Tattoo artist Chris Dingwell of Squirrel Cage Studio starts a mermaid project on Will Hallett's arm in Portland in May 2016.

Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.

As residents, constituents and business owners in the state of Maine, we have followed Gov. Janet Mills’ actions closely as she has managed the very difficult task of keeping Mainers safe during the pandemic, while managing everyone’s economic welfare. We understand there are no easy answers. However, we feel that tattoo artists and those of us who run tattoo and piercing establishments here in Maine have been overlooked — or at least not seen in a clear light.

Especially, we were disappointed not to be included in the so-called Stage 1 of the state’s reopening, alongside businesses like those who provide haircuts and pet grooming, which could open Friday.

We hope that the Mills administration will take a second look at our industry and see that we are already providing some of the safest environments in which to do business here in Maine.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

As licensed tattooers, we are already required by the state (before any consideration of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus) to use methods that protect both us as artists and the public from transmission of dangerous blood-borne pathogens, such as hepatitis and HIV. In order to be licensed to provide even one tattoo or piercing, we must be certified in blood-borne pathogen control and universal sanitary procedures. These procedures, which have been standard in our industry for over a decade, already provide far more safety for ourselves and our clients than most other industries do.

We already disinfect our tools and stations with hospital-grade cleaners that will kill even the most stubborn blood-borne pathogens — and any virus that might come into their path. As we look to a COVID-19 future, we will continue this practice as a matter of course, and expand on these measures even further.

Quite simply, we are already taking safety precautions that other businesses now being allowed to open haven’t even contemplated.

We are prepared and motivated — even eager — to adopt any new practices the state may be encouraging in order to make our process even more safe in light of the new pandemic we are facing as a society. We are ready to begin using surgical or N95 masks and provide them for clients. We can easily adopt a policy of working by appointment only to avoid any unnecessary bodies in our businesses and not allowing any visitors or guests to accompany our clients. Consultations and any other work can be done remotely or online without any direct human contact.

Why has the state authorized barber shops and hair salons to open for business at a much earlier date than the tattoo industry, even though we’ve been taking far more extensive precautions for personal and community safety than these industries have for many, many years? We share the same personal space with clients as they do. And no tattoo or piercing business is likely to have the same amount of foot traffic as a barbershop, certainly. We encounter far fewer clients on a daily basis than these other service providers do.

As a group, the Maine Association for Safe Tattooing has nearly 50 members, representing just about every corner of Maine. We are all committed to work together to take whatever steps necessary to improve our daily practices and precautions for everyone’s safety, and we are committed to work as a united front.

Provide us the new standards we need to follow. They will be adopted. To leave us out in the cold simply because we don’t have as large a footprint, or as loud a voice, is simply unfair. We represent hundreds of jobs and livelihoods across the state. We’re happy to hear there is an appeals process that allows businesses to provide a plan for safe reopening and have their plan approved. We hope that we can reopen this entire category of businesses, which has already made safety and sanitation part and parcel of their operations.

That’s all we’re asking.

Mark Richards II is the owner of Broken Crow Collective in Portland. Chris Dingwell is the owner of Squirrel Cage Studio in Portland. Chad Chase is the owner of Venom Ink in Sanford. They are members of the Maine Association for Safe Tattooing board of directors.