Patti Kasun Higgins’ curly hair is just going to “grow and grow.”

Mike Caban figures he’ll end up like an “old long-haired hippie dude.” “What the hell, it will be like 1975 all over again,” the 74-year-old said.

Kirby Kaufman just barely got the final touches done on his tattoo before the door slammed closed.

In Douglas County and across all of Iowa, barbershops, beauty salons, tattoo parlors and nail salons have been ordered to close their doors due to the coronavirus.

Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour issued the directive on Friday, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued her order on Sunday. Gov. Pete Ricketts is not similarly requiring a statewide closure, saying he believes that limiting gatherings to 10 people is sufficient. Counties do, however, have the right to implement stricter standards, his office has said.

So far, Douglas and Sarpy Counties and the City of Lincoln have detected community spread through testing. But only Douglas County, the state’s most populous county and home to the largest number of cases, is issuing such a strict closure order.

The closures in Douglas County have been ordered through April 30.

For many Omaha-Council Bluffs area residents, it will be an inconvenience, perhaps even embarrassing as their hair gets shaggy.

But for those who provide the services — the barbers, stylists and tattoo artists — the loss of business is an economic punch in the gut. They are typically self-employed and as such are ineligible for unemployment compensation.


Hairstylists Heather Cuff, left, and Diana Bender, of Omaha are among those without a paycheck now that Douglas County and Iowa have ordered personal care businesses closed due to the coronavirus.

Diana Bender, owner of Dyes & Cuts in the Florence area of Omaha, said the state or someone needs to step in and help out families like hers.

“It’s going to affect me pretty bad, I’m without an income,” she said. Her husband works in construction, but his work is slowing down, she said.

“I’m pushing for the governor or whoever it needs to be to open up that unemployment,” the mother of two said. “We pay our fair share of taxes.”

While the federal government is offering low-interest loans to small businesses, Bender said that won’t help. She said she and others like her need direct relief.

That appears to be coming in the latest bill approved by Congress. It extends some unemployment benefits to small-business owners and contractors. Details on how much it will help will become clearer in the days ahead.

Pour, the Douglas County Health director and a former state epidemiologist, said in her order Friday that facilities such as barbershops and salons had to shut down because, by their nature, they can’t comply with the 6-foot separation rule.

Phil Rooney, spokesman for the county, on Wednesday clarified information previously released. The order does not apply to licensed medical practitioners such as massage therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists.

The Omaha Police Department will do compliance checks at these businesses as it has at others affected by earlier orders, said Lt. Sheri Thomas. Businesses in violation will receive citations. So far, police haven’t had any problems.

Bender said she worked hard to minimize any risk to her clients or herself. Among the steps she took was advising those who had traveled or were ill to stay home, limiting people inside the shop to clients only, no companions and sanitizing the area between every client.

“I can’t attach clippers and scissors to a broomstick and try and cut hair,” she said. “I don’t know what else we could have done.”

Despite worries about the coronavirus, Bender said she didn’t see much of a slowdown in business. Only four clients canceled and most were older and in the high-risk category.

“Last week we were super busy, people were calling, still wanting to come in and get their hair done,” she said. “Now we’re just kind of stuck.”

Bender posted a note on her door announcing the closure.

Some people are providing their stylists and barbers a payment in lieu of a haircut.

“I still plan to pay my stylist for an appointment, even though I know we’ll have to cancel my regular haircut,” an Omaha man said, asking that his name not be used. “My hair isn’t a big deal — I’m still able to work and get paid. She doesn’t have that option.”

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