CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Valerie Hernandez is used to wearing masks.
The newest member of the Hello Beautiful Salon & Spa team moved to Corpus Christi a year ago with her husband and their 12- and 13-year-old children from Ohio, where she had been an established aesthetician.
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But prior to moving into cosmetology, she worked in the medical field.
When the family moved to Corpus Christi, she went back to her health-care roots until she could re-establish herself in a salon. When she made her move to Hello Beautiful in June, she left behind a steady paycheck and benefits.
"In the medical field, I didn't have to worry about anything (financially)," she said. "(But) you had to go to work every day."
And working in a place in which COVID-19 testing was done had its own challenges, including 12-hour shifts, and the constant worry about whether she would take the virus home with her.
"My husband I had a routine where I would call and say 'Set the laundry room up,' and he would, and then they'd go (outside)," Hernandez said. "Then I'd get home, strip down, put a towel on, hop in the shower, put gloves on and throw (the dirty) clothes in the laundry."
In the salon, the risk always exists that a client could get her sick, but she said the risk is considerably less than at her previous job.
"Here I know I'm safer because I'm taking the responsibility," she said. "There's no taking chances."
The nature of her work requires her to be in even closer contact than Schroeter, Van Zandt and the others with clients. Hernandez performs services such as facial treatments, waxing, eyelash extensions and lash and brow tints.
Many of those services require her client to remove their mask.
"I've always worn a mask," she said. "I'm in your face."
For eye treatments, clients are required to wear a mask. But for face services, the mask comes off.
Hernandez, like the salon's other partners, is certified to use medical-grade Barbicide to disinfect, and keeps Lysol and hand sanitizer on-hand to ensure a healthy space.
But, also like her partners, Hernandez is far from seeing a return on her investment in safety -- and her chosen career.
"I still have to pay without money coming in," she said. "It's tough to get people to book in."
Hernandez said nothing seemed to fall into place when Nueces county saw a slowdown in COVID-19 cases several months ago.
"You put out all this money, hoping to get a return on it," she said.
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The financial ramifications were also a concern Schroeter faced during the same time period.
"There was a time when I was having to weigh that 'Do I wait until things are back to normal and just save my money?'" she said. "Or do I go ahead and make that investment and make it safe and go back to work anyways?"
But Schroeter was encouraged by the number of people reaching out for her services while she was closed.
During the first wave of the pandemic, Schroeter said clients -- established and new -- reached out to she and her partners to ask about the possibility of one-on-one services.
"I had people asking . . . 'Can you come to my house? Are you open yet?' " she said. "But there was just no way to make it safe. We were still learning, still having to research, conferring with other massage therapists across the state and across the country."
The current increase in local novel coronavirus numbers has made it difficult for Hernandez to establish her clientele Downtown.
Her partners help as much as they can, offering their clients discounts for booking with Hernandez.
"I went from making more than my husband to starting completely from scratch," she said.
Still, she said, the regrets she has aren't enough to take her back to health care, yet.
"When I went back to pick up my last (pay)check, they asked if I needed to come back," she said. "I told them 'not yet.' I love doing this kind of stuff. I know it'll pick back up."
Schroeter said she doesn't regret her decision to invest in her business, even though times are hard for her, as well, right now.
"I'm happy I did it," she said. "I'm happy I decided to go back to work. Even with the numbers rising, I really, truly believe in the power of massage for physical health, and for mental and emotional health."