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WKSU is looking for the answers to the questions you have about Ohio in a project we call "OH Really?" It's an initiative that makes you part of the news gathering process.

Barbers can't social distance. OH Really?

Waverly Willis watches a student cut another student's hair
Kabir Bhatia
Waverly Willis (left) owns the Urban Kutz chain. He's also director of outreach at LaBarberia Institute of Hair in Cleveland where Steven Crews, a senior, was practicing his craft on Devontes Dunn, a new student at the school. He says people will have to call around to find a barbershop they're comfortable with during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rules about mask-wearing have been debated in various walks of life for the past two years. A listener asked our “OH Really?” team how to find barbershops where the staff is masked and vaccinated.

The State Cosmetology and Barber Board licenses people to cut hair in Ohio, but it does not keep any stats on whether they’re vaccinated or wear masks. A listener from Akron says he’d like to find shops which do those things, since it’s already difficult to distance while cutting hair.

In Summit County, Health Commissioner Donna Skoda says not only would that information be difficult to track, but there’s also no longer a mask-mandate.

“It stopped the spread. But it is a high-risk business, because usually you’re in a smaller area [and] there’s a lot of people in there, unless you only have one customer at a time.”

Waverly Willis owns the Cleveland-based Urban Kutzchain of barbershops and says he just completed a staff training on COVID protocols.

“If a person is wearing a mask when they get in the chair, ask them, ‘Would you feel more comfortable if I put my mask on?’ I know all shops are not as accommodating as that, but I think it would be silly to lose a client over me not wearing a mask for 15 minutes," he said.

“COVID-19 takes a lot of the conversation up in the shops. At the end of the day, we're in a service industry. We need you to continue to come to us. So, if I just shoot down what you think about this virus, most likely you will never come back, and we do not want that.”

Willis says when it comes to COVID it’s sometimes best just to “agree to disagree."

Last spring, he opened his shops up as vaccination sitesand received a number of negative comments via social media.

And since there’s currently no list of vaccinated barbers in Ohio, Willis says customers will just have to call around until they find a shop where they know they can be comfortable. He’s currently planning to open his third location in mid-February, in the Northwest/Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood.

“OH Really?” is our initiative to make you part of the reporting process. Ask your question now:

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.