in place that prepared us in many ways for the pandemic."
BodySafe is a program that ensures businesses defined by the province as "Personal Service Settings" prevent the spread of icky things like fungal or bacterial infections or even hepatitis. PPS services also include hairstyling, tattooing, micropigmentation, electrolysis, manicures, pedicures and piercing.
Puedmag Inkpire runs its operation in a "completely disposable" fashion, meaning that everything used for each client gets tossed after a single use. Their piercing materials are required to go through an autoclave, just like dentists' equipment, and they're required to send samples bi-weekly to be tested to ensure the autoclave is functioning properly.
All their clients also have to complete consent forms, which facilitates contact tracing. Puedmag says staff are well versed in the use of PPE and required to take the Red Cross bloodborne pathogens course, and each artist station was required to have hand sanitizer as regulated by BodySafe even before COVID.
"The only real big change that we needed to make to facilitate the COVID regulations was that everyone needed to wear masks," says Puedmag. "In fact the changes we needed to make were mostly administrative."
Personal service settings have had lower numbers of active outbreaks than other workplaces like bars, restaurants, retail stores, warehouses, construction or shipping and distribution.
Jackson Trinh of Black Widow argues that his shop could open perhaps even more safely than a big box store or restaurant patio since his employees all have their Red Cross certificates as well as their certificate from the World Health Organization's Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) for COVID-19.
"We can't imagine many big box stores willing or capable to do the same," Trinh tells blogTO.
Black Widow was already designed to safeguard against risk of infection, from the layout of the shop to the space between stations to the number of people allowed in the shop at one time to sanitizing every morning and between appointments.
He describes COVID-19 regulations as "minor additions to our standard protocol."
Before the grey zone lockdown, they'd closed their waiting room and asked all clients to arrive alone. They'd also introduced mandatory masks, a station where clients and staff sanitized their hands before entry, and had clients sign online waiver with a COVID-19 checklist that's digitally completed and signed prior to arrival.
This limits unnecessary contact with items such as clipboards and pens but is also good for contact tracing.
They had also discontinued walk-ins and tattoos above the collarbone, and would again if allowed to re-open.
So sadly, you won't be getting that sweet Lil Peep-style tattoo in Toronto anytime soon, but it's a small sacrifice compared to what shops like Black Widow have been going through.
"Like many shops, we're forced to feel trapped in limbo while expenses pile on," says Trinh. "Unlike other businesses, we are unable to offer services curbside or online."
They still have to pay their bills despite being closed, including rent and business license renewal fees.
"It is very frustrating, even more so over the last week where tweaks were made for the grey zone for patios to be open, filled with people," Puedmag says, "and yet tattoo studios, one-on-one services with trained professionals, are still not allowed."
Tattoo shops rely on deposits and appointments, and the biggest struggle they face right now is uncertainty.
"Thankfully, we have such a patient and understanding client base," says Trinh, "but for some shops unable to proactively schedule appointments, this results in people traveling outside of the city or more dangerously, seeking less reputable and trained artists working from homes and basements."
Both Puedmag and Trinh say the assistance they receive from the government isn't enough.
"Years of blood, sweat and tears have gone into our businesses, and trust me when I say we want to work, we don't want to depend on the government," says Puedmag.
"It is heartbreaking to see our shop stagnant, in limbo, we just want to work," she says. "We can do so safely like we always have, and we want to continue to grow our business, and provide for our family."
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