UHERO report: Vaccinations up, customers down in wake of mandates

Businesses express support for rules but say customers, revenue have declined

Maui County saw a slight increase in COVID-19 vaccination rates but a decline in customer patronage as a result of workplace restrictions for employees and customers this past month, according to a statewide survey by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

After the largest uptick in cases since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a weekly rolling average of more than 900 cases per day in Hawaii, vaccination and testing mandates were implemented in mid-September by county officials to reduce the spread of the virus and increase vaccination rates on Oahu and Maui.

Using a survey tool of nearly 2,000 businesses in Hawaii, UHERO and the Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19, as well as other partners, conducted a study that showed the impact that the mandates have had on businesses and the effectiveness on increasing vaccination rates.

About 69 percent of employees working for Maui County businesses (84.4 percent statewide) were vaccinated prior to Mayor Michael Victorino implementing the Safer Outside program, which requires proof of vaccination for indoor dining at restaurants and bars and limits gathering sizes. These rules have been in effect for about a month.

Still, the mandates have received mixed reviews from the community, either viewing the rules as “unconstitutional” or effective in combating the spread of COVID-19.

As a result, about 10.4 percent of employees at Maui County businesses were estimated to have received the shot after the mandates, while 13 percent reported opting for regular testing. About 7 percent dismissed the mandate.

Local businesses have continued to feel the negative financial impacts of COVID-19 and data as of Tuesday showed that the mandates have some effect on the number of customers, employees and daily revenue due to resistance or complaints.

Although the majority of businesses reported no change, the report cited a significant number of businesses across Hawaii (35 percent) having a decrease in the number of customers while only 8.2 percent reported an increase in the number of customers.

About 39 percent of businesses had a decrease in revenue, according to the report, while only 7 percent had an increase in revenue.

The report also shows that about a quarter of businesses saw an increase in customer resistance and complaints.

However, the survey noted that mandates were implemented in mid-September when visitor arrivals fell “sharply” and residents reduced their activities.

“Therefore, although businesses reported these numbers, customers and revenue were likely also affected by other factors that this survey cannot disentangle,” the report states.

There was a slight increase in vaccination rates statewide as a result of the mandates — an additional 8 percent of employees got vaccinated, 5.9 percent opted for regular COVID-19 testing and 1.7 percent were either dismissed or resigned.

“The increased vaccination rate observed is an encouraging indication of the efficacy of these mandates on businesses in Hawaii, with far-reaching implications for other parts of the country implementing similar strategies to mitigate COVID-19,” according to the report.

About 80 percent of survey participants were located on Oahu, about 8 percent in Hawaii County, 8 percent in Maui County and 3 percent in Kauai County.

The majority of participating businesses had 100 or fewer employees, representing the food and beverage industry (22.7 percent), health services (15.4 percent), tourism (12.9 percent), retail (12.6 percent) and nonprofit organizations (10.9 percent).

The fitness industry and the food industry saw the biggest upticks in vaccination rates after the mandate with a 12 percent increase, followed by the tourism and events sector with about a 9 percent increase.

Although there was pushback among multiple establishments on Maui, the report indicates that more than 60 percent of businesses statewide have imposed a mandate for their employees to get tested or be vaccinated for COVID-19 — this is a big jump from the survey by the same organizations in August.

Broken down, Oahu businesses report the largest percentage of mandates for employees at 62.9 percent, followed by Kauai at 48.4 percent, Maui at 42.5 percent and Hawaii island at 39 percent.

When it came to workers electing to get tested, the employers paid for the COVID-19 test around 20 percent of the time. However, the cost was the responsibility of the employees in 37.6 percent of the cases, or they relied on other sources, like state and city free testing opportunities, around 42 percent of the time.

Ruben Juarez, UHERO research fellow and professor in the UH Economics Department, said Wednesday that while the Neighbor Islands showed “slightly less support for mandates,” the majority of businesses across Hawaii do support immunizations.

Among all the businesses in the survey, 70.5 percent said that they support the mandate for employees, 17.5 percent do not support it and 11.8 percent 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,” according to the report. “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.”

In regards to vaccine passports for customers to dine in or enter any indoor facility with the vaccine mandate in place, nearly 62 percent of businesses said they support it.

The reasons for supporting vaccine passports for customers “mirror those from mandates for employees,” the report said.

“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,” the report said.

The differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, and the willingness to implement mandates, are primarily driven by “trust and sources of information.”

In other words, respondents who were unvaccinated are far less likely to trust institutions, like the government or COVID-19 task forces, and seem to use social media as their primary source of news information, according to the report.

Nonetheless, more than half of businesses indicated that they would like to receive funding to provide take-home tests for employees as the pandemic continues while many others indicated the need for technical support for checking vaccination or testing status.

The remaining responses indicated that employers want educational resources for employees and customers.

Based on the survey results and the recent uptick in vaccination rates, UHERO concluded that vaccine mandates “have been effective in increasing COVID-19 vaccination in Hawaii.”

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


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