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Many reluctant to return to shops and restaurants in Hawaii

                                Joyce Pascua, left, walks with cousins Emman Calaycay and his sister Eden Calaycay, each with shopping bags and all wearing their face masks, after Mayor Kirk Caldwell gave the OK for businesses to reopen.


    Joyce Pascua, left, walks with cousins Emman Calaycay and his sister Eden Calaycay, each with shopping bags and all wearing their face masks, after Mayor Kirk Caldwell gave the OK for businesses to reopen.

“Shop till you drop” sounds more like a grim cautionary tale for the age of COVID-19 than a cheeky lifestyle slogan, but many on Oahu apparently have taken the warning to heart in an effort to limit exposure to the virus that has sickened more than 1,600 and led to 26 deaths in Hawaii.

Results of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Hawaii Poll show that 52% of the 625 Oahu registered voters surveyed had not shopped at a mall since they reopened in May. More women than men had visited malls — 52% versus 43% — and more people under the age of 50 had, too, likely reflecting concerns that older people are more vulnerable to the virus.

The poll showed 41% of residents surveyed who are age 50 and older had been to a mall in recent months, compared with 57% under the age of 50.

The reluctance to venture out to public spaces for nonessential activities also was evident in a poll question asking whether respondents had dined at a restaurant since they reopened in early June, although eating out had more appeal than a visit to the mall.

Of the 625 respondents, 56% said “yes” to dining out, and far more people under the age of 50 enjoyed a meal at a restaurant compared with older respondents: 66% versus 47%. Women were more likely to have been to a restaurant than men: 59% versus 53%.

The Hawaii Poll was conducted July 20-22 by telephone by Mason-Dixon Polling &Strategy of Washington, D.C. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

When malls first opened in May, Hawaii Kai resident Linda Beechinor went to Ala Moana Center and Kahala Mall to shop. While some stores were scrupulously adhering to coronavirus precautions, it was hit-and-miss with others, she said. One shop offering a big sale was packed with customers, according to Beechinor, 69.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I think I’ll get out of here.’”

She hasn’t been back to malls since. “It’s not worth the risk,” said Beechinor, a nurse practitioner who works with the homeless and mentally ill.

Beechinor said she went to the Koko Marina shopping center several times to pick up takeout food, “but I’m very aware of what we call the breaks in technique” when it comes to face coverings and gloves. Employees and patrons “have no idea what they are doing,” regularly touching their masks, blowing their nose, not sanitizing between transactions and using the same pair of gloves for multiple tasks and contacts.

“The employees, particularly, they don’t get it. It scares the hell out of me when I see people with gloves on.”

Beechinor feels even more strongly about avoiding restaurants.

“I’m not comfortable with that at all. I don’t want to be inside with anyone without a mask on or (not) knowing where they’ve been. I don’t want to be around groups of people, inside especially.”

Yvonne Hussey of Makiki said she has no qualms about visiting malls and restaurants — once she clears her 14-day self-­quarantine. Hussey returned to Hawaii on July 16 after spending a couple of months in Escondido, Calif., where she helped her son and his wife with their new baby.

“We have our masks and umpteen bottles of sanitizers our kids keep bringing over. But I get it; they’re very worried about us because of our age, and my husband has (a chronic inflammatory lung disease). They just want us to stay healthy.”

When her quarantine is done, Hussey expects to resume most of her usual activities. “I will wear a mask — that’s important — and wash my hands and don’t do anything out of the ordinary. You have to live your best life.”

Pearl City retiree Stewart Chun said he had already cut back on mall and restaurant visits before the pandemic in an effort to lose weight. COVID-19 has given him another reason.

“It does cause me a little concern because the more times I go out, the more exposure, and I’m increasing the probability of my getting something,” said Chun, 66, a former federal documents librarian with the Hawaii State Public Library System.

“I wouldn’t mind going out to support local businesses and to do other things,” he said. “In my case, I got streaming TV just before COVID hit and a Wi-Fi connection, and I bought a big-screen TV that has Google Play apps on it, and I got my computer, my iPhone and my iPad. I got my books, both electronic and print. …

“Overall, I feel safe, but the problem is because of my age group and health conditions, I’d rather not take the chance. And besides, I have a good companion: my wife.”

Destiny Norbrey, 28, of Ewa Beach said she feels safer eating out at a restaurant than at the mall. “You’re not around as many people. In a restaurant you’re with your selected group of individuals you went with, compared to a mall where there’s a lot of people and it’s harder to follow social-­distancing guidelines.”

A server at the Reflections restaurant at Hoakalei County Club in Ewa Beach, “I go out to eat with co-workers because I trust them and we take our temperatures every day. We’re a close bunch and I feel comfortable with everyone.”

Of respondents who answered “no” to visiting malls and restaurants in The Hawaii Poll, a plurality of 33% said they thought it would be at least six months before they went to a mall again, and a plurality of 45% said they would probably wait six months before dining out — bad news for the hard-hit retail and restaurant industries.

To change those perceptions, more needs to be done to educate the public about the safety measures in place at eateries, according to Greg Maples, chairman of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.

“I think we’ve done a good job scaring people about the numbers, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but what we haven’t done is educating people through PSAs (public service announcements), and maybe the HRA needs to help get the message out that it’s safe to dine out because of all the guidelines,” said Maples, who is director of restaurant services at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

“The most stringent guidelines are at restaurants, more than almost anywhere else. To get on a plane it’s less stringent than to eat in a restaurant.”

Aside from worries about the virus, Maples said restaurant visits may be down because people who find that their favorite places haven’t reopened or are doing takeout only are discouraged from seeking out new dining establishments.

When it comes to retail, fewer customers may be visiting malls because they have adapted to online shopping, delivery services and drive-thru pickup, according to Tina Yamaki, president of Retail Merchants of Hawaii. And COVID-19 concerns may be keeping folks at home who rely on public transportation or ride-sharing to get to malls.

“When the numbers spike, people are more scared to go out to restaurants, gyms or shopping malls or a store. We get that, but for retailers, we’re trying to do everything we can so they feel safe and are also protecting our employees,” she said.

One incentive to go to stores, Yamaki said, is to “shop local” since even national and international brands support the community by employing local residents. Plus, with retailers trying to unload three to fours months of unsold inventory to make way for new merchandise, there are some great sales out there, she said.

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