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.