On Wednesday, Ulster County Health Commissioner Dr. Carol Smith announced that a barber in Kingston, New York, had tested positive for COVID-19. Dr. Smith made this announcement because the barber has been defying the stay-at-home order, illegally providing haircuts to customers over the past few weeks. This means that anyone who came into contact with this barber or got a haircut from this barber is now being urged to contact a physician and seek testing.
New York State’s nonessential businesses have been put on pause since March 22, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order codifying shelter-in-place requirements. New York has confirmed the most cases of COVID-19, and more than a quarter of the deaths due to COVID-19 seen in the United States since March have taken place there.
Dr. Smith explained that the county had just learned that this barbershop has seemingly been up and running “for weeks,” in a county that currently has 1,533 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 62 confirmed fatalities due to the virus. “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. I urge anyone who has received a haircut at a Kingston barber in the last several weeks to immediately contact their physician or call our hotline to arrange for a diagnostic test.” Dr. Smith did not release any information concerning whether or not the barbershop in question was practicing any forms of protective measures against the virus during their business hours.
It’s a difficult position for many small businesses, like barbershops. The amount of aid coming to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, let alone small businesses with fewer than five or 10 employees, has been next to nothing. For many businesses, there’s a desperation that in some cases will lead people to make bad decisions. Some might convince themselves they can figure out a way to safely provide the services they normally provide. In other cases, people will convince themselves that there is nothing at all to worry about.