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Health concerns and protective equipment shortage stopping businesses from opening Friday

Several Ga. business owners 11Alive talked with said they cannot find the necessary protective equipment to open and also don't want to take it away from hospitals.

ATLANTA — Despite being allowed to reopen Friday, some business owners in the Atlanta metro area said they will continue to remain closed.

They plan to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to search for personal protective equipment (PPE), to keep their staff and customers safe.

"It isn't realistic, I don't feel safe and my clients have expressed that they don't feel safe either, so I'm not opening," said Chiquita Mizell when asked if she would open Chiquita's Chair, her Brookhaven beauty salon, on Friday.

From Marietta, Tara Villalvazo, owner of Mystic Owl Tattoo, and Avant Permanent Makeup had a similar response.

"We certainly will not be opening on Friday, nor do I think we will be opening in the next few weeks," she said. "I would never put my staff, their families, our clients or the general public at risk just to work."

Villalvazo added she wouldn't want to take PPE away from healthcare workers by opening her business.

"They need it because they're saving lives and I want them to have it. I think it puts all of us in a really tough spot when you expect us to open, but we physically cannot do so without all of these supplies," Villalvazo said.

RELATED: These are guidelines salons and spas should follow in order to reopen, Gov. Kemp says

On Monday, Governor Brian Kemp announced gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, and their schools, and massage therapists can reopen on Friday, April 24. 

Mizell runs her business inside Salon Lofts, a storefront featuring many independent stylists.

"When you go in it is 30 different salons and you can basically pick whichever one," she said. 

She added that means there are many stylists in close proximity, plus their clients. Mizell and the stylists she works next to are struggling to find PPE as described in guidelines released Tuesday from the Georgia State Board of Cosmetologists and Barbers.

►READ | The Boards full safety guidelines for reopening barber and cosmetology salons

"They said we could have the masks with shields on them, but again I can't find masks anywhere, and then they want us to have masks for each of our clients," Mizell said. 

The guidelines include employees and customers having their temperatures checked. Customers are to be asked a series of questions about possible COVID-19 symptoms. 

Workers are required to wear masks at all times and owners should consider providing masks to their customers. If available face masks are recommended and disposable gloves should be worn and changed between each client. 

Mizell said she can only find disposable gloves, with the least expensive option being $10 per box. The additional costs would possibly have to be passed on to her clients if she opened.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms discussed the PPE shortage on Wednesday morning in an interview on NBC's Today Show.

"As Mayor, I'm struggling to get PPE for my sanitation workers," Bottoms said. "So I'm not sure how you expect a hairstylist to be able to get PPE on the open market and then to follow all of the guidelines when healthcare professionals are struggling to make sure they're protected."

RELATED: Atlanta mayor on reopening Georgia: 'I can't reconcile the logic behind opening a bowling alley'

Even if Mizell finds enough PPE, she said she would only open her business in one specific scenario. 

"When the numbers go down. I don't see any other way for me to go before that," explained Mizell.

As a tattoo and permanent makeup artist, Villalvazo needs to be physically close to her clients, sometimes for several hours.

"I myself do permanent makeup, I have to tattoo people's faces," she said. "I cannot tattoo people's eyebrows without getting close to their face."

If she wanted to open, Villalvazo said she doesn't have any PPE left at her business, despite requirements for PPE before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Pre-pandemic it was mandatory for us to have access nitro gloves, face masks, cold surface disinfectant," Villalvazo said. "All of these things before the pandemic and most tattoo studios donated all of their supplies because the hospitals were at a shortage."

Businesses purchasing PPE to open is a concern for Dr. Harry Heiman, with Georgia State University's School of Public Health. He said PPE is already in high demand amongst medical teams battling COVID-19 and now hospitals are also being allowed to resume elective surgeries. 

RELATED: 'I’m excited. I’m scared. I’m nervous': Georgia nurse joins coronavirus fight in New York

"Now you're talking about barbers, nail salons, and everybody else having increased demand for those things. I'm not sure anyone has thought through that. If they have it certainly hasn't been shared with the public," Heiman said. 

Villalvazo said she takes the state's recommendations and requirements seriously, as she works in an industry already requiring training to protect the health of employees and customers.

"As tattoo artists, a huge part of our job is keeping people safe. We are trained in cross-contamination, aseptic technique, we have to have our blood born pathogens training," Villalvazo said. 

She added opening her business without PPE would require her to disregard her training. As far as buying PPE, she said the state isn't helping business owners source the items. 

"Zero communication from the state of Georgia on any way that we can obtain these supplies and I understand why because the supplies don't exist right now," she said. 

11Alive contacted Governor Brian Kemp's office on Wednesday and asked if the state is offering any guidance or assistance for business owners searching for PPE. The governor's staff hasn't replied. 

A spokesperson for the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency though in an e-mail to 11Alive wrote, "Businesses that choose to reopen are encouraged to follow CDC guidelines, and are responsible for their own PPE needs." 

In a separate statement, the Georgia Hospital Association told 11Alive, "Ensuring adequate PPE supplies for the protection of our frontline healthcare staff as well as our patients is a top priority for Georgia’s hospitals as they continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic."

According to GHA, hospitals now have FDA-approved contamination systems to extend the use of N95 masks and through a partnership with the Department of Public Health and GEMHSA, they have established new channels to purchasing PPE for the state's hospitals, but the supplies still remain critical for hospitals. 

With businesses in the state starting to open, GHA wrote, " It is strongly recommended that the public leave surgical-grade masks for hospitals and health care providers and use high-quality cloth masks for their everyday use while also following CDC guidelines as appropriate.”

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information. 

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information.

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