Weeks After Attending Haircutting Competition, Mississippi Barber Dies From COVID-19

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The family of a beloved Mississippi barber who recently passed away from COVID-19 is making a plea to anyone who will listen: Stay at home.

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Eugene Thompson, owner of Taper Nation barbershop and barber academy in Brookhaven, Miss., died Saturday in a Jackson hospital two weeks after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, WJTV reports.

“Our last memory of him is getting on the ambulance. We weren’t able to say goodbye,” Dedra Edwards, Eugene’s sister, told local reporters. “He was alone. My brother was all by himself.”

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Other outlets reported that Thompson was still cutting hair even as states around the country were shutting down non-essential businesses in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. On March 15, Thompson was among hundreds of people who attended the Barber Stylist Battle Expo in Jackson, Miss. A photo posted on his Facebook shows Thompson was a participant in the competition. By March 22, Thompson had tested positive for COVID-19 and immediately followed self-quarantine guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, his family says.

Neither Jackson nor the state of Mississippi had given shelter-in-place mandates at the time. In fact, on March 23, Governor Tate Reeves declined to enforce strict social distancing protocols, despite pressure from the press and the public:

“No one at the State Department of Health has recommended that we have a statewide shelter-in-place order,” Reeves said, adding later, “We don’t want to make any decisions that would ultimately do more harm than good.”

Federal officials had advised people not to gather in large groups at the beginning of March. Reeves didn’t pass a shelter-in-place order until April 2. Thompson died April 7, just days after his 46th birthday.

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Barbershops and beauty salons have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus. Stores have shuttered nationwide, leaving thousands of workers, many of whom are self-employed or contracted, out of work. As the Washington Post reports, some have attempted to continue doing business during the pandemic, continuing to take house calls even as the risk for spreading infection remains high.

This doesn’t appear to be what happened to Eugene Thompson, who was abiding by the guidelines laid out by city and state officials. Now his family wants to impart one simple message.

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“Everybody—before you go outside, or before you decide to go to your friends house—make sure...you know going outside that door could very well kill you, your children, or your parents,” said Edwards.

Staff writer, The Root.

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