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Local businesses already see mask mandate pushback

CDC relaxed guidance last week; county sticks to more stringent rules

Face masks decorated with the Hawaiian islands are available in Lahaina in April. Some local businesses are already seeing some pushback from customers who refuse to wear masks after the federal government relaxed guidelines while the state and county maintained restrictions. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

PUKALANI — Some local businesses have already experienced mask pushback after the federal government last week relaxed guidelines on facial coverings for vaccinated people.

A man refused to wear a mask when asked by Foodland Pukalani workers mid-morning Sunday near the entrance of the locally owned grocery store.

“I don’t have to wear a mask because I’m vaccinated,” he yelled. “If you have a problem with it, you need to talk to the president.”

The Maui News observed the man hurling several obscenities before walking away as Foodland and Starbucks customers looked on.

Tara Sellars, general manager of locally owned Mana Foods in Paia, said she has already encountered a few customers who have cited the new federal guidance when refusing to wear a mask. She reminds patrons that the state and the county have kept mask mandates in place.

One Mana Foods employee is still traumatized after receiving death threats over a face mask confrontation with a customer.

The cashier, who’s elderly, had asked a customer to put his mask on properly.

Sellars said the man later called the store and left six to eight messages on the manager’s voicemail, threatening the cashier’s life.

“He followed her to her car, he described her car, he knew exactly where she parked every day,” Sellars said.

“She’s still totally traumatized and is just starting to feel a little more comfortable now,” Sellars added.

Sellars reported the threats to Maui Police Department, but there was no way to verify the identity of the man.

The general manager said her store has worked hard to follow all rules. Food establishments are heavily regulated and can be shut down by state or county enforcement agencies for violating public health emergency rules.

Inconsistent face mask rules within the state have been a flashpoint for some time. Now, though, federal, state and county rules do not align.

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.

Gov. David Ige during a news conference last week was asked if he is concerned that the state’s continued enforcement could cause backlash locally, especially if people point to the federal government.

“I’m always concerned about that,” he responded. “We put a tremendous amount of effort in getting the message out. . . . We do recognize that for vaccinated individuals it may be OK and healthy and safe to be out and about without a mask, but clearly for the benefit of the entire community, it’s better we continue to wear masks.”

President Joe Biden last Thursday praised new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that said fully vaccinated people may forego face masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings, calling it a “great day for America.”

Citing Hawaii’s vaccination rate and the logistical challenges of proving people have been vaccinated, Ige said Thursday that the state will uphold mask rules for now.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said later in the day that the county will adhere to the state mandate.

The county’s mask measures are more stringent than statewide rules, though, and have undergone several changes, such as banning gaiters and then repealing the ban shortly after.

After county mayors lobbied for a consistent statewide mandate last year, 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 then took it a step further for many outdoor spaces, mandating masks regardless of whether physical distance can be maintained.

Violating public health emergency rules is punishable as a misdemeanor with fines up to $5,000.

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

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