New York Barber Who Violated Coronavirus Lockdown to Give Haircuts Tests Positive for Disease

An Upstate New York barber who violated coronavirus lockdown orders to give haircuts has tested positive for the virus. Joseph LaLima, 76, said he contracted the virus after he continued working, despite New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's order for all nonessential businesses to close to help slow the spread. In an interview Friday, LaLima blasted Cuomo, who claimed on Friday an Ulster County barber was responsible for infecting others.

"Cuomo doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. I'm PO'd about it," LaLima told the Daily Mail. LaLima is the owner of LaLima Barbershop in Kingston. LaLima believes he could continue operating because the shop, which he has owned since 1968, shares the same address as his home and Cuomo said New Yorkers could keep working from home.

Before the lockdown went into effect, LaLima spoke with an attorney who said he could continue operating his barbershop. "They said, 'Yes, it's your home, I can work from home,'" LaLima said. "All of a sudden I'm a scapegoat for this Democratic piece of crap that we got as a governor. If he's saying I infected 14 people, he infected the whole goddamn state."

LaLima was hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, for five days. He said he was not worried about the risks of death because he is a Vietnam veteran and "cut nothing but first responders' hair, police department." He also said he was not fined, but he will be quarantining for two weeks. "I'm gonna recuperate and I’m gonna reopen [afterward]," he told the Daily Mail.

On Wednesday, the Ulster County Government released a public health notice, telling residents that a "Kingston barber who has been providing haircuts during the last few weeks at a barbershop on Broadway has tested positive this week for the COVID-19 virus." On Friday, Cuomo criticized LaLima without naming him during his daily press conference.

State officials do not agree with LaLima's interpretation of Cuomo's March 21 rule. It ordered residents to close physical spaces where manicures, haircuts and similar services are performed. People were ordered to stop offering buzz cuts and nail-painting. "You know that is an occupation of close proximity, right? You can't really socially distance and do a haircut," Cuomo said, reports the New York Times. "That is by definition an up close and personal occupation."

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Kingston is located about 90 miles north of New York City. Ulster County has recorded over 1,400 coronavirus cases and 31 people have died. Elven people are hospitalized, and the county's disease investigators are trying to track LaLima's customers.

Before LaLima came forward, other Kingston barbershops were targeted with angry calls and social media messages. One barbershop had to share a message on Instagram, reminding customers they have been following the law. "He put the people in danger," Mostafa’s Broadway Barbershop owner Mostafa Oukili, who closed his shop in March, told the Times. "You can't work six gee away as a barber."