Self-employed workers grapple with uncertain future in face of COVID-19 pandemic


TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – As local businesses shutter in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, some say they can’t afford to shut their doors.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic loom over hairstylists, tattoo artists, makeup artists and other self-employed people as they wade through canceled appointments and mounting calls for social distance and isolation.

“We’re scared, yeah,” said Annie King, a hairstylist at Blackheart Salon in Kingsport.

“Being self-employed we don’t have any kind of sick days, we don’t have any kind of paid time off, most of us don’t have insurance.”

Related: “What’s going to happen to these small businesses?” Local makeup artist feels impact from COVID-19 unease

As calls mount for the closure of bars, restaurants and nightclubs, King said Blackheart’s doors will remain open as she and other staff members work to keep the salon as clean as possible.

Blackheart’s nail technicians and estheticians don masks for appointments and everyone else contribute to disinfecting chairs, shampoo bowls and other high-traffic areas immediately after use.

The salon is setting a limit of five stylists working at a time to reflect social distancing practices. King said the measure aims to create ample distance between clients and staff.

The salon also isn’t taking new clients for now, and King said she and her co-workers reached out to some existing clients who may be in danger of severe illness from the novel coronavirus.

 “Our clients with lupus or our clients that have any kind of auto-immune disease or have been going through chemo treatments . . . we’ve already reached out to them and rescheduled them for the 15-day period that’s been asked,” she said.

For Hank King at Now or Never Tattoo Gallery, sanitizing workspaces is embedded in his job description as a tattoo artist.

Like Annie, Hank’s work requires him to work in close quarters with his clients, making a six-foot minimum distance between him and his clients impossible.

“It’s kind of unavoidable in that sense, but we also ask our clients if they’re sick or ill or anything or have been in contact with somebody that they just reschedule their appointments altogether,” he said. “As far as if people are feeling healthy, we keep the volume of people down, it seems to be low-risk.”

Almost everything used at a tattoo studio is disposable, King said, and between clients, a tattoo artist will disinfect the workspace.

Now or Never Gallery posted on social media that deposits will be honored for any clients who are feeling ill, or have to cancel for other reasons. Clients keeping their appointments are asked to come alone or congregate in the studio’s lobby.

For now, Now or Never will remain open.

For Annie, she said she hopes that a trip to the salon can offer a taste of normalcy as citizens face an uncertain future in the face of the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

She encourages customers to purchase gift cards for the salon and other local businesses they want to see stay open.

“We also feel like this is a good place for people to be to keep morale up, you know?” she said.

“People need to see other people being okay. This is a scary time for everybody.”

For more of our continuing COVID-19 coverage, click HERE.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by a novel coronavirus first detected in humans in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. 

Severe symptoms that require immediate medical attention include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face. Stay up-to-date with guidelines from the CDC and The World Health Organization.

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