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Coronavirus fight creates alliance between health care workers, tattoo artists

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Personal piercings and permanent ink aren't the only things coronavirus heroes and tattoo shops have in common these days.

With many body art businesses closed due to CDC social distancing and prevention guidelines in the wake of COVID-19, tattoo artists across the country have become an ally for health care workers and first-responders who are seeking necessities, like gloves and sterilizers, that they can’t find elsewhere.

Karri Henning, the owner of Cloud 9 Tattoo and Body Piercing in Birmingham, Alabama, had a background in infectious disease prevention prior to opening up her shop 14 years ago. Her shop is around the corner from UAB University Hospital, and even she was surprised when a nurse practitioner in her area reached out on social media pleading for supplies.

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That nurse works in one of the city's emergency rooms and is married to another nurse who works in a different E.R., Henning told Fox News.

"She told me that they were [both] desperate for supplies already, that they were having to reuse masks," she said.

Henning donated what she could, including the isolation gowns she typically uses for sterilizing her body-art equipment. The nurses didn't need gloves yet, they said, but Henning let them know that she had them anyway if the time comes.

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The nurse spent the entire day picking up donated supplies on the afternoon she met with Henning -- in an outdoor parking lot standing 6-feet apart.

"I didn't really think that they were going to be so short on masks and protective equipment at this point in time."

— Karri Henning, a tattoo shop owner who donated supplies to local nurses

After she discovered some extra supplies laying around, Henning planned to call the nurse if they might be of use. And she said the fact that she felt the need to do so left her unsettled.

"I didn't really think that they were going to be so short on masks and protective equipment at this point in time," Henning said.

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Henning has since spent her time trying to spread the word to other shops, tattoo and otherwise, and not just in Birmingham but around the country. It seems to be catching on.

Police in Whiteland, Indiana, took to Facebook to give a “Big shout out to Angels and Demons Tattoo for dropping off a case of gloves for our officers!”

Mel Newman, shop manager for The Mighty Horseman Tattoo Co. in Westchester County, New York, had been working from home -- without a paycheck, despite offers from the shop owner -- when she received a voicemail from a local EMT paramedic in desperate need for supplies.

"He was... trying to call around to tattoo shops to see if we could donate gloves or masks because they are so . . . and so dangerously low and it's not even as bad as it's going to get," Newman said.

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She donated hundreds of pairs of gloves from her shop as quickly as she could. She wished they had more to spare, she explained, but business had been slow even before the shop had closed.

The paramedic had other problems, she added.

"We're the only shop out of the five that he called that answered the phone because I had turned on the call forwarding," Newman said.

All of the other shops in the area had closed, after seeing reduced foot-traffic dissipate into zero traffic. And there are concerns that their closure, for the foreseeable future, is only the beginning.

“The problem isn't just the insecurity of not working now,” Newman lamented, “but maybe not being able to work even when this is over.”

Some tattoo and piercing businesses have created e-commerce websites to sell their body jewelry while they’re unable to make in-person appointments, something Henning said she is researching. Others are using gift cards, like many shuttered restaurants, to stay afloat while effectively shut down.

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Other shops, like Newman’s, don’t have any alternate income streams to rely on. That’s why she said she’s hoping that people will “remember, when this all blows over, that the places you know -- you need to support them because it’s tough right now.”