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Businesses on Maui gear up for Biden’s new mandate

President requiring vaccines or tests for employers with more than 100 workers

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House on Thursday in Washington. Biden announced a sweeping new federal vaccine requirements that will impact businesses with more than 100 employees. AP photo

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that COVID-19 vaccinations or testing will be required for employers with more than 100 workers, pushing forward efforts underway by local businesses to vaccinate staff.

“The policy we implemented on Sept. 1 aligns with President Biden’s announcement,” said Shayna Decker, communications manager for Hawaiian Electric on Maui. “We’ll stay the course and have already started our weekly testing.”

She said that prior to the announcement of Hawaiian Electric’s own policy of vaccinations and testing, the vaccination rate among the company’s 2,500 employees on five Hawaiian islands was about 70 percent. Since the policy took effect, 82 percent of employees are now fully vaccinated with another 3 percent reporting they received their first shot.

Biden’s mandate for companies with more than 100 workers is expected to affect about 100 million Americans, from health care workers to private-sector employees and federal contractors, the Associated Press reported.

Ron Gess, general manager of The People Who Clean Hawaii on Maui, said that almost all of his approximately 200 cleaning crew members and other workers on Maui are vaccinated, although maybe five to 10 percent may have religious reasons not to get it.

Hawaiian Electric Co. workers remove a fallen tree from the road in the wake of heavy rain and flooding in Haiku in March. President Joe Biden announced Monday that employers of more than 100 workers will need to require COVID-19 vaccinations or testing, affecting companies like Hawaiian Electric, which has about 2,500 employees across five islands. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

He thanked the state Department of Health for setting up a vaccination clinic at the company’s offices in Lahaina in April to help get employees vaccinated as well as their families and neighboring businesses.

Looking back, Gess said the business may have been a “trendsetter” in getting employees vaccinated.

He said it made sense for the cleaning company employees to be vaccinated, as clients wouldn’t want those who are responsible for cleaning and sanitizing their businesses to spread germs of their own.

Given that he feels the company is “ahead of the game,” Gess added, “I think I’m not fearful by the mandates that are coming.”

Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, hosted one of the largest vaccination clinics on the island for many weeks as Maui Health, operators of Maui Memorial Medical Center, scheduled South Maui vaccination appointments at the resort.

“Grand Wailea was proud to offer our team members the opportunity to get vaccinated at a Maui Health clinic we hosted that allowed more than 5,000 people to receive their vaccine,” said J.P. Oliver, managing director of the resort. “We will carefully review any new directives from the federal government, and we are committed to continuing our close partnership with county and state officials to build on the robust safety measures we have in place to protect the health of our team members, guests and community.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Grand Wailea said it had more than 1,450 team members, making it one of the largest employers on Maui.

Maui Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Tumpap said that the chamber emailed its members about President Biden’s announcement and had not received any calls about it as of late Thursday afternoon. However, she said the majority of the chamber members have employee counts below 100.

“At this point, many businesses with 100 + employees have instituted or are moving toward instituting such practices,” she said via text message.

In a chamber survey three weeks ago, some companies in the 20 to 50 employee range said they were considering similar vaccination policies, which may have been rolled out by now.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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