COVID-19 pandemic

Bad Hair Day: Are magazines in salons dangerous?

On July 8, we sent out the first printed issue of Motif since April 1, a hiatus of three months. The world changed: On April 1 at least half of the usual distribution points were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but on July 8 the state was a week into Phase 3 of reopening the economy and many more places were open than closed.

Our delivery drivers encountered a problem we never expected: close-contact businesses, especially hair salons, declined to accept Motif because, they said, the state had banned them from having magazines available to customers. Covering the pandemic aggressively since February, it was clear what they were talking about: An important factor in preventing spread of the virus is eliminating shared objects whenever possible, and it has been common in waiting areas to have magazines that customers could read while waiting and then return for the use of the next customer. But the state didn’t just ban magazines in waiting areas, and in fact banned waiting areas entirely, requiring all customers to make appointments for specific times.

There is good science behind the state guidance, even encouraging restaurants to give customers disposable menus printed for one-time use. Dr. James McDonald, the medical director of the Department of Health (DoH), at one point explained during a press briefing that he had gone so far as to buy his own children individual tubes of toothpaste so they no longer had to share. But Motif is a free publication: While in non-pandemic times it could be treated like any other magazine and read in waiting rooms, the elimination of waiting rooms led us to expect that customers would simply take one on their way out.

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As I’ve noted in the past, interfering with distribution of newspapers and magazines is one of a very few specific statutory constraints on the emergency powers of the governor that she is explicitly not allowed to do.

We asked DoH about hair salons being under the impression that they were banned from accepting copies of Motif and confirmed this is an erroneous misunderstanding; their press spokesman replied: “We have encouraged people to handle high-touch objects with caution. But the state has not prohibited the distribution of magazines.”

– Michael Bilow, distribution manager

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