Ask Angel

COVID Considerations

Dear Elayne,

Due to the pandemic my studio was closed until recently. Now that we are open, everything seems so weird and complicated. I was talking with the other piercers here about just getting it over with and not even trying to avoid catching the virus. We’re all young and healthy, so I feel like we should be OK. But maybe it would be better to wait for this to be over when we have the vaccine? If you think we should wait, what are some tips to keep us and our clients safe?

Thanks so much,


Dear N.,

First off, allow me to strongly advise against lowering your guard or doing anything to contract the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 intentionally. While it is statistically less likely for young, healthy individuals to become seriously ill or die of COVID-19, it does happen. Nobody is guaranteed a benign outcome once infected.

Understandably, much focus has been on the staggering death toll caused by the virus (currently over 211,000 in the US). However, there is something that might ultimately be an even more serious crisis: survivors debilitated with “long COVID.” Months later, many who got sick are suffering from ongoing conditions related to many of the body’s systems: neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, immune, etc. Patients are enduring a broad spectrum of symptoms, including severe fatigue, shortness of breath, persistent cough, muscle aches, joint pain, memory loss, lack of concentration, depression, loss of smell and taste, and other maladies. Experts don’t yet know the exact percentage of COVID long-haulers, or the duration their ailments will persist, though some victims are expected to have permanent damage. Long-haul COVID occurs in plenty of young, formerly healthy individuals, including those with cases that did not require medical attention.

Therefore, you and your colleagues should do everything you can to minimize your risk at work and elsewhere. A primary defense strategy involves limiting the time you spend with other people, especially indoors. Naturally, this is challenging in a retail environment, but you can take measures to reduce potential exposure. Maintain a minimum of six feet distance from everyone in the studio, except when performing piercing and jewelry change procedures.

Work by appointment only and provide clients with an online release form to fill out in advance. Close your waiting room, keep the door locked, and admit only piercees and scheduled jewelry shoppers into the studio (one at a time, and no friends or family). Decline to pierce minors since a parent must accompany them. Create a comprehensive aftercare video you can share, instead of delivering verbal in-studio instructions.

Do not let anyone remove their mask on the premises and decline oral and nasal piercings, even if permitted by local law. Not all masks are equally effective. Don’t permit the use of neck gaiters, bandanas, styles with valves, or single-layer face sdcoverings in the shop—they’re not sufficiently protective. For your own safety, supply disposable surgical masks at the door to clients arriving unmasked or with a sub-standard model. Alternatively, have masks printed with your studio name and logo and distribute those.

It is vital to consult an HVAC expert to ensure that your building’s ventilation is optimized. Use a HEPA filter in your piercing room, and possibly the retail area, too.

You should be aware that many COVID-infected people are asymptomatic; the current best estimate is approximately 40-45 percent of cases. Their viral loads are about the same as symptomatic patients, and they may shed virus longer than those who feel ill. So, we must behave as though all of our clients and coworkers are positive and could transmit the disease.

Many businesses take patrons’ temperatures upon entry, but this will not be helpful with those who are asymptomatic. A more effective measure is the proper use of a fingertip pulse oximeter. This inexpensive, easy-to-use device is readily available online. It determines the percentage of oxygen in the red blood cells. Many with COVID-19 have low blood-oxygen levels (hypoxemia), even when they are feeling well. You can pierce someone with a normal pulse oximeter reading, which ranges from 95 to 100 percent. Values under 90 percent are considered dangerously low and indicate a potentially serious respiratory issue. Anyone testing at that level should be referred for immediate medical intervention. 

Vaccines will be a vital tool in the fight against this coronavirus, but unfortunately, they will not allow life to immediately return to normal. There will likely be multiple options, given that over 200 candidates are in development worldwide, and 35 in human trials. Success depends upon how effective they are and how many people get inoculated. Additionally, it is unclear whether a vaccine—or natural infection—will impart lasting immunity, as a number of reinfections have been documented. Vaccines will be approved once verified to be safe if they prevent disease or decrease symptoms in at least 50% of those who receive them. Interestingly, all of the COVID-19 vaccines being studied are intended to reduce the occurrence or severity of illness, but not transmission of the pathogen, (though nearly all vaccines normally do). 

I was stunned by this revelation because a vaccine that stops transmission would reduce the entire population’s overall exposure to the virus. It would protect people who may be too frail to receive or respond to a vaccine, those who do not have access or refuse to be immunized, and those whose immune response fades over time. This could mean the only way to get rid of the virus would be near-universal immunization, which is unlikely to occur. All that said, when a properly vetted vaccine is available, I am definitely planning to get one. In any case, widespread manufacturing and distribution could reportedly take years.

Sadly, this is the “new normal,” and it will be with us for some time to come. But we have to move forward, live, and work as safely as possible. Use good judgment and be consistent and unwavering in following all safety protocols—as piercers should already be accustomed to doing. Check the website of the Association of Professional Piercers for more professional guidance on piercing in the era of COVID-19.


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