Willie Lightfoot didn’t get a handwritten response from Andrew Cuomo after writing to the governor and asking him to look again at the data about where COVID-19 was spreading.
Lightfoot didn’t want an autograph. He wanted businesses reopened, and on Dec. 11, eight days after sending Cuomo a letter to that effect, the governor answered.
Cuomo is allowing personal care services and gyms and fitness centers in orange zones to reopen as of Dec. 14. Both have tighter restrictions. But they are back in business.
“To God be the glory,” Lightfoot said after learning about the governor’s action. “I’m just the vessel.”
Lightfoot, who is president of the United Professional Barbers and Cosmetologists Association, wrote to Cuomo that data showed barbershops and salons were not hotbeds of COVID-19. Lightfoot cited Monroe County Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza, who maintained that COVID-19 was being spread by people gathering in homes.
The governor appears to have come around. While he has placed restrictions on restaurants, he has been talking about “living room spread.”
According to a chart displayed at his Dec. 11 news conference, household and social gatherings accounted for about 74% of the recent spread. Personal care and gyms each accounted for less than 1%.
“I know for sure my letter did something because people that are very close to the governor have been reaching out over the last several days,” Lightfoot said. “They’ve been thanking me for my patience. I didn’t really go rogue. I didn’t call anybody out. I didn’t get nasty. I had the data behind me. Our governor has been very, very consistent about making sure we follow the data.”
After Lightfoot sent the letter, he said he expected Cuomo to reopen the businesses or shut them all down, regardless of which zone they were in. Lightfoot said it was not fair that personal care services in yellow zones or those with no designation could be open just blocks away from ones that were closed.
Under the reopening guidelines, employees in the barbershops and salons have to be tested for COVID-19 every week and must have a negative test before they can work.
Marc Cohen, chief of staff to Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Duffy, said Cuomo has shown to be receptive to input and this decisions are based on fact. Cohen said that in addition to forwarding Lightfoot’s letter, he sent the governor feedback from business owners and others.
Lightfoot also had an online petition that he said collected 1,200 signatures in just a few days.
Lightfoot said closing personal care business was a costly mistake. Reopening those businesses rectifies it going forward, but Lightfoot said he’s concerned about the lost wages and how those affected can be compensated for the time they were forced to close.
He said the state also should look at barbershops and salons as places to educate people about COVID vaccines, use of personal protective equipment and other prevention strategies. “They say they want to get into Black and brown communities. What better way than to utilize the barbershops and salons. They are the ones who have their ears of the Black and brown communities.”