Over 60% of Hawaii businesses require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested — and more than 84% say they have employees who have gotten vaccinated.

A survey of 1,987 businesses conducted in late September by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization underscores anecdotal experiences of some businesses since new Safe Access O‘ahu mandates went into effect Sept. 13, along with state vaccination and testing rules for state buildings and property, and President Joe Biden’s call for U.S. businesses with 100 or more employees to require employee vaccinations.

The UHERO survey found that 70.5% of island businesses support employee mandates, 17.5% are opposed and 11.8% are unsure.

“The overwhelming reasons businesses support the mandate are to protect the community, decrease the spread of COVID-19, protect employees, increase safety at work and to protect customers,” UHERO said. “The reasons or barriers why businesses do not support the mandate include the belief that it is not legal and/or constitutional, due to employee resistance and personal preference of the employer.”

The survey also found that:

>> On Oahu, 85.1% of private-sector employees were already vaccinated before vaccination mandates began, followed by another 8.2% who became vaccinated after the mandates. Some 5.9% of Oahu business employees are estimated to prefer regular testing and 1.7% of employees are estimated to have either resigned or been fired for refusing to get either vaccinated or tested.

“Based on the survey results and the recent increase in vaccination, we concluded that vaccine mandates have been effective in increasing COVID-19 vaccination in Hawaii,” UHERO said in its study.

>> Of overall businesses that have testing or vaccination mandates, 35.1% have experienced a decrease in customers; 8.2% have seen an increase; 39.5% saw decreased revenue; and only 7% had revenue growth, according to the survey.

>> Some 25.2% of businesses reported greater “customer resistance and complaints” while 7.8% said customer complaints have gone down.

>> “Almost 2 in 3 businesses (61.75%) support vaccine passports for customers, 22.2% of businesses do not support vaccine passports, while 15.9% are unsure,” according to UHERO. “The reasons why businesses support vaccine passports for customers mirror those from mandates for employees. The main reasons or barriers as to why businesses do not support the mandate for customers include customer resistance, and the belief that it is not their companies’ responsibility, in addition to the ones for vaccine mandates for employees.”

>> More than half of island businesses — 54.48% — would like funding for take-home COVID-19 tests for employees; 48.5% said they need technical support for checking vaccination and testing status; and 36.9% and 38.77% requested educational resources for both employees and customers, respectively.

The drop in revenue that UHERO found coincides with the overall experience of the members of Retail Merchants Hawaii, said President Tina Yamaki.

As COVID-19 numbers spiked from the delta variant, Gov. David Ige in August made national news by asking visitors to stay away at least through the end of October. Visitor numbers — and sales — subsequently began falling even before Labor Day.

“We are still waiting for that Asian visitor to come back, the foreign visitors — not necessarily the domestic ones. They’re the more budget travelers who don’t really spend the money,” Yamaki said. “Even locally, people are shopping more online on every island.”

So Yamaki is pleased UHERO found overwhelming support among businesses for mandates and employee vaccinations.

“As we’re moving forward we’re going into our ‘Super Bowl’ season, our holiday season, and we want to maintain that it’s safe to shop,” she said. “We still have to wear masks indoors and have to social distance. We are still cleaning all of the high-touch areas and maintaining a plastic screen between the cashier and customer. It’s very safe to come in.”

COVID-19 changes and mandates come on top of other business problems, such as a nationwide and local shortage of qualified job candidates and a global supply-chain issue that’s led to shortages of a broad range of products.

The shortage of automotive chips and overall lack of new auto inventory is particularly problematic for Hawaii’s automobile dealers, said Nick Cutter, vice president of Cutter Management Co.

His family owns nine Cutter dealerships on Oahu.

“We’re staffed OK,” he said. “The vast majority of our employees have been vaccinated. There are a few here and there who have not, but we continue to talk to them and encourage them.”

Inside Cutter showrooms, both customers and employees are required to wear masks.

The bigger problem, Cutter said, is that “our company is experiencing the lowest inventory we’ve ever had. Demand is quite strong, but the whole industry is quite off.”

The results of the UHERO survey track with similar surveys conducted during the pandemic by the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

“In the beginning when there were discussions about mandating vaccines in the work place, businesses were hesitating to implement a mandate because they didn’t know how and what the implications were,” said Chamber CEO and President Sherry Menor-­McNamara.

So the 8% increase in employee vaccinations reported to UHERO is encouraging, she said.

“Whether it’s 8% or 10%, as long as it continues to increase that’s a good thing,” Menor-McNamara said. “We’re definitely trending in the right direction.”

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