LIHU‘E — The county is working on a new policy that would allow some businesses to choose to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry to bars, restaurants and gyms. And for those that decide to adopt the admission rule, they will be able to operate at 100% capacity.
“This would not be a mandatory program across the board, but an option,” Mayor Derek Kawakami’s Chief of Staff Sarah Blane said Friday. “For businesses not interested in implementing a vaccine/testing program, it would remain status quo.”
The in-the-works county policy stems from a statewide order announced earlier this week.
On Tuesday, Gov. David Ige said that beginning Nov. 12, bars, restaurants and gyms would be allowed to operate at 100% capacity in counties that had vaccination requirements for entry or showed a negative COVID-19 test from the past 48 hours, which, at the time, was only on O‘ahu and Maui, and not on Kaua‘i or Hawai‘i islands.
When this order was announced, Kawakami explained that he would rather avoid forced requirements on businessowners.
“We agree that it’s time for our businesses to operate at larger capacity if they choose, but it should not require another county policy or program,” Kawakami said in a statement. “Prior to this announcement, the county had no intention of creating a vaccine or test program for private businesses, because we believe our businesses already know how to operate safely. But (Tuesday’s) announcement essentially forces the county to implement such a policy in order to allow our local businesses to operate above 50%.”
The statewide order would also allow these affected businesses to sit patrons closer than 6-feet apart in outdoor settings and not require masking. Indoor orders regarding masking and social distancing would remain.
“The (county) policy has not yet been finalized, but we are committed to that direction based on feedback from several business owners,” Blane said.
Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce President Mark Perriello said requiring vaccination or tests for admission can be a hardship on some business owners.
“The business community is stuck in between a rock and a hard place right now,” Perriello said. “I think a lot of businesses would like to go to 100%, but they have a few issues preventing them from doing that.”
The ongoing staffing crisis and social distancing in smaller establishments have been difficult for local businesses, Perriello said, but many have been able to make do with their employees and the space they have available.
“People should feel safe going out to our establishments on Kaua‘i, they are following social distancing requirements,” Perriello said. “They are doing what they need to maintain the health and safety of their patrons.”
Perriello said that most people he’s spoken to would like a “no-strings-attached 100% capacity” option, but he expressed gratefulness to the county for finding a middle ground.
“Mayor Kawakami is striking the right balance in giving restaurants and other establishments and option to go to 100% or to stay at 50% capacity,” Perriello said. “It’s not an ideal situation.”
The policy, which is not yet finalized, would only apply to the county, Blane said, so Ige approval would not be necessary.
Source: The Garden Island