Chef and owner Peter Merriman of Merriman’s Hawaii announced Monday that all Merri­man’s Hawaii staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Merriman said he’s hopeful that other Hawaii hospitality companies will follow suit, especially as Hawaii tourism continues rebounding.

Merriman estimates that about 70% of the 400 or so employees who work at his four Merriman’s Hawaii locations have been vaccinated. But he has several reasons for wanting to get the rate as close to 100%

“No. 1 is employee well-being, No. 2 is guest well-being and No. 3 is civic responsibility,” Merriman said. “I feel a responsibility to make the workplace as safe as possible.”

Merriman said that since the pandemic began there have been about 15 cases at Merriman’s restaurants, which are on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island.

Merriman said employees are required to receive the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID- 19 vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Sept. 10. Those receiving Pfizer or Moderna shots must receive the second shot by Oct. 8.

Merriman is giving employees one shift’s worth of paid time off to get the vaccine and recover from side effects. Merriman’s Hawaii also will give $100 in internal “Merri Money” to be used within the brand.

Those with approved medical or religious exemptions will be required to submit a weekly negative COVID-19 test. However, Merriman said regular testing will not be allowed in lieu of vaccination.

“We were scared to death when we made this move,” he said. “It turns out there are people who are saying, ‘I’d like to come work for you if everyone is vaccinated over there.’ And now some of our customers are telling us, ‘Hey, I’ll eat here more often.’”

Merriman said similar employee vaccination requirements are pending for Handcrafted Restaurants, which include the Monkeypod by Merriman restaurants on Oahu and Maui, The Beach House on Kauai and Moku Kitchen in SALT at Kakaako.

A vaccination mandate for customers also is pending at Merriman’s Hawaii and Handcrafted Restaurants locations, he said.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green supported Merriman’s news in a statement, “I have always been a fan of Merriman’s and now have even more reason to celebrate how they always put Hawaii first. I’m proud Merriman’s is helping lead the charge to make Hawaii safe for everyone during the pandemic.

“Let’s show our support for Peter Merriman and his team by commending them for their thoughtful action. This is a business we should get behind. I’m taking my wife Jaime there for our anniversary dinner to show how much we appreciate Peter, his team, and his staff for being thoughtful business leaders.”

Merriman’s mandate came as state Department of Health officials reported 539 new confirmed and probable coronavirus infections on Monday, which helped bring the state’s active infection count to 8,165 cases. There were 308 people with COVID-19 as of Saturday in Hawaii hospitals — the highest number since Sept. 8’s 315.

The latest Hawaii COVID-19 vaccine summary says 1,804,695 vaccine doses had been administered through state and federal distribution programs as of Saturday, up 7,289 from a day earlier. Health officials say 61.3% of the state’s population is now fully vaccinated, and 69% has received at least one dose.

Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, said the organization is conducting a survey to determine how widespread mandatory employee vaccinations are in Hawaii, and plans to hold a webinar Wednesday to discuss the subject.

“We don’t have an official position yet on mandating vaccines in the workplace,” Menor-McNamara said.

Besides health care, some banks and airlines have mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, she said.

“I think we may see more if the case count doesn’t get managed,” Menor- McNamara said.

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