Cal Cates

"As a massage therapist in the middle of a global pandemic, I'd like to ask you to stay home—no matter what the governor says."
Cal Closeup

Cal Cates is a massage therapist and executive director of  Healwell in Arlington. Photo by Judy G. Rolfe.

If you get massages, thank you. You have helped to make my life and work deeply meaningful.

As a massage therapist in the middle of a global pandemic, I’d like to ask you to stay home—no matter what the governor says.

Massage therapy cannot happen safely at this point in the Covid-19 trajectory. No amount of PPE, disinfection, temperature-taking or screening can make it safe.

The fact is, it’s our job to touch you—a lot.

Believe me, we want so much to touch, to reestablish connection. We are part of the deep global longing to return to normal. And yet, if we do it too fast, we will fail—not because we don’t care, but because good intentions and earnest disinfection will not make Covid-19 less contagious, especially during what is one of the most physically intimate health care interventions: massage therapy.

You can wear a mask. Your therapist can wear a mask. The massage table, doorknobs and waiting-room furniture can be bathed in a bleach solution. It won’t stop the transmission likely to happen when two people are in the same spit-space for 30 to 60 minutes. When you enter that room, you are sharing that space with every client who has received a massage that day, and possibly longer.

Some franchises will offer staggered appointments and engineer a truly genius system in which you wait in your car until the previous client leaves. They will present you with a little flier detailing their painstaking efforts to disinfect in a manner that would make the CDC blush with pride.

None of this matters. There is no such thing as a safe one-on-one interaction.

Massage therapists are deeply divided on this issue. We want to return to work and put our loving, skilled hands on your touch-hungry backs, necks and feet. We don’t want to believe that our work could be a matter of life or death.

You tell us we are “life savers” and that you “can’t live without us.” We’ve built our relationships and our work on these stories that, while philosophically true, are scientifically specious.

When we stopped touching you in March, we didn’t know much about Covid-19. We know more today about the mercurial, deadly nature of this virus, and still are no closer to controlling it.

This should give us all pause.

There’s no such thing as “sorta” safe. Before you make that massage appointment, ask yourself, “Is this worth dying for?”

For more information about Covid-19 and massage, visit

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Categories: Covid Chronicles