After more than three months of lockdown, anxious New Yorkers are craving some self-care. With the city having entered phase 3 of its reopening on July 6, they can now go to the spa… but are they climbing back onto the massage table? And what sort of safety precautions are in place? 

“We’ve had an influx of people taking their appointments this week,” says Jack Sherman, the manager of Cynergy Spa. “It’s really positive for us.”

Staff and clients of the Fort Greene spa are having their temperatures checked and massage therapists are required to be tested for Covid-19 every 14 days. In addition to face shields for staff and hand sanitizer stations, HEPA filters have been installed in all rooms, “removing up to 99.99% of microbes in the air,” Sherman informed in a Facebook post. (While HEPA filters are capable of catching particles the size of the coronavirus, it’s unclear how effective this is at preventing infection, Wirecutter has noted.)

The spa has also purchased oxomiters, a device that clips onto the finger and measures heart rate and oxygen saturation in the blood cells, making it easier to detect shortness of breath– a symptom of Covid-19.

Because they require masks to be removed, facials are the one treatment currently unavailable at New York City spas. “We hope that we’ll be able to offer facials soon,” says Sherman. “It is a big part of our business and we receive a lot of phone calls with people asking for them.”

State guidelines demand that spas provide clean face rests and fresh linens for each customer, or avoid face-down massages altogether. Therapists giving prone massages must wear both masks and face shields for eye protection. Saunas and steam rooms must be closed, and tanning beds must be disinfected between each use. 

Massage therapists are exempt from social distancing rules that apply to other spa staff, but customers of Natural Balance Massage and Wellness Center will notice new safety measures in the massage rooms. According to Beth, an owner of the 27-year-old Brooklyn spa, exhaust fans have been installed in each room so as to provide adequate airflow. Clients will be screened, their temperature will be checked before each appointment and, per state guidelines, customers and staff will have to wear their masks the whole time. 

“This first week of reopening has been very busy for us; people need to take time for themselves,” Beth notes. A FAQ answers any safety questions that people may have before booking their appointment.  

Xim Vhang, the manager of Bergen Spa, thinks that it will take a lot of time for customers to trust massage centers again. “For now, it is very quiet, people are still scared of the virus,” says Vhang. Now that social distancing rules are more widely respected and that CDC guidelines are more rigorously followed, Vhang is convinced that his clients will come back soon. “Everything is still pretty recent,” he says.

Garden Retreat Spa, a midtown spa that touts its “first class Asian massage” and “attractive” staff, is facing a hard time. Even with safety protocols in place, the spa is off to a very slow reopening. “I really hope that clients can come back soon,” says an employee who preferred not to be named. “Right now we are struggling to pay rent and if it is this calm for too long, we’ll be forced to close our doors for good.” 

“We are surviving at the moment,” says Alex, the manager at NYC Massage & Spa. Even with the premises being disinfected twice every day, employees and customers wearing surgical masks and only one client per hour allowed in the spa, most customers “are still very afraid of Covid-19,” according to Alex. “They’re calling us, they ask a lot of questions, but they don’t end up booking an appointment.” The spa has ordered partition shields to help protect staff and clients during treatments. “We hope that it will reassure our clients as we want them to know that we are doing our best to be back on track quickly and in safety.” 

Not all New Yorkers are wary. Nicole, a spa aficionada, believes spas are cleaner and safer now than ever. “They are first reopening and a second wave of people left the city for the summer,” she notes. “I went to the nail salon this week and I felt safe.”