This article is intended for professional piercers. I originally wrote it for Pain Magazine, which has since closed until further notice. (But you can see some of thy other articles in back issues here.) Warning, this is not cheery, but it is realistic, and based on the best information available at the time (4/7/2020).
Q: I’m feeling pretty freaked out with everything that’s going on with this crazy pandemic, and I was wondering when you think things will get back to normal and we can start piercing again? Also, I keep seeing so much conflicting information. How can I figure out what to believe? I hope you’re safe and healthy. M.
A: Dear M.
The pandemic has massively disrupted daily life, and there’s still a great deal of uncertainty, so it is understandable that you’re concerned. New information is surfacing regularly, but much remains unknown about “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV- 2)” or, more simply, “COVID-19.”
Unfortunately, after substantial research, I believe that “normal” isn’t going to return for a very long time. Once the peak is reached, and social distancing and other mitigation measures are sufficiently effective and hospitals are no longer overwhelmed, businesses are eventually going to reopen. Public health experts agree that this will require a minimum of several months of lockdown followed by the necessity for widespread testing, tracing contacts of infected individuals, and monitoring their isolation. Timing will probably vary by geographic region and local circumstances. However, it will likely be necessary to maintain certain restrictions or re-enact them periodically to prevent new cases from sparking further uncontrolled waves of infections.
Once we are permitted back on the job, piercers should be aware of a few vital points so that we can make informed decisions. The virus will continue to spread, and plenty of new people will be sickened by it. Equally awful is that about 25% of infectious individuals have virtually no symptoms[i]. Therefore, there’s a possibility that anyclient could unknowingly be COVID-positive and contagious. We could limit the number of people permitted on the premises, and institute stricter hygiene protocols and other measures in an attempt to minimize the dangers. But working with the public will be far from risk-free.
Further, piercers must have close physical contact with clients; this is unavoidable. We pierce right near their faces, and sometimes literally inside their noses and mouths. Since COVID-19 transmission appears probable by someone infected merely talking, and possibly just by breathing, our occupational exposure is elevated from proximity to these now-hazardous parts of the human body.
If you haven't already been wearing one, it would certainly be a good idea to don a surgical mask for piercing procedures. It would also be prudent to wear one when dealing with clients at the counter, especially if you work in a high-volume studio.
We should already be conducting ourselves as though every client has HIV, Hepatitis B, or another bloodborne disease. Now, as piercers, we should assume and behave as though EVERY client is COVID-19-positive, and a carrier of a potenitially deadly transmissible respiratory illness. Protecting ourselves as piercers with excellent practices will also protect our patrons.
Even so, ultimately, piercing is going to be an extremely perilous profession until one of the following happens:
- An effective treatment is discovered or developed.
- Everyone has been vaccinated, which isn’t likely to happen for 12-18 months in a near-miraculous, best-case scenario[ii]. It takes an extended time to develop, test (for safety and effectiveness), produce, and then distribute a vaccine to such an enormous population. About 330 million humans reside in the US[iii].
- Natural “herd immunity” is achieved. Once enough people are immune because they’ve survived an illness, pandemics fizzle out. Estimates are that up to 2/3 of the global population would need to be infected for that to take place[iv]. (Not a great option.)
Currently, we don’t even know whether patients who recover from COVID-19 are immune to the disease—and if so, how long that resistance will last. Ifresearchers determine that re-infection is not possible (at least for a certain period of time), then it might be safe to work with those who have had the virus and developed antibodies. Perhaps eventually, people will be able to show printed proof of positive antibody test results[v]?
Since this outbreak is so recent, experts don’t yet have all of the crucial details. Research is yielding new data and information continuously. Surely much will have been learned by the time this is in print. Further complicating the situation is the nature of viruses: they can mutate and change. Something factual at one point sometimes becomes untrue later. Feeling confused is entirely understandable in these circumstances.
Regrettably, many people get their “news” through social media. The onslaught of posts and messages announcing bogus preventions and phony cures is downright dangerous. People who believe and follow false recommendations may mistakenly think they are protected or safe when, in reality, they’re not. No, sipping a beverage, rinsing your nose, or gargling with saltwater frequently won’tprevent transmission, nor will taking hot baths or eating lots of garlic. These myths and many more are circulating as widely as the infection. The truth is this: there are no wonder cures or preventatives. Though healthy habits can support your immune system: eat nutritious food, exercise regularly, get sufficient sleep, manage stress, and avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
Always consider the source of information. If none is cited, just ignore it. Period. And don’t share it! If the advice comes from a friend’s brother-in-law, who works at a famous hospital, ditto. However, articles verifiably provided by the CDC[vi], FDA[vii], WHO[viii], NIH[ix], or another reputable organization, or reported by The Washington Post, New York Times, and credible media outlets, or science and medical sites are more likely to be accurate. Or as close to it as we’ve got at any time, given the shifting nature of the situation.
I know this is scary, depressing, and even alarming. Though circumstances are tough, try to be grateful to be alive—unlike the many thousands who have fallen victim to COVID-19. To make sure you don’t become one of them, monitor the situation, keep up with critical developments through reliable sources, and do what you must to persevere in these difficult times. Stay in touch (virtually) with family and friends. Feed and nurture your body and your soul as best you can. And keep breathing. We’ll get through this and figure out the “new normal” when the time comes. More will be revealed as ongoing research is published. Hopefully, there will be some good news along the way. (I’m holding out hope!) Meanwhile, use the time to catch up on your reading, revive a neglected hobby, or learn a new language (try Duolingo).
A personal note: If your studio has an abundance of PPE (gloves, masks) that might be needed at local hospitals, contact them about selling or donating it. Please be safe and smart, follow all recommended guidelines, and hang in there!