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It was only after Tara Roberts walked out of the salon — hair trimmed with roots retouched, and on her way to get vaccinated for COVID-19 — when she realized what an extraordinary Saturday this was.

Just weeks ago, it seemed like this day would never come.

Roberts has only gone to work and come back home every single day since mid-November when provincewide lockdowns came into effect. Having a chronically ill child and as a health-care worker, she’s been getting everything delivered and self-isolates out of caution every time she’s had to make an essential trip to the grocery store.

It’s been burning her out more than ever before, she said, because she’s lost almost all human interaction or connection outside of work.

Her dance classes have been cancelled, her son’s sporting events no longer exist, and everything she does now happens on video-chats over FaceTime or Zoom calls and conferences.

"But today, not only did I start looking like myself again, I feel like myself too," she told the Free Press. "It’s just the most exhilarating feeling."

Excitement began early this week for Roberts, when she heard on Tuesday that visits to the barber, retail shopping and even some expanded household socializing could be back on the books for people living in southern Manitoba.

A quick, animated texting exchange of mostly emojis and smileys with her hairstylist later, Roberts said the anticipation gained a life of its own by Thursday when the province confirmed the newly relaxed public-health orders.

"The fact that I was not only getting a vaccine but also getting my hair done is just magical," she said. "Imagine telling that to someone a month ago."

For Sabrina Cornwell, a hairdresser who rents a chair at Hairplay Salon on Ness Avenue, it’s been hard not seeing someone she’s known for more than 16 years.

The two went to high school together and now dance at a class Roberts teaches. And every six weeks or so, Cornwell cuts and dyes Roberts’ hair — a routine that’s become so familiar, it’s now instinctive.

"More than anything else though," said Cornwell, "I’m just happy I don’t have to worry like I have been anymore, at least not for the next bit."

Cornwell said her anxiety has been through the roof — "financially, mentally, emotionally and spiritually" — since the pandemic began. "Which is actually funny," she said, "because I’ve never been an anxious person."

She described how the "cat and mouse game" of closures since COVID-19 took hold has been the most frustrating thing she’s had to deal with her whole career.

"We had at least 10 girls working at almost all times at the salon and I was always completely booked," said Cornwell. "Suddenly, my work became this precarious thing and I had to rely on government support just to get by. I never in my life thought that would happen."

First, the salon closed during the spring lockdowns of early 2020. Then, they closed their doors again in the fall after a summer of somewhat normal operations.

"With each one, we became better prepared about how to handle it and what protocols to have to make sure people were safe," said Cornwell.

That protocol is the result of a team effort at the salon that involves high-frequency cleaning every time a customer enters and leaves, with masks and shields, along with sanitizers spread throughout the Winnipeg storefront.

"But closing down for 10 weeks has been so draining for everyone," said Roberts. "And now, our protocols are so much tighter just to make sure we can do everything so that we can remain open."

During this phase of the reopening, Hairplay has shrunk its capacity to only two people at all times: one hairdresser and one client.

Ensuring customers answer a lengthy list of COVID-19 screening questions is mandated at the salon, before they’ve booked appointments and when they arrive at the door.

"It feels different — that’s for sure," said Roberts. "But I just took a Disneyland trip to the vaccine site and also managed to meet my friend while getting my hair done during the pandemic, isn’t that reason enough to feel like you’re on cloud nine?"

Twitter: @temurdur

Temur Durrani

Temur Durrani

Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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