LIHUE — A recent survey revealed that Kaua‘i businesses are divided when it comes to mandates requiring weekly testing or vaccination for employees and vaccine passports for guests.
The 121 businesses that completed the survey, conducted by the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce, represent a wide variety of industries from across the island.
“We collected this data in order to help educate our policymakers here on Kaua‘i and across the state. This information has really been used to help inform them on the (attitudes, views, and needs) of the business community here on Kaua‘i,” said Chamber President Mark Perriello.
When it comes to requiring employee vaccination, 19% of businesses reported that they already require vaccination for employees. An additional 26.45% are considering the option.
Most businesses, 60.33%, are not currently considering a vaccine requirement for employees. The potential loss of employees due to a mandate and legal concerns ranked the highest among concerns for businesses, including for Andy Evers, general manager at Koloa Landing Resort.
“Labor right now continues to be tight,” Evers said. “And I know we probably have about 20% of our staff that aren’t vaccinated.”
A government mandate would help ease legal concerns for Evers.
“With the federal government mandating (vaccinations for employees and subcontractors), it kind of takes the liability side off the businesses,” Evers said. “We prefer that if there are any mandates that it come from either the county or the federal government.”
Koloa Landing is in favor of vaccine mandates for employees but does not currently require any, Evers said.
“There are a few holdouts (who), for whatever reason, don’t want to get the vaccine. But I think the safety and welfare of all the other associates can outweigh that,” said Evers.
He cited the financial cost of having unvaccinated workers.
“Anytime that we have any contact with a (COVID-19 positive) associate, we are spending $3,000 to $5,000 for (on-site) testing. So, it’s a very expensive thing to not have our associates vaccinated,” said Evers.
When asked if Kaua‘i should have a mandate requiring all patrons to restaurants, bars and other venues to show proof of vaccination in order to gain entry, 52.5% of responding business owners supported the idea, while 47.5% opposed it.
There was no notable difference between businesses in the tourism industry and those that are not. This has made it difficult for the chamber to take a firm stance on the topic.
“We currently have not taken a position on a vaccine passport,” Perriello said. “But we’re able to use this information to have robust conversations with our policymakers about a vaccine passport and whether or not it makes sense for our island.”
Some businesses are already required to check the vaccination status of guests.
“Several of our member businesses are contracted with the state to do business, and because of the way they are contracted with the state, they do have to require a vaccine passport for any of their patrons,” said Perriello.
This, Perriello said, has been “very, very difficult for them to implement.”
Masking and social distancing
Less than 10% of respondents said that social distancing and masking requirements have negatively impacted their businesses, while just over 90% responded either that their business was unaffected by the requirement or that the need for masking and social distancing outweighed concerns for their individual business.
The results should not come as too much of a surprise because businesses have been navigating a web of COVID mandates to keep community spread at bay.
“If the virus isn’t contained, then, anytime we have an outbreak where a cluster of people are affected, it can shut down business,” said Evers. “Labor and staffing (are) so tight right now that if you lose two or three associates, then, you know you have to curtail services dramatically. When people are coming in and paying $400 or $500 a night for a hotel room, they expect that level of service. If you can’t provide it, it dramatically affects your business.”