The barber shop owner from upstate New York who contracted COVID-19 after giving haircuts in violation of the state lockdown angrily denied Governor Andrew Cuomo’s claim that he infected more than a dozen others.
Joseph LaLima Sr, 76, is the Kingston barber who was infected with the coronavirus after he kept working even though nonessential businesses are not permitted to operate statewide during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an interview with DailyMail.com, LaLima hit out at Cuomo, who earlier on Friday said that the Ulster County barber infected others.
Cuomo and the county did not name LaLima on Thursday.
‘Cuomo doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. I’m PO’d about it,’ LaLima told DailyMail.com.
LaLima, who has owned and operated LaLima Barbershop in Kingston since 1968, said that he kept giving haircuts because the governor allowed New Yorkers to continue working from home.
It just so happens that LaLima’s shop is at the same address as his residence.
‘Cuomo doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about,’ LaLima said.
‘First he gives permission to work from home and then he puts this crap out that I infected people.’
‘I got infected,’ LaLima said.
LaLima said that before the lockdown went into effect he consulted with an attorney who gave him the go-ahead to keep operating his barber shop even though it’s a nonessential business.
‘They said, “Yes, it’s your home, I can work from home”,’ he said.
‘All of a sudden I’m a scapegoat for this Democratic piece of crap that we got as a governor.’
LaLima added: ‘If he’s saying I infected 14 people, he infected the whole state.’
He told DailyMail.com that he spent five days in the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms, particularly a fever and a cough.
When asked if he was worried about contracting coronavirus given his age and the risk that he could die, he said: ‘I’m a Vietnam veteran. I cut nothing but first responders’ hair, police department.’
LaLima said that despite violating the lockdown, the state authorities did not fine him.
He said that he does not plan to restart his business. After his COVID-19 diagnosis, LaLima said he will now be in quarantine for two weeks.
‘I’m gonna recuperate and I’m gonna reopen [afterward],’ he said.
Ulster County released a statement on Wednesday indicating that the infected barber worked at a shop on Broadway in the town of Kingston, about 20 miles north of Poughkeepsie.
The county health commissioner is advising anyone who received a haircut in a barber shop in Kingston in the past three weeks to get tested for the coronavirus.
‘Barber in Kingston was operating in defiance of the close order, infected I think over a dozen people,’ Cuomo said during his routine coronavirus briefing on Friday.
‘You know, that is a occupation of close proximity, right?
‘You can’t really socially distance and do a haircut … that is by definition an up-close-and-personal occupation.’
Barber shops, nail salons, and beauty parlors are considered nonessential businesses that were ordered shut down by Cuomo.
Earlier this week, Cuomo announced that Central New York, Fulton County, Montgomery County, Schoharie County, the Mohawk Valley, the Southern Tier, and the Finger Lakes regions may gradually reopen their businesses beginning on Friday.
The second phase of the reopening – which is expected to happen two weeks from today – is to allow office workers back to work once businesses submit plans for social distancing.
The third phase, due to start two weeks after that, incorporates restaurants and the fourth phase is to allow entertainment services to resume.
Cuomo said that these regions have so far met the criteria to begin to resume economic activity.
The governor will only allow regions who have met certain metrics to reopen. Regions must demonstrate consistent declines in new hospitalization, COVID-19-related deaths, and hospital occupancy in order restart nonessential businesses.
Ulster County has not met the criteria, though the governor did allow the county and dozens of others across the state to resume elective surgeries.
According to the latest state figures, nearly 1,500 residents of the county have tested positive for COVID-19.
‘We are taking extraordinary measures to try and minimize the spread of this dangerous disease,’ Ulster County Health Commissioner Dr. Carol Smith said.
‘Learning that a barbershop has been operating illicitly for weeks with a COVID-19 positive employee is extraordinarily disheartening.
‘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.’
Nonessential businesses that operate during the lockdown are subject to maximum fines of $1,000, though it is unclear if this particular barber shop was fined.
Cuomo on Thursday extended the state-wide coronavirus stay-at-home order until June 13.
The governor initially put the New York State on PAUSE plan in place in March. It was due to expire on Friday.
New York’s coronavirus death toll has surpassed 22,000 with more than 343,000 people confirmed to be infected.
The epicenter of the pandemic, New York City, has not met all of the criteria to reopen, and the lockdown is likely to last into the summer.
It fell short on having a low enough daily new hospitalization rate, by the state department of health’s numbers, and did not yet have enough hospital beds free in the system.
The city has recorded at least 15,349 confirmed deaths and 5,057 probable deaths from the virus.
In the city, there are more than 186,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Ariel Zilber