Officials did not name the business or provide any details about the unidentified barber’s condition, but urged people who recently visited barbershops in Kingston to immediately contact their physician or call the county’s coronavirus hotline to arrange for a diagnostic test, according to a public health notice posted Wednesday.
“We are taking extraordinary measures to try and minimize the spread of this dangerous disease and learning that a barbershop has been operating illicitly for weeks with a COVID-19 positive employee is extraordinarily disheartening,” Ulster County Health Commissioner Carol Smith said in the statement. “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.”
Barbershops, hair salons and other personal care services are among the nonessential businesses that were ordered to close by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) under a strict stay-at-home directive that went into effect March 22.
Known as “New York State on PAUSE,” Cuomo’s executive order is set to expire on Friday as some areas of the state that have reached key benchmarks, including sustained declines in deaths and total hospitalizations, have been cleared to begin a phased reopening.
The mid-Hudson region, where Ulster County and the offending barbershop are located, has not yet met the seven metrics required to start easing out of lockdown, Cuomo said Thursday at his daily briefing.
Ulster County, which has a population of roughly 177,500, recorded 1,542 confirmed cases and 64 reported deaths, according to most recent figures kept by the county. In total, New York state has at least 343,000 confirmed cases and more than 27,200 reported deaths.
“This is all based on the metrics and the numbers,” Cuomo said. “The big responsibilities for local governments to manage reopening businesses are daily monitoring of numbers, watching for business compliance and individual compliance.”
The Kingston barbershop isn’t the only business of its kind to flout stay-at-home orders in recent weeks as states nationwide have started working toward lifting restrictions in an effort to revive their economies. While a number of states have allowed certain businesses to resume operations, hair and nail salons and barbershops have largely been left out, with officials and experts warning that the close physical contact needed to cut hair or give manicures and pedicures may facilitate spreading the virus.
So, some proprietors have taken matters into their own hands.
In Texas, for instance, Shelley Luther, who runs a hair salon in Dallas, was sentenced to seven days in jail earlier this month for openly disobeying commands to stay closed. Luther was later released following an order from the state Supreme Court.
Meanwhile in Michigan, Karl Manke, a 77-year-old barber, defiantly welcomed customers into his shop, telling MLive that he would “stay open until Jesus walks in or until they arrest me.” This week, the New York Times reported that Manke had his business and professional licenses suspended after repeated warnings and citations for ignoring Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to shut down.
“I’m not closing up; I’m not caving in to this,” Manke told the Times, adding, “I’m not a rabble-rouser and I’m not a scofflaw. I’m a small-town barber. I just want to make my living.”
But those encouraging barbershops and salons to stay closed now have even more scientific data on their side that may support keeping such businesses shuttered.
A new study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs found that places without social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders could see 35 times more cases of infection.
Through an analysis of the impact of mass closures and large event bans, among other restrictions, between March 1 and April 27, researchers discovered that the policies reduced the daily growth rate of confirmed coronavirus cases by up to around 9 percentage points, according to the study.
On Thursday, ahead of certain regions in New York starting to reopen, Cuomo stressed that residents should not completely abandon all social distancing recommendations.
“This is not just about what government does. It’s also about what New Yorkers do,” Cuomo tweeted. “If you wear a mask in public, if you wash your hands often, if you avoid large gatherings — you will be safer.”
Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately referenced data from a study as about 9 percent. It was about 9 percentage points.