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As mask rules differ, Maui businesses call for clarity

Mayor says he doesn’t support federal agency’s advice

Masked visitors walk along Lahaina’s Front Street in March. State and county officials have been vague about whether they plan to align their rules with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which relaxed mask-wearing guidance for vaccinated people on Tuesday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In light of new federal guidelines that relax mask guidance for vaccinated people, Maui small business leaders with outdoor spaces said consistency is what they want most.

“What’s the most challenging about CDC guidelines and state guidelines and county guidelines is that they don’t all match up,” Claire Byler, general manager of Cafe O’Lei at the Mill House in Wailuku, said Wednesday. “For locals I feel like generally people are pretty good about it. But with tourists they’re coming from places where mask mandates are gone; they all have this feeling that they’re tested and they’re cleared. It’s been really challenging for us.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rolled out updated advice Tuesday that detailed activities vaccinated people can safely resume without a face mask, such as attending small outdoor gatherings.

Although it urged the continued use of face coverings in most indoor and crowded outdoor settings, the CDC outlined a variety of situations in which people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can bypass wearing a mask.

Those situations include but are not limited to: dining at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households; attending small outdoor gatherings with a mix of fully vaccinated or unvaccinated people; attending small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated people; walking, running, hiking or biking outdoors alone or with household members.

Betsy Scott, Kahului Ale House bartender and manager, prepares drinks while masked after the reopening of bars in June. Differences in federal, state and county mask-wearing regulations have local businesses on Maui calling for clarity and consistency. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

“Today is another day we can take a step back to the normalcy of before,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a Tuesday briefing. “Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what they cannot do, what they should not do. Today, I’m going to tell you some of the things you can do if you are fully vaccinated.”

Still, state and county officials were vague Wednesday about whether mask rules will align with the federal public health agency.

“The latest CDC guidelines on mask requirements are being reviewed by Gov. Ige, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the AG’s office, the Department of Health and the county mayors,” governor spokeswoman Cindy McMillan said Wednesday via email. “If any adjustments are made to the emergency proclamation as a result of the latest CDC guidelines, the Office of the Governor will make that announcement.”

Mayor Michael Victorino doubled-down on the state and county mask rules Wednesday, saying that the mandate to wear masks outdoors has not changed and he is “not in support” of the latest CDC guidance.

“I’m not in support of it because how do you verify whether you have (been fully vaccinated) or not,” he said during the county’s news conference. “How many people keep their card when they’re on the beach or walking in the street? . . . Some people don’t even have their license. There are a number of questions that remain to be answered.”

Wailuku’s Fanueli Fifita does an incline press with a pair of 60-pound dumbbells at the Maui Family YMCA in January. Some gym owners say that changing mask guidelines make things confusing to enforce. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“I would have hoped that the CDC would have waited till we got to the point of having at least 65 percent herd immunity before making a suggestion like that,” he added.

Giovanni Steven Cappelli, the owner of Bistro Casanova in Kahului who has been in the restaurant industry on Maui since 1986, said Wednesday that he hopes mask guidelines are made consistent across the board.

“At this point it’s more to have a unified approach to the constantly changing regulations so our customer or guest does not feel that each individual restaurant is doing its own rules,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the mayor coming up with a clear approach for what to do with people with parties, or people who are fully vaccinated.”

Garrett Marrero, CEO and co-founder of Kihei-based Maui Brewing Co., said he supports the county aligning with CDC mask guidance and “getting back to normal,” adding that the decision is “common sense.”

Staci Fujimoto, whose Wailuku gym CrossFit Maui Extreme operates in an open-air, partially covered indoor and outdoor space, said the changing guidelines make things confusing to enforce. She said not all businesses comply with the county rules and that the ones that do may suffer losses as a result.

“We’ve definitely lost quite a few members who go to other gyms because they’re not wearing masks — and we’re following the rules as stated by the County of Maui,” she said.

Inconsistent face mask rules within the state have been a point of contention for some time. Since the reopening of tourism in October, counties have struggled with informing visitors from various states about nuanced COVID-19 mandates. Often the burden to enforce rules is placed on individual local businesses, which can be fined and/or shut down for violating public health emergency orders.

After county mayors lobbied for a consistent statewide mandate last year, Gov. David Ige signed the 15th emergency proclamation in November to mandate masks in public on every island. One exception is “while outdoors when physical distance of 6 feet can be maintained at all times.”

Maui County took it a step further for outdoor spaces, mandating masks regardless of whether physical distance can be maintained.

The latest County of Maui emergency proclamation says that people on sidewalks, hiking trails, in parks and similar areas, unless engaged in strenuous outdoor activity, must still wear masks. Also, people in any open-air or partially open mall, marketplace, lobby, atrium, gas station or similar facility must wear masks.

Masks are allowed to be removed outdoors when people are stationary and adequately separated, such as occupying a pool lounge chair, beach chair or towel, according to the proclamation. Face coverings must be worn while walking to and from the pool or beach area and may only be removed once the person is stationary and separated from nonhousehold members.

Maui County restaurant customers must wear face coverings at all times, but may temporarily remove a face covering only while actively eating or drinking.

Also, gyms, yoga studios and similar venues, whether indoor or outdoor, must comply with face mask rules and specifically must ensure that all occupants wear face coverings at all times unless medically exempt, according to the proclamation.

County Managing Director Sandy Baz during the news conference said the CDC updates caught local officials “a little bit off guard.”

“Those who are fully vaccinated have less risk of infection when visiting family and friends and participating in outdoor activities without a mask,” he said. “While this may be a positive step and highlights the need for everyone to get vaccinated, Mayor Victorino and the governor and the other mayors are working together to determine what this means for mask wearing in Hawaii.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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