A New York barber who defied stay-at-home orders and continued to “illicitly” cut hair has tested positive for coronavirus, county officials said in a public health notice this week. Ulster County officials are now recommending anyone who received a haircut from the barber in the past three weeks should seek a coronavirus test.
Under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “New York Pause” policy, barbershops, beauty salons, nail salons and other personal hygiene services have been ordered closed to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
In the notice, Ulster County Health Commissioner Dr. Carol Smith did not identify the barber by name, but said the shop was located on Broadway in Kingston, New York.
“We are taking extraordinary measures to try and minimize the spread of this dangerous disease,” Smith said in the notice. “Learning that a barbershop has been operating illicitly for weeks with a COVID-19 positive employee is extraordinarily disheartening.”
“As much as we would all like to go out and get a professional haircut, this kind of direct contact has the potential to dramatically spread this virus throughout our community and beyond,” she continued.
Smith urged anyone who received a haircut from a Kingston barber in the last few weeks to immediately contact their doctor or call the Ulster County COVID hotline at (845) 443-8888 to get tested for coronavirus.
The notice says there have been 1,533 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 62 deaths in Ulster County, which is located about 100 miles north of New York City.
Governor Cuomo spoke about the case during his Friday news briefing and said the barber was responsible for infecting other people.
“Barber in Kingston was operating in defiance of the close order, infected I think over a dozen people,” Cuomo said. “You know, that is a occupation of close proximity, right? You can’t really socially distance and do a haircut … that is by definition an up-close-and-personal occupation.”
Cuomo said reopening barbershops and hair salons won’t come until Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, along with retail stores and other types of professional services, after health benchmarks are met.
This barber is only the latest small business owner in the country to make headlines for defying orders to close shop. Although the closure of non-essential businesses is seen by health officials as an effective measure to slow the spread of the virus and save lives, some residents argue it is not worth the financial burden.
In Texas, a salon owner was arrested earlier this month for ignoring cease and desist orders. Shelley Luther, who violated a stay-at-home order by keeping her Dallas-area salon open, was sentenced to jail time. A few days later, Texas Governor Greg Abbott modified his COVID-19 executive orders, effectively setting Luther free.
Similar incidents have occurred in other states, and groups of demonstrators have gathered in Michigan, North Carolina, Colorado and elsewhere to protest stay-a-home orders.
Many states have now begun loosening stay-at-home orders and opening up, including parts of New York, which will open by region and in phases depending on health conditions in each region.
Of the 10 regions in New York, five have met all seven metrics to begin Phase 1 of reopening Friday, May 15: Central New York, Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, North Country and the Southern Tier. Phase 1 will allow construction, agriculture, hunting and fishing, manufacturing, and curbside pick-up retail operations to resume.
Local reports say Ulster County, where the barber shop is located, has met the benchmarks to reopen, but the Hudson Valley region where it’s located has not, so non-essential businesses there will remain closed under state orders for now.