Massage therapy
A therapist performs massage therapy on a patient

Editor’s Note: Wel­come to The Pan­dem­ic is Per­son­al, a week­ly series focus­ing on on how the nov­el coro­n­avirus (SARS-CoV­­‑2) is affect­ing the every­day lives of peo­ple through­out the Pacif­ic North­west. We hope to enlight­en you and reflect on what you and oth­ers are address­ing as this pan­dem­ic runs its course.

If you have a sto­ry to tell, please feel free to con­tact us.

Nadine Brum­baugh is a long­time mas­sage ther­a­pist and “mas­sage geek” by trade. She lives in Seat­tle and loves learn­ing all she can about health and healing.

After near­ly a decade as a mas­sage ther­a­pist, the COVID-19 cri­sis has made it nec­es­sary for me to part ways with an avo­ca­tion I dear­ly love.

Help­ing oth­ers is impor­tant to me and it’s a part of my personality.

I remem­ber look­ing in the win­dow of a neigh­bor­hood mas­sage ther­a­pist’s office as a child and it spark­ing my inter­est. As an adult, I stud­ied at the Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Health Sci­ences and honed my ther­a­peu­tic mas­sage skills to an expert lev­el. It was very reward­ing to help peo­ple recov­er from car crash­es or be the per­son who could mas­sage an elder­ly client and know that your work allowed them to walk for two weeks or remain mobile and pain free for the next month.

It is with great dif­fi­cul­ty that I have left some­thing which allowed me to impact oth­er peo­ple’s lives in such pos­i­tive ways. How­ev­er, I see no oth­er choice.

As a mem­ber of the health­care com­mu­ni­ty, my duty is to ensure my clien­t’s safe­ty above all else. At this moment, ther­a­peu­tic mas­sage is an extreme health haz­ard which puts clients’ and ther­a­pists’ lives in seri­ous jeopardy.

I’m deeply dis­ap­point­ed that Wash­ing­ton State has clas­si­fied mas­sage ther­a­py as a “non-essen­­tial med­ical ser­vice” avail­able as ear­ly as Phase I of Wash­ing­ton state’s “Safe Start” reopen­ing program.

I’m upset that our state Depart­ment of health has declined to pro­vide guid­ance regard­ing how Gov­er­nor Inslee’s Procla­ma­tion 20–24.1, which reduces restric­tions for non-essen­­tial med­ical providers, applies to mas­sage therapy.

Every­thing I have read from the CDC and oth­er cred­i­ble sources clas­si­fies being with­in six feet of anoth­er per­son that is ill or asymp­to­matic for longer than fif­teen min­utes as “pro­longed expo­sure”. It is these pro­longed expo­sures in which the virus is not only trans­mit­ted but can expose a per­son to a lethal dose of the virus.

Increased dose of the virus (prox­im­i­ty x time) direct­ly cor­re­lates to COVID-19 sever­i­ty and fatal­i­ty. I can see no way that a mas­sage ther­a­pist or client would­n’t even­tu­al­ly fall ill with COVID-19 in this setup.

Phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing is impos­si­ble in mas­sage ther­a­py — no one is typ­i­cal­ly wear­ing N95 masks or the eye pro­tec­tion required by the guide­lines pro­vid­ed by Wash­ing­ton state’s Labor & Indus­tries Coro­n­avirus Haz­ard Con­sid­er­a­tions for Employers.

These guide­lines cat­e­go­rize mas­sage as “an extreme­ly high risk” for COVID-19 trans­mis­sion. So why is a job defined as “an extreme­ly high risk” for COVID-19 trans­mis­sion able to be open before low­er risk jobs?

If it’s con­sid­ered so safe at this point, why is it that my trade asso­ci­a­tion, the Wash­ing­ton State Mas­sage Ther­a­py Asso­ci­a­tion, appar­ent­ly believes that we can only per­form our jobs with a full set of PPE gear?

We have a very real poten­tial to be super spread­ers of a dan­ger­ous infec­tious dis­ease to our clients, our fam­i­ly and friends, our co-work­ers and to the public.

I fear that ther­a­pists will be forced to work in enclosed, poor­ly ven­ti­lat­ed rooms for up to two hours per ses­sion wear­ing a cloth mask (since N95 masks may be impos­si­ble to acquire as we’re con­sid­ered “non-essen­­tial”, and thus less like­ly to receive access to them) and with full skin con­tact… gloves or no gloves.

With many elder­ly clients, peo­ple with under­ly­ing health con­di­tions and some who are can­cer sur­vivors; those clients would have upwards of a 10% to 27% chance of death should they con­tract COVID-19.

I have also received a let­ter from my lia­bil­i­ty insur­ance that they are “high­ly unlike­ly” to cov­er any claims relat­ed to COVID-19 transmission.

Know­ing all this, is it even eth­i­cal to pro­vide mas­sage ther­a­py dur­ing this time?

Sad­ly, I’ve con­clud­ed it isn’t.

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One reply on “The Pandemic is Personal: Nadine Brumbaugh on giving up her massage therapy practice”

  1. Thanks for shar­ing your touch­ing sto­ry! It’s unfor­tu­nate. These times are rough on every­one. Though it will be excit­ing to see how the future unfolds!

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