Official says defiant Michigan barbershop is health threat

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DETROIT — A barbershop that refused to remain closed in compliance with Michigan’s coronavirus restrictions poses an “imminent threat” to public health, the state’s chief medical officer testified Wednesday.

Photos of the shop in Owosso showed customers sitting close together. Some weren’t wearing face coverings, and owner Karl Manke was photographed with a mask below his chin, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said.

“It is an imminent threat to public health,” said Khaldun, who advises Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and regularly appears at her coronavirus news briefings.

Manke, 77, is trying to stop two license suspensions. Khaldun is the highest-ranking witness in a state administrative hearing that began by conference call Tuesday.

Barbershops and salons have been closed for weeks by Whitmer, who said the risk of spreading the coronavirus was too great. Manke, however, reopened on May 4, saying he needed to make money and declaring that the “government is not my mother.”

He has continued to cut hair despite the suspension of his business and barber licenses, and he gave free haircuts last week during a Capitol protest against the coronavirus restrictions. Manke has been given at least two misdemeanor tickets for violating the state’s orders.

“I don’t believe someone can cut hair and be 6 feet away,” said Khaldun, referring to the recommended distance between people to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.

Manke’s defiance has attracted customers from all over Michigan. Khaldun said that’s another concern.

“You would have people mingling, if you will, from different areas of the state where there may be different rates of community spread,” she said.

Manke won’t testify because of the pending tickets, said his attorney, David Kallman.

His shop is in Owosso, 40 miles (64.3 kilometers) northeast of Lansing.

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