New York Barber Who Contracted COVID-19 Criticizes Governor Cuomo: 'Is He Going to Feed My Family?'

An upstate New York barber accused of cutting hair out of his home during the shutdown has contracted COVID-19, and is now blasting Governor Andrew Cuomo for halting his livelihood.

The proprietor of a local Kingston, New York barbershop, Joseph LaLima, criticized Cuomo in a piece highlighting the Ulster County controversy published Friday in The New York Times. LaLima asked "Is [Cuomo] going to feed my family?", after telling the newspaper that he had circumvented the state's March 21 social distancing rule by cutting clients' hair in his own home amid the coronavirus pandemic. The governor denounced the barber's actions during his Friday daily briefing and pointed to his executive order that says services such as nail-painting and hair-cutting "cannot be provided while maintaining social distance."

LaLima, who was just released from the hospital after being treated for COVID-19, said: "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?"

"[Cuomo] said do not open up your shops, barbershops, beauty parlors, nail salons, tattoo parlors. So I didn't. It said you can work from home," he said. "678 Broadway is my home!"

New York state has been hit harder by coronavirus than anywhere in the country and has killed 31 people in Ulster County alone, where more than 1,400 people have been infected since March.

Dozens of disease investigators are now seeking customers who had their hair cut by LaLima out of his home over concern they may have contracted COVID-19 as well.

LaLima insisted he did his customers "a favor," and that "somebody that came into my shop" transmitted the virus to him.

The Ulster County Health Department posted warnings to locals advising them against pursuing business with LaLima. The county's district attorney's office has launched an investigation into whether the coronavirus-stricken barber violated public health laws, which is a criminal offense.

Patrick K. Ryan, county executive for Ulster, responded as quoted in the Times: "This kind of flouting of the rules is unacceptable, and it puts lives in danger."

LaLima has operated the barbershop on Broadway since 1975 and he is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He said "people that are up in arms are idiots," and noted that he is feeling better and plans on getting back to cutting hair as soon as possible.

Newsweek reached out to both LaLima and the governor's office for additional remarks Saturday morning.

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