MANILA -- The sight of full-body personal protective gear is all-too-common in the government-run Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila in its fight against COVID-19.
But not-so-usual are the scissors, combs, and razors wielded by the five people who wore those suits at the hospital's out-patient building on Wednesday.
They are barbers and stylists from various areas in Metro Manila, all there for one mission -- saving the looks of those who are busy saving lives.
Around 55 doctors, nurses, and other frontliners working at PGH got their hair cut by them that day, for free.
The PPEs were a safety precaution -- along with measures like disinfecting the hair cutting tools after each hair cut and throwing away gloves and robes after one use.
The team that brought in the barbers dubbed it "ResCute Operation" -- a portmanteau on the words rescue and cute.
It's a playful name for a serious effort to address a growing need nearly a month and a half since the enhanced community quarantine closed down businesses like salons.
And it's not just for frontliners looking for a haircut, but also for the haircutters who lost their income with the lockdown.
MORE THAN GOOD LOOKS
The problem of uncut hair goes beyond looking good, especially for medical frontliners, said Acee Vitangcol, 31, one of the young professionals who put up "ResCute Operation."
He said he learned of the frontliners' hair struggles after a friend asked him for contacts of stylists and barbers who could come to their hospital.
"Karamihan sa kanila naaalibadbaran na sa kanilang long hair, lalo na ang mga kalalakihang hindi ganoong sanay sa mahabang buhok.
"Mas lalong isyu ito sa mga babae sapagkat ang masyadong mahabang buhok diumano ay hindi nagkakasya sa PPEs o sa mga hair caps," Vitangcol said.
(Many of them feel irritated by their long hair, especially men who are not used to it. It's a bigger issue for the women. If their hair is too long, they said they could not fit them into their PPE suits or hair caps.)
Dr. Kenneth Gacula, 28, a resident at the Department of Medicine last had a haircut at the end of February. After two months he was left with long bangs which he called his "Nobita look," after the character in the "Doraemon" anime series.
"I tend to unconsciously brush it with my hands, which is a thing we want to avoid," he said, referring to the reminder not to touch one's face to avoid COVID-19 infection.
Gacula added his colleagues have to deal daily with the additional heat inside their full-body suits from having a bigger volume of hair.
Vitangcol said their group realized the solution went beyond just referring barbers and stylists to hospitals. They pooled together some contacts and made it a coordinated initiative where the haircutters would be fetched and brought to the hospital for a 6-hour session.
With the help of NGO People for Accountable Governance and Sustainable Action or PAGASA, they also decided to make the service free for the frontliners.
Donations pay for "ResCute Operation" and ensure the haircutters, like Dr. Gacula's stylist, Dhan Cabrera, still get paid.
Cabrera, 28, was part of a home service hairstyling service available through app booking.
With the quarantine, he could only cut hair for residents of his building in Makati City since they were not allowed to go out.
"Nung nalaman ko itong project na ito, 'di ako nagdalawang isip na sumali dahil malaking suporta rin sa akin," he said.
(When I learned of this project, I did not think twice of joining since this is a big support for me.)
The operation pays a premium on top of the barbers' and stylists' declared rates, Vitangcol said.
The frontliners may also opt to leave tips through a designated collector.
For Vitangcol, "ResCute Operation" is meeting two needs in one effort.
Other hospitals both in and out of Metro Manila have already contacted the team to set their own sessions.
This woul.d be manned by different sets of barbers and stylists.
But with more people at PGH still needing a trim, Cabrera and his 4 colleagues would be deployed at another session as a regular gig.
The team is also looking for more barbers to become part of their pool.
While a lifeline of sorts, the "ResCute Operation" is also a much-awaited convenience for frontliners with busy, extended schedules.
"Thank you so much for this opportunity," said another resident, Dr. Kaiser Cruz. "Sobrang hirap talaga humanap ng pagupitan (It's really difficult to find a barber shop)."
Replied Nikko Bruel, another stylist: "Sana kahit papaano nakatulong kami sa paggupit at marami pa kaming magupitan."
(I hope we have somehow helped them through our service, and we hope more could get their haircut.)
It maybe a simple haircut. But for hospital frontliners, it is one less thing to worry about as they put their lives on the line for others.
For inquiries and donations, contact the "ResCute Operation" team here.