After dropping a provocative remark that community spread of coronavirus in California started at a nail salon, Gov. Gavin Newsom declined Friday to provide additional details about where the salon was located and how health officials traced the case.
“This whole thing started in the state of California, the first community spread, in a nail salon. I just want to remind everybody of that and that I’m very worried about that,” Newsom said Thursday during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Sacramento.
On Friday, despite requests from multiple media organizations, he said he could not release more information because of health and privacy concerns. He added that his office would provide additional details when possible.
“There are, and I know everybody watching understands this, health and personal privacy obligations that are bigger than any public statements that have to be abided by, legal parameters, as it relates to that first case,” Newsom said during a news conference.
The first known case of community spread in the California was reported in Solano County in late February. Officials more recently said the first known death from COVID-19 was recorded in Santa Clara County. Both are in Northern California.
Newsom’s initial comment triggered immediate backlash from the beauty industry, which called his statement “surprising and disappointing.”
“As a former restaurateur himself, the governor knows the daily struggles of small business owners such as the 11,000 nail salons in California where approximately 80 percent of salons are owned and operated by Vietnamese Americans,” said Mike Vo, board chair of the Pro Nails Association in Irvine.
“It also pains us as law-abiding Americans living and working in California that the governor’s remarks may contribute to further anxiety and even heightened fear in today’s unfortunate toxic environment,” he added.
Speaking from inside a Sacramento flower shop on Friday, Newsom addressed concerns that his comments could ultimately hurt the nail industry.
“Oh my gosh that industry is noble,” he said. “It’s an opportunity … an exit point out of poverty. It’s one of the most entrepreneurial industries in our country. I have a deep reverence for those entrepreneurs.”
He went on to add that the statement was not meant to be an “indictment” of the industry as a whole, but instead an explanation of why personal care services such as manicures will be included in the third phase of California’s reopening and not sooner.
Despite attempting to distance himself from any negative fallout, an association of salons and barber shops said it would sue to try to force Newsom to let them reopen sooner, arguing they already undergo extensive training on sanitation and are licensed by the state, NBC affiliate KCRA reported.
The California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology recommends that nail technicians wear gloves and masks to protect workers from inhaling toxic chemicals, but it does not require protection for all services. Streamlining safety guidelines is one of the reasons California will not authorize the reopening of nail salons until the third phase, Newsom said.
Some salons have already reopened despite Newsom’s phased approach. In Northern California, a line stretched out the door of a Yuba City salon on Wednesday. Some customers wore masks while others did not. At least 33 salons operating illegally have been shut down across the state, according to Newsom.
California entered the first phase of stage two on Friday, which allows curbside pickup at retail stores and the reopening of parks and hiking trails.