One thing has become crystal clear as states look toward opening up businesses amid the Covid-19 pandemic—shutting everything down was the easy part, figuring out how to reopen safely is where things get tricky.
The pandemic and the lockdown have ravaged American businesses, particularly small businesses in the service and hospitality industries. Tattoo shops and the artists that work within them have been hit especially hard. Not only because of the intimate nature of being tattooed—we have yet to see a tattoo machine capable of functioning while maintaining social distance—but also because many artists are ineligible for unemployment benefits and many others don’t have health insurance.
Some states, like Georgia, allowed many businesses, including tattoo shops, to open up very early, even as the state had yet to meet guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control. Other states, like Ohio, were more cautious as they opened up, with tattooers able to return to work on Friday.
The reopening guidelines for Florida haven’t been quite as clear as some places, leaving tattoo artists in a state of limbo. Most businesses—nail salons, barber shops, gyms, restaurants—were able to reopen with a set of guidelines this week as the state entered Phase One of their reopening plan.
“Honestly all this stuff has been very confusing,” Longenecker says. “I can't find where it actually says that tattoo shops need to be closed. Tattoo studios were not included in Phase One of reopening.”
As other businesses open up, including those that will have to operate very carefully to maintain social distancing protocols, many tattooers, including Longenecker, believe that their industry is getting thrown under the bus by Governor DeSantis.
“Our governor wanted a haircut, so he had a big press conference in a hair salon with all of his government officials,” Longenecker says. “He kept praising how clean and sterile the hair salons are and then got a haircut. He let the hair salons and nail salons open and didn't mention anything about tattoo studios. When a reporter asked him about tattoo shops at the press conference, he moved on to the next question [without answering].”
On the surface, tattooing seems like it would be a risky business to open because of the enclosed spaces that people work in and the presence of blood. When you look a little deeper you realize that keeping a sterile environment is something tattooers have been trained to do for decades. Unlike barbers, retail workers or even those in the restaurant industry, the CDC guidelines are business as usual for working in a tattoo shop.
“Honestly, tattoo studios should have been the first to open,” Longenecker explains. “We are all certified in bloodborne pathogens and fully understand cross contamination. Tattoo studios are licensed by the health department and go through rigorous inspections. Any tattoo shop that is up to code is cleaner and safer than most other businesses out there.”
For now, even as some tattoo shops are reopening against orders, Longenecker is waiting. It’s difficult, he has employees to think about, not to mention bills to pay. He’s been making other art—painting horseshoe crab shells, taking commissions—to bring some cash in. But more than anything, he wants to get back to work. “I just miss the actual act of tattooing,” Longenecker says, “simply because that is my passion in life.”