Jonathan Diaz said he wondered how he was going to feed his child.
He has worked as a barber at Valley Stream’s Klipper Kings on Merrick Road for the past 16 years, and with the clientele he has developed over that time he said he could make upwards of $300 a day. On Monday he made $68, barely enough to cover transportation and food expenses.
But despite the downturn, which Diaz attributed to mounting fears over the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus outbreak leading customers to stay home, he said the haircutting business had remained steady, albeit reduced. “People still want to look fresh,” he said.
All of that was thrown into question on Friday morning, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the closure of all barber shops, hair and nail salons statewide effective at 8 p.m. on Saturday in a bid to slow the pandemic’s spread. Later, he ordered the closure of all ‘non-essential’ businesses, excluding services such as medical, police, fire, water, sewer and food, including restaurants, which, he said, would be allowed to continue offering takeout service.
Now, Diaz said, “I’m thinking what do I have left after food, how am I going to pay my rent and phone bill? … The landlord’s not hearing it.”
Diaz said he believed the shutdown could last weeks, maybe months. In that time, he wondered what measures people would resort to in order to survive. He anticipated an increase in crime, and an explosion of people relying on social services.
“Whatever I’ve got to do to put food on my kid’s table, I’ll do it,” he said.
The latest developments came as Nassau County announced its fourth death from the disease, and that the number of its confirmed coronavirus cases had reached 754. New York reported that cases had reached 7,102 statewide — nearly double the previous day’s count — with 18 percent of patients hospitalized.
Cuomo said New York was testing "more per capita" than China and South Korea, which, he said, explained the sudden spike in cases. The state, he said, had ramped up testing to more than 10,000 people a day, and the rate of infections threatened to overwhelm hospitals, necessitating the severe measures.
On Rockaway Avenue, baby blue surgical masks and gloves were a common sight, and already some retail businesses had begun to close, many with signs saying they would not reopen until state restrictions were lifted.
At Mitzs Trend Inc., there were a handful of women getting their hair styled. Its owner, Mitzs Walcott said most were trying to squeeze in an appointment before they might have to go without for an indefinite period of time.
Business had been down roughly 60 percent, she said, over the past three weeks as news of the outbreak spread.
Many of the cancellations stemmed from clients’ economic anxiety, with worries over when and where their next paycheck might come from. Others, she said, work in nursing, and have been unable to get away as area hospitals become slammed with new patients.
Given the skyrocketing number of reported virus cases, Walcott said the shutdown was likely necessary.
“What are we going to do?” She said. “Our life is more valuable than anything. It’s more valuable than money.”
Nearby, Cut Kreators Barber Shop III was bustling with men of all ages, as owner Luis Delacrus said clients were coming in to get their last cut before the shutdown.
“Right now, it is what it is,” he said. “We’ll follow the rules, it’s safety for us.”
Nearly everyone in the establishment was clad in surgical masks, and Delacrus said it was important the public take the threat posed by the disease seriously.
“The only way it’s going to get better is if we shut down,” he said, but wondered for how long.
“It could be a month, maybe more,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Delacrus has been cutting hair in Valley Stream for 20 years, and at his current location the past 11. Over that time, his barbershop, like many on Rockaway, has become an impromptu hangout, as clients and barbers sit, talk and occasionally drink.
But in the age of the coronavirus he said, “Not anymore. Those days are over.”
-Scott Brinton contributed to this story.