I Got A Post-Quarantine Tattoo — Here’s Everything You Need To Know

Photographed by Sophie Hur.
I got my first taste of ink, a micro-sized heart on my finger, on a whim at a beauty event in 2018. It was the first of many other tattoos I've gotten since, including a tiny moon on my left ankle, and a fine-lined floral piece placed right on the side of my hip.
At first, I loved my minimalist art — but, after just a year, the floral design began to smudge into an unidentifiable blob. I consulted numerous artists, who agreed that my hip art shouldn't be so distorted and advised me to cover it up. For months I debated: to cover or not to cover? Would it hurt? What would I get? Maybe it wouldn't be so bad living the rest of my life with a half-blob, half-rose piece on my hip? After all, it'd only be on display in a bikini a few times a year.
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My urge for new ink grew more profound as I sat home for months in quarantine. My hesitation turned to curiosity about all the possible things I could permanently etch over my once-dainty flower tat, and whether it would actually be safe to get it done now that I was ready. Shops across the country were closed for months due to COVID-19, and many have still yet to bounce back from the pandemic's impact. When New York City entered Phase 4 of its reopening plan in late July, tattoo parlors were permitted to open their doors for business — with some changes.
I paid close attention to reopening statuses and rules, and once I was able to, I made an appointment at Brooklyn's Magic Cobra Studio to cover up my hip tattoo. Like anyone preparing to have a thin needle repeatedly stuck into their skin for an hour, I was nervous leading up to my appointment. Social-distancing rules already eliminated the possibility of bringing someone with me to distract me from the pain that would commence, so I was on my own. Unsure of what would happen, I bit the bullet anyway. Here's everything you need to know before making that long-awaited tattoo appointment.

Walk-ins and waiting areas are a thing of the past.

Before the pandemic, you could almost always walk into a New York City tattoo shop to get work done, make an appointment, or talk to an artist. Now? Not so much. Prior to my appointment at Magic Cobra, all correspondence with artist Tessa Benson-Xu was done via email rather than an in-person consult. I shared photos of my existing art and we discussed the inspiration for a cover-up leading up to my reservation. On the day of my appointment, I was instructed to arrive no more than ten minutes before my scheduled time. Previously, early-comers could occupy waiting areas or linger outside before their appointment. Magic Cobra still had couches in their waiting area, but they were empty upon my arrival.
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Before I could even fiddle with the locked parlor door, a team member met me outside to brief me on what to expect. Outside, taped to the window, was a Q.R. code sheet that I was instructed to scan using my cellphone camera. The code immediately delivered all necessary paperwork, including a COVID-19 questionnaire, to my phone. I was able to fill in all information and upload a photo of my I.D. without exchanging physical paper with the staff. Then, I was told that my temperature would be taken using a no-contact thermometer once I got inside, and that hand sanitizer would be mandatory upon entry. The staff member warned that if my temperature was high, I would have to reschedule my service. I entered, took my temperature, then sat on the couch to fill in the digital forms.

Capacity has changed and masks are mandatory.

There were five people present in the shop during my appointment: two artists, their clients, and a receptionist. There was considerable distance — well over six feet — between me and the other client, and a foldable room divider was also placed around Benson-Xu's station for my privacy. Because it's virtually impossible to maintain social distance from an artist poking at your skin, masks were mandatory and kept on for the duration of my appointment. My face cover did actually come in handy to conceal the contorted facial expressions I made to hide the pain of getting a new tattoo. Benson-Xu kept her mask on the entire time and did a great job of making conversation while maintaining professionalism, which made me feel like I was in good hands.
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Cleanliness is even more important than before.

Before new COVID-19 guidelines, tattoo artists should have already been practicing safe hygiene, considering the risk of allergic reactions, skin infections, and bloodborne diseases. For that reason, Benson-Xu says that adjusting to safety precautions came naturally. "You should already treat any tattoo and client with care and cleanliness," she says. "It's critical to ensure the safety of yourself and your clients. 
During the pandemic, that should be no different. My artist kept her face covered at all times, changed gloves between breaks, and used sterile, individually-packed needles. Not once did I feel like my safety was compromised for the sake of my tattoo.
While many artists' livelihood got hit hard by safety restrictions put in place by the pandemic, if the previous and current experiences I've had are any indication, it's that the professional industry is fully equipped to bounce back. The pain of going over an old tat with a new one was enough to satisfy my quarantine tattoo urge for now, but when that inevitable itching to get back under the needle returns, I'll be confident knowing that my safety's top of mind.
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