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Restaurateurs: Safe Access Oahu mandates a hassle, but they’re better than a shutdown

Published: Sep. 12, 2021 at 5:58 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 13, 2021 at 7:25 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Staring Monday, Oahu restaurants and bars will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test under a program aimed at addressing an ongoing COVID surge.

Several eateries said the new Safe Access Oahu are better than another shutdown.

“I’m happy that we have an opportunity to stay open. That’s the main thing — we have stay open,” said Dylan Ching, vice president of operations for TS Restaurants, which owns Duke’s and a number of other eating and drinking establishments.

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He said the new mandate has boosted vaccination rates among employees.

But it’s also added a new layer of costs and hassles to accommodate unvaccinated workers who have to be tested weekly.

“If they don’t get their tests done, we can’t schedule them so we can’t open certain sections or even certain meal periods,” he said.

Ching and other restaurant operators have been preparing for the new vaccine mandates since Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced the rule changes on Aug. 30.

Under Safe Access Oahu, a host of businesses — from restaurants to gyms — will now be required to ask customers for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.

The program also has a vaccine-or-test mandate for restaurant employees.

Ching said his company set up an additional host stations at its entrances to explain to customers why they need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test taken within 48 hours.

Customers can provide proof of vaccination by uploading their vaccination cards on an app that’s part of the state’s Safe Travels website or they can bring a hard copy or a photo of their vaccination card.

Many restaurants are providing scripts to their workers so they can explain to customers what the new requirements are. And a lot of these employees have been trained to handle potentially tense situations.

“Most of the restaurateurs have trained their employees on de-escalation. De-escalation started when the mask mandate became a requirement for indoors,” said Sheryl Matsuoka, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.

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