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County lifts vaccine requirements for indoor service

Vaccination or negative test no longer needed at restaurants, bars, gyms starting Monday

A customer gets their vaccination card and photo ID checked before entering a business on Sept. 17. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will no longer be required for indoor service at restaurants, bars and gyms starting Monday, the county announced. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will no longer be required for indoor service at restaurants, bars and gyms in Maui County starting Monday, Mayor Michael Victorino announced.

“With the rapid decline of new COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations, we can safely eliminate the proof-of-vaccination requirement for bars, restaurants and gyms,” Victorino said Friday. “We successfully avoided overloading our health care capacity, so many thanks to the community and especially the business operators who have struggled through this entire pandemic.”

Maui County began requiring proof of full vaccination to enter restaurants, bars and gyms in September under Victorino’s “Safer Outside” initiative amid a spike in cases due to the delta variant. The county tightened the rules in January, tacking on the requirement of a booster shot for indoor service as the omicron variant fueled thousands of daily new cases across Hawaii. It lifted the booster requirement on Feb. 7, lowering it to a recommendation.

“Anytime we reduce or remove a mandate, it’s helpful, because in that instance, of course, there’s a lot of checking, there’s additional staffing that’s required,” Maui Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Tumpap said Friday. “And we’re at a time when we’re seeing the numbers (of cases) drop.”

Over the past few months, businesses have been struggling with the additional proof-of-vaccination requirements, made more challenging by the nationwide staffing shortage, Tumpap said. Checking people’s vaccination status takes more training, personnel and time, and during peak hours it sometimes means holding up a line of customers.

“It’s just a time-consuming exercise, and it has cost businesses more money,” Tumpap said. “But everybody has wanted to do their part and keep the community safe, and so the businesses really appreciate when we can relax these different mandates that we do.”

Not having to screen customers for vaccination status “also aids and reduces customer frustration,” she added.

COVID cases have been declining statewide, with Maui County now averaging 61 new cases a day as of Friday, compared with 170.1 cases two weeks ago. All four counties have seen a decrease of more than 60 percent in daily cases over the past two weeks.

Hospitalizations have also dropped locally, with Maui Memorial Medical Center reporting 11 patients with COVID-19 as of 9 a.m. Friday. None were in the intensive care unit and none were on a ventilator.

The hospital, however, which had a record high 56 COVID-positive patients on Jan. 28, said Wednesday that it has been dealing with “the longest, most sustained high census” it has ever experienced.

Victorino said Friday that it’s not yet time to drop all safeguards against the virus.

“This rule change, and more to come, doesn’t mean we can throw caution to the wind,” he said. “We advise continuing to wear face masks while indoors in public spaces and to maintain physical distancing when in groups of people from outside of your household. COVID-19 is still circulating out there.”

He added that the county’s indoor mask requirement must be lifted by the governor.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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