The grievance got here in final month from a resident of Kingston, a metropolis in New York’s Hudson Valley: An area barbershop was nonetheless performing haircuts, in violation of New York’s emergency shutdown orders to thwart the coronavirus.
Two days later, a buildings investigator went out to research the declare. La Lima Barbershop at 678 Broadway was darkish.
Three extra visits, on April 13, 17, and 19 turned up the similar consequence: “Appears to be closed,” the inspector wrote on every type.
The grievance was left unresolved till this week, when the proprietor of the store, Joseph LaLima, was hospitalized for the coronavirus, setting off a furor in the Ulster County metropolis, about 90 miles north of New York City.
Mr. LaLima had by no means stopped slicing hair, regardless of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s order. But he was not doing it in his store; he was doing in the privateness of his dwelling — in the again of the store.
“He said do not open up your shops, barbershops, beauty parlors, nail salons, tattoo parlors,” Mr. LaLima mentioned on Friday, referring to the governor. “So I didn’t.”
Mr. LaLima, who spoke simply after his launch from a four-day hospitalization, started to get agitated. “It said you can work from home,” he mentioned. “678 Broadway is my home!”
But based on state officers, Mr. LaLima’s interpretation of the order doesn’t sq. with its precise textual content. The March 21 rule didn’t simply order the closure of the bodily areas the place companies like manicures and haircuts are carried out; it required companies like nail-painting and buzz cuts to stop fully.
“These services cannot be provided while maintaining social distance,” the order reads.
In his every day briefing on Friday, Gov. Cuomo denounced Mr. LaLima’s actions with out naming him. “You know that is an occupation of close proximity, right? You can’t really socially distance and do a haircut,” the governor mentioned. “That is by definition an up close and personal occupation.”
A number of hours after leaving the hospital, Mr. LaLima railed in opposition to the governor. He mentioned he had achieved no unsuitable, and was merely making an attempt to make a dwelling.
“I am aggravated to the nines,” Mr. LaLima mentioned. “Is Cuomo going to pay me? Is he going to make up the difference? Is he going to pay my taxes? Is he going to pay the heat and electric? Is he going to feed my family?” he requested.
Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, was unmoved by Mr. LaLima’s protection. “There is no excuse to be reckless in a pandemic,” he mentioned.
The coronavirus has killed 64 individuals in Ulster County, and greater than 1,500 individuals have been contaminated. Eleven persons are at the moment hospitalized in the county, and well being officers worry that a few of Mr. LaLima’s shoppers could also be subsequent.
Some of the county’s 55 illness investigators are actually making an attempt to hint these prospects. According to the barber, a lot of his shoppers have been law enforcement officials and firefighters, whose hair he reduce totally free.
“I did them a favor!” Mr. LaLima mentioned. “And I didn’t give it to anybody else. I got it from somebody that came into my shop.”
The Ulster County district lawyer’s workplace sees the matter in a different way: It has launched an investigation into whether or not Mr. LaLima violated public well being legal guidelines, a legal offense, and whether or not any of his shoppers could face penalties.
“This kind of flouting of the rules is unacceptable, and it puts lives in danger,” mentioned Patrick Ok. Ryan, the Ulster county govt. “We are taking it very seriously.”
The information of a bootleg barber first unfold via a public message despatched on Wednesday by the Ulster County Health Department, which urged anybody whose hair had been reduce at “a barbershop on Broadway” to name their physician and be examined for the virus.
“We are taking extraordinary measures to try and minimize the spread of this dangerous disease,” Dr. Carol Smith, the Ulster County well being commissioner, mentioned in an announcement. “Learning that a barbershop has been operating illicitly for weeks with a Covid-19 positive employee is extraordinarily disheartening.”
Until Mr. LaLima went public together with his id on Friday, at the very least three native barbers whose retailers are additionally on Broadway mentioned they confronted a barrage of indignant calls and messages from individuals suspicious that they may have been the offender.
“He put the people in danger,” mentioned Mostafa Oukili, who owns Mostafa’s Broadway Barbershop, which he closed in early March, earlier than the obligatory order, as a result of he mentioned his spouse is a most cancers survivor and he feared that she would possibly turn into contaminated. “You can’t work six feet away as a barber.”
Mr. LaLima has been working the barbershop on Broadway since 1975, when he transformed a kids’s bicycle retailer that he had purchased the yr earlier than for $12,000, based on a 2013 article. A motorcycle aficionado and Vietnam veteran, he said he has been cutting hair since he returned from military service in 1968.
Mr. LaLima is not the only hairdressing scofflaw. This week, Karl Manke, 77, a barber in Owosso, Mich., had his business and professional licenses suspended after he reopened his shop in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order. Despite the suspension of his licenses, he said he planned to keep cutting hair.
Mr. LaLima was similarly disposed. He said he was feeling well and ready to cut hair as soon as possible. “I think the people that are up in arms are idiots,” he said.
Jesse McKinley contributed reporting from Albany, N.Y.