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Whitmer apologizes to stylists, barbers for suggesting people could 'Google' how to cut hair

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer apologized Thursday to hair stylists and barbers for comments she made Monday suggesting people could “Google” how to cut their hair in the midst of a continued prohibition on haircuts. 

In an interview with Mojo in the Morning, Whitmer said it was an “offhand comment” and not meant as an insult to the profession. 

“I didn't mean to offend people who are in the profession,” the governor said. “I think that it's important, I think that it is licensed for a reason. These are professionals who take it seriously and intimately interact with the public, and that's why we have to take this very seriously about how we proceed to keep people safe.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks on Monday, June 1.

“...So if my comment offended anyone, I apologize for that,” she said.

Whitmer’s apology came three days after the governor announced Monday the lifting of her stay-at-home order for most businesses, but excluded services such as hair salons, barbers, fitness centers and cinemas.

When asked Monday about residents traveling to Ohio for hair and spa services, Whitmer suggested people “Google how to do a haircut or throw your hair in a ponytail or curl it” over the next couple of weeks before Michigan's hair-cutting services are restored. 

Her comments riled salon owners and barbers, who noted the extensive training they are required by the state to receive to be licensed. Owosso barber Karl Manke has been the highest-profile hair cutter in the state since he defied Whitmer's ban and continues to cut hair despite a court order demanding the immediate closing of his shop.

The barbers and salon owners also observed that someone could get their teeth cleaned or their dog groomed but couldn’t get a haircut. 

“To make matters worse, while keeping us closed, Gov. Whitmer chose to disrespect Michigan’s highly trained licensed cosmetologists by saying that people can simply Google how to do a haircut,” Mike Sarafa of the Safe Salons for Michigan coalition said in a Tuesday statement. “This statement was an insult to the well-trained and education professionals who have spent years honing their abilities and we believe the governor owes them an apology.”  

Whitmer’s comments on Mojo in the Morning Thursday were in response to Sarafa, who called into the show to ask the governor about her comments. 

Sarafa said he appreciated Whitmer’s “steadfastness,” but questioned the science that was prompting the continued closure of Michigan salons and barber shops longer than any other state.

Whitmer apologized for her comments but pushed back on the claim that 49 other states have reopened barbers and hair salons, noting that it was partially lifted in some states.

“We are looking at moving Regions 6 and 8 into Phase 5,” Whitmer said, referring to her six-phase reopen plan. “That means that will be permitted in parts of Michigan in the coming days.

“It is my fervent hope that in the coming days and weeks we are going to be as back to normal as we can be until we have a vaccine and that includes haircuts and all of these other services that you’re advocating for,” she said.

Whitmer's Monday order moved the state into Phase 4 of her reopening plan, but the order also made allowances for services that weren't supposed to reopen until Phase 5, such as those related to restaurants and bars. 

It's unclear why the elements of Phase 5 were implemented, but not others such as allowing for reopenings of barber shops and hair salons, increased gathering sizes or in-person K-12 school instruction.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com