New uncertainty begins today for a long list of Oahu businesses when new COVID-19 vaccination and testing mandates kick in for 60 days with the goal of reducing the spread of the virus.
Violations are costly and carry maximum penalties of a year in jail and a fine of $5,000.
Enforcement will be up to the Honolulu Police Department, city spokesman Tim Sakahara said, along with Honolulu Liquor Commission investigators who will focus on complaints about businesses that serve liquor.
Although Safe Access O‘ahu is a city program, state sheriff’s deputies also “will assist on ‘an as needed basis’ to ensure the safety and well- being of our communities,” said Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety.
Law enforcement “will be called and they’ll respond as needed,” Sakahara said. “There’s not going to be, at least at this point, a Safe Access O‘ahu unit.”
So complaints will need to come from employees, customers and businesses themselves, who can call HPD at 529-3111.
“With a program this large, encompassing so many businesses, there is going to have to be an honor program and a self-enforcement aspect,” Sakahara said. “People can report businesses that are not in compliance. All of that is definitely part of the program.”
On Thursday, President Joe Biden also announced that companies with more than 100 employees will need to require vaccinations or weekly testing of employees, affecting an estimated 80 million to 100 million Americans.
In Hawaii there are 791 employers with more than 100 employees and 32,098 others with 99 or fewer employees, according to U.S. census data. Larger companies with more than 100 workers employ 45% of the Hawaii workforce, or 246,874 workers out of 553,206, according to census data.
The new Safe Access O‘ahu rules come as Hawaii’s tourism-reliant economy already was slowing even before Labor Day after Gov. David Ige asked tourists to stay away at least through the end of October.
Initial unemployment claims grew about 8% for the weekly period ending Aug. 28 — up to 2,401 from 2,218 the week before, according to the latest data from the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
Now business owners Debbie Faildo and her husband, Chris, worry whether some of their regular Flexx Fitness Hawaii customers at Dole Cannery will stay away at the same time the owners figure out how to enforce the vaccination and testing requirements of both their workers and customers.
Faildo already had been asking clients and employees about their vaccination and testing status and said, “People can get very upset. There are a lot of people who are not vaccinated,” including some of her workers.
She’s already gotten emails from clients saying, “‘I thought you guys were different.’ This is going to stop people from coming to the gym, and they’re going to cancel or suspend their membership.”
The Safe Access O‘ahu mandate requires new procedures, including:
>> A form that must be filled out by each business’s owner or agent attesting that Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s order will be followed. The form is available at oneoahu.org/test-attestation.
>> “A written record that describes how you will verify proof of vaccination or proof of negative COVID-19 tests for staff and patrons. The record must be on site and available for inspection.”
>> A requirement that each business “must post an 8.5 x 11 inch (minimum) sign in a conspicuous place that is viewable by prospective patrons prior to entering the establishment. The sign must alert patrons to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement in this Order … and inform them that employees and patrons are required to show proof of full vaccination or satisfy one of the exceptions in this Order.”
More information is available at oneoahu.org/safe- access-oahu.
No one knows exactly how many Oahu business fall under the requirements of Safe Access O‘ahu, said Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, which includes about 1,300 businesses on Oahu.
“The 60 days is going to be an additional hardship in an already hard situation,” she said. “How will it work? We’re just going to have to see.”
Menor-McNamara hopes that Oahu businesses help police one another in order to follow the 60-day mandate and control the spread of COVID-19, or face even bigger problems for the entire economy and residents’ health.
“We can all agree we do not want another shutdown,” she said. “That would be the tipping point for many.”
Employees who would rather quit than follow vaccination and testing requirements may not be eligible for unemployment benefits, although each initial claim is “handled on a case-by-case basis,” said DLIR spokesman Bill Kunstman.
In general, he said, employees who quit their jobs without a reasonable reason are not eligible for benefits.
Blangiardi’s Safe Access O‘ahu mandate applies to restaurants and bars, “bowling alleys, arcades, pool/billiard halls, movie theaters, museums, other recreational game or entertainment centers, and the indoor portions of botanical gardens, aquariums, zoos, sea life attractions, commercial recreational boating, public and private commercial pools, shooting/archery ranges, and other commercial attractions (cultural attractions, go kart, mini golf); Indoor ‘gym and fitness facility operations’ and ‘activities and group physical activity classes’ (including) standalone and hotel gyms and fitness centers, yoga/Pilates/barre/dance studios, boxing/kickboxing gyms, fitness boot camps, indoor pools, and other similar facilities.”
At Aiea Bowl and the Alley Restaurant in Aiea, the new requirements mean that General Manager Cy Shimabukuro had to create four new positions of “COVID card checker” who will verify the vaccination and testing status of incoming customers and double-check them against valid identifications.
At the same time, Shimabukuro also has to document the vaccination and weekly testing records for all of his fewer than 100 employees.
“Obviously, we all have to oblige the mandate,” Shimabukuro said. “If they’re not tested, they can’t show up for work, and they can’t work. They will be sent home. I can’t operate with them being unvaccinated or not being tested. I can’t have them in the building.”
Blangiardi’s order does not apply to the Wet’n’Wild Hawaii water park in Kapolei. But the park already planned to require its more than 100 employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing before Biden’s announcement.
In a statement Friday, Wet’n’Wild Hawaii said it “WILL require proof of vaccination or negative COVID test within 48 hours for any purchases at all retail, food and beverage locations. Both vaccine card and test results can be easily loaded on a smart phone via the SMART Health app.
“All guests and patrons to the park are highly recommended to be fully vaccinated or frequently tested,” the company said. “The park will not require full vaccination or testing to enter the park.”
Murphy’s Bar & Grill on Merchant Street already was shutting down the bar early as business slowed.
When he first heard about the new vaccination and testing rules, owner Don Murphy considered shuttering the entire business for a week to see how other businesses react. Two of his neighboring restaurant competitors already have temporarily shut down.
Ultimately, Murphy concluded, “I can’t afford to close.”
Last week he was still trying to figure how to comply with verifying his customers’ vaccine and testing statuses at each of his three entrances beginning today.
”We’ve got three doors,” Murphy said. “Do you go down to one door and lock the others, which is against the fire code?”
The greatest unknown is how customers are going to react to the new requirements.
“It’s going to be a little bit of an issue for everybody at first,” Murphy said. “Half the people are going to say, ‘That’s great.’ But you’re going to run into people who are anti-vax. Until we figure out how to make it run good and smooth, it’s hard to say. But we’ve got to get people vaccinated. So I’m guardedly optimistic.”
SAFE ACCESS O‘AHU
>> To report a suspected violation, call the Honolulu Police Department at 529-3111.
>> For more information, visit oneoahu.org/safe-access-oahu.