Hair cut

COVID-19: On the frontlines with Allison Yañez


COVID-19 Survey for Workers aimed to understand how workers and their families have been affected by COVID-19 pandemic at home and on the job. 

We are grateful to share stories of some of the people that we met during the course of the project.


Allison YanezAlison Yañez


Why did you decide to become a cosmetologist? 

I had an aunt and uncle who did hair, and sometimes when the family got together, they would bring their tools and I would watch them cut or color. Also, in middle school the mom of one of my best friends had a salon in her guest house. I thought it was the coolest thing and it would be great to have my own salon one day!

Before the pandemic, what was a typical day like at work? What did you like best and what do you miss most?

Before the pandemic the salon was very busy and our books were full with back-to-back clients, eight hours a day, five days a week, sometimes even double booking. The thing I like best about my job is getting to know my clients and making them leave happier than when they came in. I also love being there through all their big life events and special occasions. Looking back, I miss hearing my clients' travel stories most. Unfortunately, I can't hear any exciting adventure stories when no one is going anywhere.

Are you afraid to go to work? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t say “afraid” anymore. Maybe a little in the beginning because I wasn't exactly sure what to expect or what it would be like.

I have Type 1 diabetes. My boss has been really great at making sure I feel comfortable and safe at work. She converted my nail room in the spa upstairs to a salon room, so I can do hair up there and be in my own space, away from everyone else downstairs at the salon who are lower risk.

What are the big challenges you and other people in the beauty industry face during this pandemic?

I was lucky in that I applied for unemployment and started receiving payment right away. The extra $600.00 a week definitely helped because without it the payments wouldn't be anywhere near what I usually make.

I do know, however, that many other people in my industry weren't as lucky. I think one of the biggest challenges we face is getting our books filled back up to normal. We’re pretty steady, but we’re still not as busy as we were pre-COVID.

Was the impact COVID-19 had on your work a surprise? Why or why not?

It was a little surprising. I thought when we opened back up the phones would be ringing off the hook with people who hadn't had their hair done in so long, but that was just not the case, unfortunately.

How did you adapt to your new work situation?

I try to just go with the flow as much as possible. I was getting by on unemployment but pre-COVID I would usually save tips for travel money, and when that money wasn't coming in anymore after the first shutdown, I did other things like sell jars of homemade salsa to friends and family to make extra cash. Then, after the second shut down and not knowing when we would open back up again, I signed up for Door Dash. Now that we’re open again, I’ll probably continue Door Dashing to make up for the money I'd usually earn at the salon.

Do you think this experience at work is typical of other hairstylists? The way your boss has handled it and you supplementing your hours due to less demand?

I hope everyone’s experience was similar to mine if not better, but I don’t really believe that’s the case. I don’t think there would have been as many people protesting to reopen if their situations had been handled better. I know a lot of stylists who were struggling and I actually got the idea for the side hustle after seeing so many other people find ways to support themselves during this crazy time.

A lot of my clients are not coming in as often because they’ve been laid off, are not making the same money or aren’t working as many hours as they did before the pandemic. 

How has the pandemic changed your clients’ lives? What are they saying to you and how do you respond? 

COVID-19 has changed my clients’ lives in many ways. Most are working from home. I have some clients in the medical field who have contracted the virus themselves. A lot of my clients are not coming in as often due to being laid off, not making the same money or not working as many hours as they did before the pandemic. Some, who used to use the time their kids were in school to come in to get their hair done, now don't have that opportunity. I let them know I’m here for them when they need me, and I don't take it personally if they can’t come in and see me as often.

Is there anything that people don’t understand about your work right now that you wish they did?

I'm sure most people understand, but I would like to remind everyone that we're doing our best to follow the ever-changing local and statewide guidelines and regulations to keep everyone safe. So when we have to change from the normal things we do — like no massages before hair services, no wine, beer or tea, no eating or drinking in the salon — we hope everyone knows that it's only because we want to do everything possible to keep our clients and staff safe.

Has the government helped or hurt workers like you during the pandemic? In what ways?

The unemployment benefits and stimulus check definitely helped. Although, in my opinion, it wasn't enough.

I'm not self-employed, but I was happy to see that they started offering unemployment benefits to self-employed stylists. I thought that was great.

I will say I was a little disappointed after hearing all the stories of people having so many issues with receiving their benefits, I couldn’t imagine having to go through all of this and worrying about where rent or grocery money was going to come from.

If there was one thing you could change in your workplace during COVID to make your industry safer for you, your coworkers and clients, what would it be?

I feel pretty safe and confident that everyone in our salon is taking the proper safety precautions and following protocol for ourselves and others. But I do think it would be nice if we had an outdoor seating area where we could safely enjoy our lunches instead of our small break room. But again, I feel like we’re all doing the best we can with what we have.

In California we’re experiencing two major catastrophes at the same time: climate change and the pandemic. How have these crises coming together affected your work and the people you see?

I still can't believe there are people out there who don’t believe in climate change! The proof is all around us. I have clients who’ve lost their homes or had affected family members move in. It's very sad to think about.

When the salons were first allowed to open outdoors, ours decided against it because we didn't want to be working outside all day in 100-degree-plus weather in the hazardous, smoky air with a mask on.

What concerns you most about the future?

Not knowing if salons will ever go back to normal. It used to be so much more relaxing. Now I feel like the experience just isn't the same. I miss seeing the smiles on my clients faces after a hair service. I hope the salon will start filling back up — safely, of course!

Has anything positive come from the pandemic?

I feel like I got a lot of extra time for self-care, which I think is important through all of this. As stylists, we're always so focused on our work and clients that we forget about ourselves sometimes.

Going through the pandemic solidified that I really do love my job because I definitely missed it while we were closed. It made me extra grateful to have an amazing boss who has been there for all her stylists from Day 1. I also feel like I gave my clients extra quality time to spend with their families. They were always so busy and “go, go, go!” It was a kind of forced slowdown.

Jen BiddleJennifer Biddle conducted this interview in October 2020. Biddle is a science writer, Center for Health Journalism Fellow and long-standing member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.