Cuts on the sly: Bar­bers, sa­lons open il­le­gally

As shut­down drags on, vi­o­la­tions are on the rise

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Josh Peter

Carmelle Har­ris saw the man stand­ing at the open front door of her house.

“Are you here for the hair­cut?” she asked.

He was, so Har­ris, wear­ing an N95 face mask, handed san­i­tary wipes to the man and led him to a makeshift bar­ber’s chair in the liv­ing room.

Soft mu­sic played as the cus­tomer, John Bati­novich of Hol­ly­wood, set­tled into the bar­ber’s chair. “You’ve got a great setup here,” he said.

It’s also il­le­gal – and dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, the hair in­dus­try is draw­ing le­gal scru­tiny across the coun­try.

❚ In Texas, Shel­ley Luther was ar­rested af­ter she defied an or­der to close her sa­lon dur­ing the COVID- 19 out­break. She spent two days in jail and was fined $ 7,000.

❚ In Michi­gan, Karl Manke’s pro­fes­sional and busi­ness li­censes were sus­pended af­ter he re­fused to close his bar­ber­shop. Manke, 77, was charged with two crim­i­nal mis­de­meanors for de­fy­ing the gover­nor’s stay- at- home or­ders.

❚ In Cal­i­for­nia, the state threat­ened dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against open sa­lons and said it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing 651 re­lated complaints. Los Angeles filed crim­i­nal complaints against four hair sa­lons and one bar­ber­shop – along with 55 other busi­nesses – that were open in vi­o­la­tion of the city’s safer- at- home or­ders, City At­tor­ney Mike Feuer said last week.

❚ Also last week, the Ul­ster County De­part­ment of Health and Men­tal Health in New York an­nounced that a bar­ber tested pos­i­tive for COVID- 19 af­ter cut­ting hair af­ter the state put shut­down or­ders in place.

The num­ber of hair­styl­ists set­ting up shop at home or color­ing and cut­ting hair at cus­tomers’ homes is on the rise

as stay- at- home or­ders have stretched be­yond eight weeks, more than a dozen hair stylists and in­dus­try ex­perts told USA TO­DAY.

Fi­nan­cial pres­sure is cited as the chief rea­son hair­styl­ists such as Har­ris of Comp­ton, Cal­i­for­nia, put their cos­me­tol­ogy li­censes at risk.

“Do I take a chance and get turned into a crim­i­nal be­cause I de­cided to work and pay my bills on time?” said Har­ris, 38. “Or do I just sit and watch my bills pile up, so when the econ­omy does open up, I’m thou­sands and thou­sands of dol­lars in debt?”

There is no le­gal am­bi­gu­ity in the state. “Cal­i­for­nia law re­quires that all ser­vices be per­formed in a li­censed es­tab­lish­ment,” Cheri Gyuro, public in­for­ma­tion officer for the De­part­ment of Con­sumer Affairs, told USA TO­DAY. Sim­i­lar laws are in effect in every other state, said Steve Sleeper, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Pro­fes­sional Beauty As­so­ci­a­tion.

Last week, the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Lib­erty filed a fed­eral law­suit against Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin Newsom on be­half of the Pro­fes­sional Beauty Fed­er­a­tion of Cal­i­for­nia to try to get hair sa­lons re­opened statewide.

Stylists are wor­ried

In Con­necti­cut, sa­lon owner Odete DaSilva said she is among thou­sands of hair­styl­ists and sa­lon own­ers urg­ing Gov. Ned La­mont to push back the May 20 date when sa­lons and bar­ber­shops will be al­lowed to re­open. She said they fear the risks of get­ting in­fected with COVID- 19 are too high to go back to work and al­low­ing them to do so would end their abil­ity to col­lect un­em­ploy­ment benefits.

“It’s such a di­vi­sive is­sue, right?” said Steve Sleeper, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Pro­fes­sional Beauty As­so­ci­a­tion. “Our mem­bers are the same way that the rest of the coun­try plays out. Half are think­ing, ‘ Hey, it’s too soon, let’s wait and make things safe.’ And the other half is, ‘ Let’s go- go- go- go.’ ”

One South­ern Cal­i­for­nia hair­dresser cre­ated in her garage a makeshift sa­lon, com­plete with a hood dryer and a sham­poo bowl. She spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause she said her cos­me­tol­ogy li­cense could be re­voked.

Upon ar­rival, the hair­dresser said, her clients text her rather than ring the door­bell to keep her two dogs from bark­ing and elim­i­nate noise that might draw at­ten­tion from neighbors.

Af­ter Luther was re­leased from a Dal­las jail, Sen. Ted Cruz, R- Texas, got a hair­cut at her Sa­lon à la Mode. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick an­nounced he would pay Luther’s $ 7,000 fine, although the sa­lon owner has am­ple money to han­dle it.

She re­ceived more than $ 500,000 from a Go­FundMe cam­paign started a day be­fore she re­opened her sa­lon, and Luther started a non­profit group called Courage to Stand.

On May 14, Luther told USA TO­DAY that she was driv­ing to Michi­gan to offer sup­port for Manke, the bar­ber who faces jail time af­ter re­fus­ing to close his bar­ber­shop in Owosso, a town of about 15,000.

“My at­tor­neys have been in touch with his at­tor­neys,” said Luther, 46. “Even if it’s just show­ing my face, I need to go out there and sup­port this man.

“Right now, I want to speak with ac­tions and make sure ev­ery­body in the United States re­al­izes that we’re get­ting our rights and free­doms taken away, and we need to take them back im­me­di­ately.”

Manke did not re­ply to in­ter­view re­quests.

‘ Ev­ery­thing is su­per clean’

Har­ris said she com­pleted two on­line cour­ses and re­ceived COVID- 19 cer­tification from Bar­bi­cide, a com­pany that sells prod­ucts de­signed to clean and dis­in­fect sa­lons.

One of Har­ris’ room­mates helped her dis­in­fect be­tween cus­tomers.

“Ev­ery­thing is su­per clean,” Har­ris said of her makeshift sa­lon.

It’s un­likely the Cal­i­for­nia Board of Bar­ber­ing and Cos­me­tol­ogy will be im­pressed, based on a warn­ing it is­sued May 1 by so­cial me­dia.

“The Board urges li­censees to fol­low the stay- at- home or­ders,” the post read. “If busi­nesses con­tinue to put public health and safety at risk by not fol­low­ing the guid­ance pro­vided, and if cir­cum­stances war­rant it, the Board may pur­sue dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against their li­cense. This will not be taken lightly.”

In Brookhaven, Mis­sis­sippi, De­dra Ed­wards said she’s wor­ried for hair­styl­ists and bar­bers go­ing back to work. Her brother Eu­gene, a long­time bar­ber, died of COVID- 19 in April at the age of 46.

Ed­wards said her fam­ily thinks Eu­gene, 46, was in­fected with COVID- 19 dur­ing a hair show in Jack­son, Mis­sis­sippi, on March 15. He was not wear­ing a face mask be­cause the hair show was held be­fore the stay- at- home or­der was im­posed, ac­cord­ing to Ed­wards.

She said safety should be para­mount as sa­lons and bar­ber­shops re­open.

“I know they’re us­ing masks,” she said. “But you don’t know the client you’re work­ing with, and you can carry COVID- 19 and not have any symp­toms.’’

Safety was part of the mo­ti­va­tion when the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Lib­erty filed the law­suit on be­half of the PBFC, said at­tor­ney Fred Jones, coun­sel for the group rep­re­sent­ing the beauty and bar­ber­ing in­dus­try.

“Tell me what’s safer,” Jones said, “hav­ing ( hair­styl­ists and bar­bers) go from one kitchen to the next kitchen? Or hav­ing all of those ladies and men come into the con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment of the sa­lon, where they main­tain cross- con­tam­i­na­tion con­trols?”

“Do I take a chance and get turned into a crim­i­nal be­cause I de­cided to work and pay my bills on time?” Hair­styl­ist Carmelle Har­ris

Carmelle Har­ris uses a san­i­tiz­ing wipe on her bar­ber chair. Even haircuts are com­pli­cated by the coro­n­avirus. ROBERT HANASHIRO/ USA TO­DAY

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