MECHANICSVILLE,  Md. – The St. Mary’s County Health Department sent out a notice Friday about possible COVID exposure Expressions of Beauty Hair Salon in Mechanicsville. But salon owner Ashley Ednie says there’s so much more to the story.

This small business owner feels she’s being treated unfairly and that The St. Mary’s County Department of Health has different standards for big stores like Wawa and Walmart. But the health department has a different story.

Ednie opened her salon 13 years ago when she was just 22.  Her salon remained open until the COVID lockdown forced her to shut her doors for 10 weeks this spring.
Ashley has a medical condition she says prevents her from wearing a mask or a face shield. Before reopening her doors in May, she said she made sure to contact the health department to make sure she was in compliance with face covering laws. Ednie says she was told that she must have a doctor’s note on her at all times verifying the medical condition.

Medically Unable To Wear Masks

She says all of the other stylists at her establishment wear masks. Ednie said her own experience of not being able to wear a mask inspired her to offer salon services to patrons who are also medically unable to wear a mask. “I have welcomed clients with doctor’s notes into the business.  It’s not a daily thing.”

However, she said there were multiple unmasked clients, all with doctor’s notes, in her salon the last time the St. Mary’s Health Department came to inspect on September 18. Ednie said the experience was different from previous positive interactions with the agency. “They are typically kind and communicate with me. The lady who came in, asked for me and she put her hand towards me and yelled, ‘distance yourself!’  She didn’t walk more than three feet into my establishment and she noted there were people with no masks.”

Ednie said the inspector did not check the doctor’s notes for the clients. She also said that all other stylists and clients were masked. “They just took what they saw and they ran with it and closed me for no compliance.”

Multiple Complaints About Masks

The St. Mary’s County Health Department tells a different story. “The salon has had multiple complaint driven inspections, documenting lack of mask use (by all staff members), not requiring customers to wear masks, no signage on entrances stating mask requirement, and lack of spacing between customers – all things required per state law in the Governor’s Orders.”

The agency said they issued an order for immediate compliance and gave the salon the chance to make things right.  “Yet recent complaints and consequent inspections indicate that the business was not in compliance with the law at the time of inspection.”

Lack of Information

Ednie said she was cited on Friday, and on Saturday, police came to shut her down.  When she reached out to the St. Mary’s County Health Department, Ednie said she had a hard time speaking to anyone about the issue. “I was shuffled around in voicemail. “On Monday, I got a call asking for information on two specific dates. I told them I wanted to get an attorney’s advice and they said, ‘okay’.”

She also reached out to Maryland State Delegate Matt Morgan. “I can’t say enough about him. He has been very helpful.” Morgan managed to get in touch with the health department and informed her there had been a possible COVID exposure at the salon. Ednie said it was Morgan and not the health department that informed her of the issue.

She says the health department explained that if someone was in the establishment and tested positive for COVID later, it’s a possible exposure. They wanted a list of clients. Ednie wanted to reach out in person to her clients and get their permission to share their numbers with the health department. “I went down a list of twenty-something people. Most were good with it. One person wanted to call the health department themselves.”

Ednie said the health department was unhappy with her choice. “They said they would not speak to me about reopening until I complied.”

First Business Closure

The health department admits the case was unusual. “This is the first closure order we have issued to a business in St. Mary’s County despite the several hundred inspections we have conducted.

Most business owners in St. Mary’s have complied with state law in order to help our community control the spread of infection and minimize potential disease impact on business operations. Our focus as an agency has very much been on education, providing guidance and allowing businesses the benefit of time for corrective action.”

Public Notice

The potential exposure happened on September 11, so the two-week quarantine period for the exposure would have been up on Friday, September 25. However, one of her employees returned an asymptomatic positive on a rapid test.  The employee is getting a more accurate PCR test to confirm.

Due to that positive test, the St. Mary’s County Health Department wanted a list of clients to conduct more contact tracing. That’s when Ednie said she hit another roadblock.

Her salon is closed. “I didn’t have remote access at home and I asked them to wait a day for me to go to salon.” She said she was busy virtually schooling her children and had no one to look after them at the moment.  “They said I had to 10 am in the morning or they would go public.  I said, ‘Is that a threat?’ Let’s talk about human decency. I said, ‘Maybe it is best we go public.’”

The health department agreed, “The public notice of exposure risk was issued after requests for information relating to an open public health investigation were denied by the business.”

Small Business Suffers

Ednie said she feels as if she and other small businesses are treated unfairly. “They don’t contact trace big places that can’t contact trace.  It’s the little guys they threaten.  I did everything they asked. I think they are just digging and digging to find things. You’re attacking me and blasting me as if I’m a horrible individual because you can contact trace in my small business but you aren’t blasting the Wawa and the Walmart.  I voluntarily gave them information to contact tracing.  Then I was threatened.”

She also thinks she is being targeted because she doesn’t wear a mask. “I’ve gotten clients from far away with legal documentation that they have a medical condition.  They have told me that even if I have a note, I’m still possibly spreading the virus.  I did what they said in getting the note.  They made the rules. The governor made the rules.”

She said things could have gone very differently had the health department explained the situation to her in the first place. “We are all in this together. None of us want any virus. None of us want sickness. We should all be a team.”  Ednie hopes to reopen her salon at the beginning of October.

The St. Mary’s County Health Department said that anyone who visited Expression of Beauty Hair salon on September 12,16, 17, or 18 between the hours of 9am and 7pm could be at risk for COVID-19.

They advised anyone affected to self-monitor for symptoms, get a COVID test, and self-quarantine from others for 14 days even if their test comes back negative.