YORKTOWN, Va. - The pandemic has forced many businesses to close, either for a short while or altogether, and what's happening to contracted companies on military bases is no different.
"I've got nothing right now. I'm just stuck, and there's nothing I can do," said Kenneth Crump, President of Crump Management.
Crump is a veteran turned military contractor who operates the barbershop at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown.
The pandemic forced his business to close from March to August in 2020 and then again from December until now.
"They said they were having some issues with some cases on the base and they wanted to shut us down again, but just for a couple of weeks, and then they would open us up again on January 18," Crump said.
According to emails with higher-ups dated January 15, there were some "asymptomatic cases on base" and leadership would reconnect with Crump in February. With some vaccine already distributed, leadership said they were hopeful and encouraged by the steps taken thus far.
However, the days came and went, and again, Crump said he was given no direction for re-opening.
"I go home to my wife and my kids and I've got an empty refrigerator; I've got to move out in six weeks because the house I live in is being sold; I've got two months of unemployment that hasn't been paid to me by the Virginia Employment Commission, and here I am. And I can't even go back to work even though they told me I could," Crump said.
Given he is a one-man operation, he said he doesn't understand the reasoning behind the closure, especially when other barbershops on bases are open.
"They asked me to wear gloves, make sure the customers had masks on; there's one person in the shop - there are all kinds of protocols, and I have agreed to everything they've asked, but still they won't let me open my shop," he said. "I understand people have to make sacrifices with what we're going through, and reasonable sacrifices are fine, but this is not reasonable."
News 3 reached out to the Coast Guard for answers. They said the decision to temporarily close Crump's shop was not taken lightly, but said safety for everyone is the top priority.
In a full statement, the Command said,
Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown's top priority is the safety and well-being of the personnel, who train and work on the base. After completing their training, students immediately move into critical positions throughout the Coast Guard to support operations across the globe. A single case of COVID-19 within the classrooms or barracks of the training center can have severe impacts to health of the students and staff, as well as the training center’s ability to fill positions throughout the Coast Guard.
The commanding officer of Training Center Yorktown took immediate steps to limit potential COVID-19 infection routes for the students, including mandatory quarantines upon arrival, prohibiting off-base activities, restricting student-to-student interactions within only their class, and a testing program for students and staff to place them effectively in a self-contained environment. Other services, such as on base stores, services, and the barber shop were also assessed. Haircuts, by nature, put a barber in close contact with a customer. Therefore, the Coast Guard relaxed its grooming standards to lower the COVID-19 risks to personnel across the entire Service. As the only barber shop on a small base with up to 800 students at a time, Mr. Crump has close contact with a high number of students, across multiple classes, on a daily basis. For these reasons, and based on the observed number of COVID-19 cases and positivity rates in our local area after the holiday season, the decision was made to close the barber shop temporarily with a plan to re-evaluate that decision as trends change. Re-evaluations of mitigation efforts are conducted on a frequent basis.
Training Center Yorktown understands the impact this had on Mr. Crump and the closure decision was not taken lightly. At multiple points, the Training Center Yorktown command re-opened the barber shop, only closing it as warranted based on community spread. Other barber shops located on Coast Guard bases and training centers have taken similar measures as appropriate for their locations. Training Center Yorktown and the Coast Guard Community Services Command have engaged with Mr. Crump to develop a timeline, identify required protective equipment, and safe scheduling practices necessary to re-open the barber shop. The process to set a date for his return has been ongoing, with further actions as of yesterday morning to set a firm date. The nature of the training center’s mission makes their safety precautions necessary and unique when compared to other bases where barber shops may currently be open. Mr. Crump is a valued member of our team and we look forward to having him back onboard. The training center will continue to prepare for, and respond to the ever-changing risks associated with this virus, with the primary objective to keep the entire staff and student body safe and to prepare our shipmates to immediately contribute to Coast Guard missions.
The Coast Guard is a large organization with units across the globe. Each of these units has unique, local considerations, which must be taken into account to ensure continued operations and the safety of personnel. Each commanding officer is provided guidance through Coast Guard policy, and then entrusted with the discretion to implement safety measures as needed for their location. While we do not immediately have data on the operations of all barber shops across all Coast Guard bases, several barber shops located at Coast Guard facilities have closed for periods of time due to regional case spikes, changes to regulations, and for other COVID-19 safety concerns.
Crump, on the other hand, said he hasn't been told this information and instead has been led astray. He maintains that the Coast Guard's decision to keep his shop closed is unjustified.
"This is just really discouraging and disheartening to deal with this," he said. "I just hope that they do the right thing and let me go back to work."
After News 3 ran this story, the base announced that after reviewing the "local COVID situation," TRACEN will reopen effective Friday to authorized visitors Monday-Friday from 1:30-3 p.m., with access being limited to Korean Hall (the Exchange building), the Mini-Mart and the fishing pier. Officials said at the barber's discretion, the barbershop will be open three to five days a week by appointment.