Wisconsin COVID-19 State Update for Massage Therapists

There have been many changes in the massage therapy, esthetics, and cosmetology professions and communities in response to COVID-19 (coronavirus). ABMP, ASCP, AHP, and ANP have summarized below how COVID-19 has impacted Wisconsin, from executive orders affecting business closures, to reopening protocols modifying practice procedures, to financial programs developed to aid the unemployed.

Practice Restrictions and Reopening 

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers issued a safer at home order in Executive Order 12 on March 24, 2020, in an effort to implement social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Salons and spas were closed, including but not limited to hair salons, barbershops, nail salons, day spas, waxing salons, and eyebrow-care establishments per the order on page 4.

Executive Order 12 listed massage therapy under Health Care and Public Health Operations, which allowed practitioners to work. However, this order caused confusion, as massage therapists could not meet the social distancing requirements with the nature of their work. In addition, many massage therapists work in day spas, which were closed.

On April 16, 2020, Governor Evers issued Executive Order 28, extending the safer at home order through May 26, 2020, and did not change any of the language regarding salons and spas or massage therapy. The confusion around massage therapy continued.

ABMP did some investigating and asked questions. Finally, this week, we received communication from the Chief Legal Officer at the Wisconsin Economic Development Council (WEDC) that massage therapists are allowed to work provided they follow certain requirements. 

"These businesses must:

  • Avoid meeting in person whenever possible, and switch to virtual meetings, teleconference, and remote work (i.e., work from home).
  • Comply with all Department of Health Services guidelines for businesses.
  • Follow Social Distancing Requirements between all individuals on the premises to the maximum extent possible.
  • Restrict the number of workers present on premises to no more than is strictly necessary to perform the essential operation.
  • Increase standards of facility cleaning and disinfection to limit worker and patron exposure to COVID-19, as well as adopting protocols to clean and disinfect in the event of a positive COVID-19 case in the workplace.
  • Adopt policies to prevent workers from entering the premises if they display respiratory symptoms or have had contact with a person with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.

All businesses are encouraged to follow WEDC's best practices for a COVID-19 response plan. Thank you!" 

NOTE: Day spas remain closed through May 26, 2020. We have messaged WEDC asking for clarification.

Check our Wisconsin updates for further updates on this issue. We will continue to monitor Wisconsin Executive Orders to let our ASCP, AHP, and ANP members know when they can return to work.

ABMP, ASCP, AHP, and ANP update members daily regarding state orders, practice prohibition, and reopening processes. View Wisconsin updates here for massage therapists and here for estheticians and cosmetologists. The most current information regarding COVID-19 and what is happening in Wisconsin can be found on the Governor's website. Please check with your local city or county to see if they have reopening orders stricter than Wisconsin state orders. With some states giving authority to local governments regarding work authorization, your liability insurance is only valid if you are in compliance with whichever regulations are the most restrictive—state or local. If you are not authorized to work per state or regional orders, and you are working, you are not in compliance with your state or local regulations and therefore your insurance would not be valid. 

Practice Modifications and Protocol Guidelines 

ABMP, ASCP, AHP, and ANP understand there is a fine line between getting back to work and earning an income and protecting the safety of you and your clients. Because governments are reopening does not mean you have to return to work. Government permission to work should not be the sole factor in your decision to return to practice. For those members planning to get back to work or seriously contemplating doing so, what follows is a hierarchy of ideas and precautions we strongly encourage you to consider for yourself, your practice, and your clients.

With the state of Wisconsin beginning to ease its restrictions on the safer at home order, many members are seeking advice as they prepare to return to work, and there are many unknowns: Will my clients rebook? Will they feel safe? Where can I go for guidance?

For those reopening their businesses, we have assembled a comprehensive series of back-to-practice guidelines packed with ideas and precautions. We encourage you to start with the summary here for massage therapistshere for estheticians, and here for cosmetologists, which provides a good synopsis. We address how to prepare and sanitize your treatment rooms, safe client-practitioner interaction, in-session protection protocols, post-session sanitation and best practices, and business tips from marketing to cancellation policies. We hope the guidelines prove to be informative and helpful, and that they lessen the uneasiness during this uncertain time.

Economic Assistance 

Whether you plan to return to work or not, we encourage you to review the financial benefit packages outlined below. Unemployment benefits are retroactive, so you may be eligible for financial assistance if you were out of work during the safer at home order and are returning to work. And, although Wisconsin has begun a gradual reopening process, you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits if you are unable to work due to risk of exposure to COVID-19 and do not yet wish to return to practice. Some states are interpreting "risk of exposure" as a valid reason for not returning to work, but this reason may only apply to those who are deemed "vulnerable." The definition of "vulnerable" may vary from state to state, but typically includes elderly people and those with underlying health conditions.

Wisconsin allows for unemployment benefits up to a maximum of $370 per week; however, not everyone will qualify for this amount. In addition, the federal government will be issuing $600 per week via the CARES Act, retroactive to March 29, 2020, through July 31, 2020. Benefits have been expanded in Wisconsin to 39 weeks.

Wisconsin is offering the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides payment to workers not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits (self-employed, gig workers, 1099 independent contractors, and others) who are unable to work as a direct result of the coronavirus public health emergency. You can start the application process here. If you were paid as an employee at a job and earned more than $2,500 in that position since January 1, 2019, your unemployment will be based on that job. PUA only applies if you have no W-2 employment. PUA benefits are equal to half of the state's average weekly unemployment benefits. For example, if you were eligible to receive $300 per week under regular unemployment, your PUA benefits would be $150 per week. Applicants must first apply for regular unemployment insurance prior to filing for PUA.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offered two programs via the CARES Act: the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Loan Advance (EIDL). Unfortunately, at this time, only agricultural business applications for the EIDL program will be accepted due to limitations in funding availability. If you submitted an application for the EIDL prior to May 3, 2020, your application may still be processed. The PPP program is still accepting applications. To apply, assemble the required paperwork and contact a potential bank or lender (also consider some credit unions, PayPal, Quicken, Intuit, or Square) as soon as possible. We have heard that there are already so many applications in the pipeline that funds are expected to be depleted soon.

One reminder: The onboarding of all programs has proven to be much slower than was initially thought, and there have been glitches in almost every federal and state program. The overwhelming number of applicants and government agencies that are coming up with new processes are slowing systems down that were not ready for the volume of people contacting them.

In addition, many states' economic development programs or small business programs have additional loans and assistance available locally—research what you have in your state by searching online for these programs. Find out more about your financial assistance programs, tax credits, tax deadline extensions, health insurance options, and Medicaid in ABMP's Financial Benefits Update blog post.

We appreciate your membership. Stay safe and well.

If you have questions or concerns, email us at gr@abmp.com.