SSMT and COVID-19
May 17, 2021 update: Since reopening in September, more than 9 months ago, no one – no student, instructor, administrator, clinic client, or visitor – has contracted COVID-19 on the SSMT campus. We have quarantined several classes for 14 days after someone in the classroom contracted COVID-19 outside school, but none of the quarantined students or instructors developed COVID-19.
Since reopening, our building has seen more than 60,000 person-hours indoors. That we have had students (rarely – just four times) practice massage for five hours in class with a partner at the peak of pre-symptomatic COVID-19, without contracting the disease from that partner, tells us out policies work.
This has been quite a year for everyone on the planet. For anyone like me, who has built a life – and a living – out of close human interaction, it has been a time for deep reflection.
Close contact with people increases the risk of infection from COVID-19. That risk increases further when contact is closer than 6 feet, and even further when it occurs indoors for durations longer than 10 or 15 minutes.
It is impossible to give or receive massage from 6 feet away, in 15 minutes, or limit classes to such a short duration.
Fortunately, we know more about how to minimize risk, even when meeting indoors for hours, than we did last spring.
SSMT reopened for live classes September 8, having held only theory classes online since March. We used the time live classes were paused to follow closely what scientists were learning about COVID-19, and how to minimize its chance of spread. We watched as other massage therapy schools around the country resumed live classes over the summer, and were pleased to note that – with a few precautions – spread in the classroom seems rare.
While we have watched other schools, open during the summer 2020 surge, send students home for quarantine because a student tested positive, we did not see a single case where a positive student spread the virus to others in the school. All the schools we’ve been in touch with require masks, some have air purification, but none have all the safety measures SSMT has adopted.
While there is no guarantee that any close human interaction is safe from spreading COVID-19, SSMT has adopted every measure that has worked in other schools, and other settings. Each measure is described in detail below the list. A few of the procedures below have been edited to update the most recent changes we’ve made to our policies.
- Ventilation – Air exchanged with the outside environment at least once every 45 minutes
- HEPA filtration – Air filtered through HEPA filters about every 8 minutes
- UV-C and Ionizers – HVAC system fitted with the only air purifier approved by NASA
- Face Masks – Except those that provide a CDC vaccination card, everyone in the building is masked always.
- Disinfection – SSMT disinfects all surfaces twice each day with the most non-toxic disinfectant on the FDA’s approved list.
- Physical Distancing – Except for trading partners and practical instructors, everyone maintains at least six feet of distance – and often much more
- Online Instruction – Some science and theory classes are held online
- Limited Class Size – to accommodate distancing, class size is limited
Ventilation – There is a vent in the exterior wall allowing outside air into the HVAC system, so fresh exterior air is cooled and pumped into the classrooms and offices. The four classrooms have exhaust fans that draw air up and out of the room through the roof. The entire volume of air in the classrooms is exchanged every 45 minutes. These rooms are also used as student clinic rooms.
HEPA filtration – There are two HEPA filtration units in each classroom, and similar units in the offices, library, bathrooms, and reception area. These turn over the entire volume of air in the classrooms over seven times each hour, passing it through what is essentially an N95 mask for indoor air.
UV-C and Ionizers – SSMT has installed Aerus Air Scrubber units in each of the four HVAC units. These have the same technology used on the space shuttle, and function whenever the unit is cooling (or heating). They pass the air through UV-C light, and produce hydroxyl ions, peroxides, and oxygen anions that are safe for humans, but attach to pathogens, pulling them out of the air, and killing them. SSMT installed the model without ozone, since ozone may have negative effects on health. We don’t expect these ionizers have nearly the effect that HEPA filters do, but every bit helps.
Face Masks – Since March 2020, there has been much research on mask effectiveness, and we have followed it closely. In March it was thought that cloth masks might protect others a small amount, but probably not the wearer. It is now clear that well-made, well-fitted masks significantly, though not perfectly, protect both the wearer and others. Students, instructors, administration, staff, and all visitors to SSMT wear face masks, with a nose-wire, that covers the nose and mouth, and fits without gaps all around.
Not all masks are created equal. Numerous studies have confirmed that bandanas and handkerchiefs do not significantly filter droplets. A study at Duke University demonstrated that polyester/spandex gaiters break large droplets into smaller ones, causing them to remain in the air and be inhaled deeper into the respiratory tract. These gaiters are actually more dangerous to both the wearer and others than no mask at all. SSMT provides a list of comfortable, realtively effective cloth masks, and provides ASTM rated surgical masks (that filter particles as small as .1 micron) for anyone who needs one.
Disinfection – SSMT disinfects all surfaces twice each day with Oxivir, a hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectant. It is a potent virucide, non-toxic to humans. (We do this mostly for general hygiene; scientists no longer think COVID-19 is spread from surfaces).
Physical Distancing – Everyone in the building maintains at least six feet of distance – and often much more, except when doing massage. Partners practicing massage are more than six feet from others at the next table.
Online Instruction – Now that we have resumed live classes on campus, most classes are held live on campus. Students will continue to attend some science and theory classes online. The online classes are streamed live, and include opportunities for participation. SSMT has created dynamic and effective visual presentations to anchor lectures and discussions. Students’ performance and enjoyment of online classes has generally been similar to what occurs in live classes.
Limited Class Size – To accommodate distancing, class size has been limited, depending on the classroom. Update June 19, 2021: We have started eleven classes since the pandemic began, including groups that started online in the spring and summer of 2020. Nine of the eleven classes have had wait lists. People exploring the possibility of attending SSMT are encouraged to begin the process early.
SSMT enthusiastically encourages all students, graduates, staff, and all other eligible Florida citizens to register to vote by clicking here.
Primary elections for the Democratic and Republican Primaries will be held in March; you have to be registered to vote. Registering is really easy. Click here to register, print a paper registration form, or pick one up at the SSMT Front Desk or Admissions Office. We will gladly stamp and mail your completed form for you if you’d like!
Update Monday 9/2/19 11 AM
SSMT will be open all week.
There is no longer any risk of hurricane force winds on the gulf coast of Florida. There is a slight chance of tropical storm force winds (less than 20% from Venice to Bradenton); if that materializes, we will revisit this.
Update Saturday 8/31/19 8 AM
The forecast now likely spares Sarasota and Manattee Counties. At this point we are planning to be open on Tuesday, but this is still subject to change as the forecast becomes clearer.
It looks like southwest Florida will likely experience the effects of Hurricane Dorian. If we close the school, this post will be updated to reflect that. School closings will be announced on the school’s voice mail and the class facebook pages, in addition to this post.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) currently predicts the storm to pass north of us. The NHC points out that their forecast this far out (over five days for Sarasota) has an average error of about 200 miles, which means the storm might not affect us, or the eye might cross the state, pass right over us, and head into the Gulf.
We could be experiencing tropical storm force winds, and heavy rain, for 3 full days, beginning Sunday.
The greatest likelihood at this point is that we will experience tropical storm force winds while a major hurricane batters the east coast. The current prediction is for the worst damage to be on the east coast, and north of us.
Even though we are likely to be spared the worst of it, there is a very good chance (the NHC currently has it at 65%) that we will experience at least tropical storm force winds and a lot of rain. The ground is already soggy, and it won’t take much to uproot trees, and down power lines. We could experience heavy flooding and loss of power.
We urge everyone to prepare for for a significant storm. If your pet is not current with vaccinations, it may not be taken at a shelter, so get your pet vaccinated before the weekend.
With PTSD Awareness Day coming up June 27th, this seems like a good time to talk about trauma and massage therapy.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is increasingly being viewed as one end of the trauma spectrum, and for many people dealing with the effects of trauma, massage therapy can be part of their healing.
PTSD can affect people exposed, either personally or as a witness, to an event involving violence, serious injury, death, or the threat of death. Intense perception of threat triggers the “fight, flight, or freeze” response, leading to imbalances in neurotransmitters and hormones, in turn leading to emotional symptoms that can be debilitating. There can also be physical symptoms such as chronic tension and pain.
Many theorists consider the physical and emotional symptoms to be related. Peter Levine’s groundbreaking book on trauma “Waking the Tiger” and the more recent “Forward Facing Trauma Therapy” by Eric Gentry approach the treatment of trauma spectrum disorders, including PTSD, by focusing on physical tension held in the body. Both are excellent reads for laypeople, written by professionals.
Since muscular tension is tied to the physical and emotional pain of trauma disorders, massage therapy might be an effective component of treatment. One important effect of massage therapy is stress reduction; massage decreases the fight, flight, or freeze response, decreasing the levels of the neurochemicals involved in that response. It also decreases muscle tension and pain.
A pilot study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (a division of the National Institutes of Health) on National Guard veteran patients resulted in a significant reduction in pain, tension, irritability, anxiety and depression when patients received even just one 20-minute weekly massage. These reductions were felt immediately after massage and long-term analysis suggested decreased baseline levels of tension and irritability.
According to the same study, perceived stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care is still a hurdle for many PTSD sufferers. Massage therapy can also carry less of that stigma for patients.
Massage therapy triggers the body’s relaxation response in the brain, helps break the “fight or flight” cycle, can improve sleep function and circulation, and fights physical pain resulting from chronic tension or the traumatic injury itself.
In the spirit of Autism Awareness Month, here are some of the research findings (accumulated by Tina Allen, at the Liddle Kidz Foundation®) on massage therapy and autism.
Research indicates that massage therapy may promote more on-task and social relatedness behavior during play among children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Improvements in this area can have a profound effect on quality of life.
There is evidence that children with ASD show less erratic behavior, are more attentive, and demonstrate reduced touch aversion and withdrawal after receiving massage therapy. Over time, touch therapy also helps the child to become more accustomed to tactile stimulation and aides in body awareness. Often by incorporating massage therapy into daily routines, children with Autism experience decreased issues with sleeping.
And just as massage therapy can provide relaxation, stress reduction and calm muscle spasms in the general population, there is evidence that it can do the same in children with autism and ASD.
Happy National Voter Registration Day! SSMT enthusiastically encourages all students, graduates, staff, and all other eligible Florida citizens to register to vote by clicking here.
If you prefer to complete a paper registration form you can print one here, or pick one up at the SSMT Front Desk or Admissions Office. We will gladly stamp and mail your completed form for you if you’d like.
The deadline to register is October 9 for voting in the 2018 General Election on November 6. Register now!
The announcement of the death of Dr. Leon Chaitow is news of the passing of a giant. The British Osteopath was a leading voice in manual therapy for decades. He was the first osteopath appointed by the British government to a medical practice and he was the Editor-in-Chief of our profession’s only peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. He wrote more than 70 brilliant books and spoke around the world at schools and conferences of osteopathy, chiropractic, physical therapy, and massage therapy.
While SSMT has hosted some top names in our continuing education program, I am sorry to say we never brought Dr. Chaitow to Sarasota. I did see him speak in 2007 at the first Fascia Research Congress, which he helped organize, bringing the world’s top fascial scientists to Harvard Medical School to present their research to bodyworkers. He was an inspiring, eloquent, educated voice for manipulative medicine.
SSMT instructor and continuing education provider Chris Dux was fortunate to study Muscle Energy Techniques with Dr. Chaitow. While I never completed any formal training with him, I feel like I know and learned much from Dr. Chaitow through his writings and that brief moment in Boston sitting in an auditorium listening to him speak. I wonder how many others who never met him also credit him as one of their teachers. Thank you Dr. Chaitow, for a life of tremendous contribution.
“Can you send us more graduates?”
This is a constant refrain coming from employers, and happily has been for many years. Large spas and all of the massage therapy franchises have not been able to find enough qualified massage therapists to meet the increasing demand. It has even been described as a “talent war” in the press. But it goes so much deeper than this.
Demand for Licensed Massage Therapists (LMT’s) is projected to continue to outpace supply for the foreseeable future, and the US Department of Labor and Statistics projects continued rapid job growth. In Florida, the need for massage therapists is projected to increase by 29 percent through 2024. The job placement website Indeed.com reports that massage therapist jobs often go unfilled for more than 30 days. This shortage has contributed to an increase in approximately 20% in average entry-level pay for an LMT, from about $33,000 in 2013 to nearly $40,000 today.
Massage Envy-Sarasota employs 120 LMT’s between their 3 locations, and there has not been a moment in the past three years when they were not actively looking to fill open positions. Elements, Massage Heights, and Hand & Stone are all hiring right now. Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, Wellness Centers, 5 Star Hotels, Day Spas, and many small businesses are all hiring…right now.
More than 17 million Americans received massage last year for relaxation or stress reduction; more than 26 million Americans received massage for medical or health reasons. 89% of Americans agree that massage can be effective at reducing pain, and research is beginning to show that massage therapy is not only effective treatment for pain; it may compare favorably to other medical interventions for pain. This is really big news, given the damage wreaked by the opioid crisis. (We will explore the research on massage therapy and pain in a future post.)
A population more educated about massage therapy, a crisis of pain, an increasing need to disconnect and recover from a society that is moving at warp speeds, and an aging population, have all combined to create a demand for massage therapy that is outpacing the supply.
For the right person, massage therapy can be an incredibly fulfilling career. In another post we will examine what makes a great fit.
“Can you send us more graduates?”
We’d love to!
Update Saturday September 9, 10:15 AM
It looks like we are likely to end up in the worst-case scenario, or close to it. If you have a place to go, there is still time to leave. If you are staying, and the forecast continues to be this bad by this evening, go to a shelter. Please be safe SSMT community! We love you!
The school will be closed Monday, and may be closed for longer. We will continue to post updates here.
Original Post – Sept. 6 2:43 PM
SSMT will be closed Friday and Saturday, September 8th & 9th. Though the storm is still more than 5 days out, everyone should make preparations in case it’s needed.
The school and clinic will remain open through Thursday evening.
At this point there is better than a 50% chance that we will experience no severe weather at all. There is a 15% chance that we will experience hurricane force winds, and a small – but not insignificant – chance that we experience a direct hit from a major hurricane. We encourage the entire SSMT community to make preparations to be out of harms way in the event that becomes necessary over the weekend.
This post will be updated throughout the weekend. At this point the plan is to have class Monday, but students can check this post for updates as conditions change.