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Businesses wrestle with vaccine mandate

The Maui Family YMCA, along with other gyms, restaurants and bars in Maui County will need to check their patrons’ COVID-19 vaccination status beginning Wednesday. Those who are not fully vaccinated will not be allowed to enter the businesses. But outdoor dining, takeout and drive-thru service are options for the unvaccinated under the county’s “Safer Outside” initiative. The Maui News /MELISSA TANJI photo

Maui businesses are wrestling with the new upcoming county vaccine mandate as establishments say it will put a burden on them to turn the unvaccinated away.

Beginning Wednesday and for at least 30 days, only fully vaccinated customers, 12 years or older, will be allowed to enter restaurants, bars, and gyms across the county, while unvaccinated patrons will have to seek other options under Maui County’s “Safer Outside” initiative.

Those options are outdoor dining, take-out or drive-thru services. Those younger than 12 are exempt from the mandate as they are unable to be vaccinated.

“I feel horrible that I have to tell somebody who has been a member here at the Y that they have to cancel their membership because there’s no exceptions,” said Maui Family YMCA president and CEO Mike Morris on Monday.

Morris emailed an announcement to YMCA members on Friday about the policy change requiring guests be fully vaccinated and has since received “a considerable amount of hate mail.”

“They’re frustrated, you know, a lot of them are upset and look at the Y as a place that would never discriminate against people or discriminate between vaccinated and unvaccinated, but I don’t know of my choices,” he said. “It’s all just very frustrating and (the proclamation) lacks detail on what we can and can’t do.”

For Ichiban Restaurant and Sushi Bar, they will do a trial run for four days, verifying cards via QR codes, but may transition to takeout only “if it gets out of hand,” said Jasmine Juan, who manages operations for her parents that own the Kahului eatery.

Some customers will be understanding and aware of the situation that businesses are in, but many may not be, Juan expects.

“We want to treat everybody equally,” said Juan, who is concerned about employees having to refuse service to customers. “The trial will be just talking to people and letting them know that this is not what we wanted. We’ve been so lucky to have remained open and we continue to just do our best.”

She knows that many people in the community are not vaccinated and emphasized that she respects their choices, which is why it “feels unfair to have to pick and choose who we want to serve.”

Juan expects the mandate will hurt businesses financially too, especially for the “mom and pop shops,” and anticipates that foot traffic to Ichiban will slow down come Wednesday.

All of the employees at the Kahului restaurant are already vaccinated, Juan noted.

Employees of restaurants, bars and gyms, must also be vaccinated or present weekly negative COVID-19 tests, County Managing Director Sandy Baz confirmed on Friday after the county’s news conference.

Also under the “Safer Outside” initiative, restaurants and bars will need to close at 10 p.m. Restaurants, bars and gyms will continue to operate at 50 percent capacity.

Permitted proof of vaccination includes vaccination cards — whether in physical or digital format or as an original photocopy — or documentation from a health care provider.

The county will also not allow more than 10 people for outdoor social gatherings or more than five people for indoor social gatherings. Currently, outdoor social gatherings are limited to 25 and indoor gatherings are limited to 10. There will also be no spectators at indoor or outdoor sporting events.

Mayor Michael Victorino said last week that this is a “first step” and that these are ways he and his administration feel can “level the curve and hopefully start to bring the numbers down.”

The rules will stay in place for 30 days and then be evaluated.

Moku Roots, a vegan restaurant in Lahaina, said in a statement via Instagram on Sunday that come Wednesday, “we will not be playing this ‘some people are allowed to eat indoors while others are not’ game.”

“Luckily we have ample outdoor seating that we can offer to EVERYONE. So everyone’s welcome. We’re in this together! Stand together!,

according to the statement, which has received more than a thousand likes and comments of support from community members and local businesses.

Gannon’s Restaurant in Wailea, owned by Chef Bev Gannon who also owns Hali’imaile General Store, announced on its website that the establishment will be verifying the vaccination status of guests dining indoors.

“We greatly appreciate your understanding and patience as our staff works to safely accommodate all of our guests,” according to the statement. “Along with our new health codes we will be operating at 50 percent capacity for a comfortable dining experience so please make reservations.”

Back at the YMCA, Morris said small fitness centers and gyms might see a decline in memberships over the next month, but the YMCA is “not just a gym.”

The facility also provides wellness services, child care, diabetes prevention and other health-related programs, and other classes that “people are going to go without because of these new mandates and I feel bad for them,” he added.

“My whole life has been about service to others and I don’t know how to do that right now,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”

Morris said that the Maui Family YMCA had already been recommending employees to get vaccinated or take weekly COVID tests as an alternative, and is now attempting to use the Hawaii SMART Health Card through the Hawaii Safe Travels website to verify vaccination status of members when they check in with their membership cards.

According to the updated emergency rules, businesses that are not in compliance with any of the rules will face penalties, including fines and mandatory closure. But the county may issue special exceptions for uniquely designed structures or circumstances.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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