Hawaii retailers say there is now even more confusion over masking among customers after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated people no longer have to wear them in most indoor settings.
This is compounded by a growing number of national retailers with a presence in Hawaii, such as Costco, Walmart and Target, announcing that they, too, have dropped mask requirements for fully vaccinated customers.
In Hawaii, masks are still required inside all retail stores.
Hawaii’s statewide mask mandate requires customers — fully vaccinated or not — to continue wearing masks when in public settings, including retail stores. Outdoors, Hawaii’s law requires people to wear masks if 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained from a person outside of one’s household.
Tina Yamaki, president of Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said enforcing mask-wearing rules has been a challenge for retailers throughout the pandemic, but even more so now.
“Now we’re having more visitors who say, well, we don’t have to wear masks in our state and the CDC said,” she said. “The CDC offers guidelines. It’s not the law. It’s a recommendation, and we have to follow the state law.”
Stores throughout Hawaii still have signs up informing customers that masks are required to enter, she said, but retail workers constantly have to remind people.
From the start of the pandemic, retailers have always had to deal with customers trying to push the envelope, she said, or who made excuses for not wearing a mask.
“People are confrontational now,” said Yamaki. “We’ve had confrontations, and that’s the sad part about it. No. 1, we’re not doing it because we want to make your life harder. It’s the law. No. 2, we want to make sure everybody is safe.”
Debbie Ah Chick-Hopkins, owner of the Global Village boutique in Kailua, has not had any confrontations since the new CDC guidelines came out.
But the new guidance is adding to the overall confusion, she said, as more mainland visitors shop at the boutique.
“It makes it difficult because the CDC comes out and makes this blanket statement,” she said. “Major retailers on the mainland are also allowing people not to have masks, so it just creates confusion for people, especially for travelers.”
The shop has a custom-designed sign right on its front doors, saying “Stay Safe Please Wear A Mask.”
Outdoors, property owners Alexander &Baldwin also placed signs in front of shops and on the ground, informing the public that masks are required on the property.
As a small-business owner, Ah Chick-Hopkins feels the enforcement of mask rules puts retailers in an awkward position.
“As an employer, I don’t want our staff to be berated just because we’re trying to be in compliance with the state,” she said. “We’re here to service our customers. We’re here to be that friendly face and when we’re put into that position, it’s not a comfortable position to be in.”
Yamaki said that violations of the mask mandate can result in up to $5,000 in fines for the violator as well as for the retail business.
“The burden is on us when we’re trying to tell them don’t do it,” she said.
If a retailer calls the police to report the violation, she said, often those customers have left by the time officers arrive.
At ABC Stores, storefront signs saying masks are required are now bigger, according to Neil Ishida, director of government affairs and employee relations, with smaller print that explains it is mandated in the state.
Pushback to mask wearing has occurred since the start of the pandemic, Ishida said.
“There’s always people that wouldn’t abide by it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s much of a difference. Our associates regularly have pushback.”
ABC Stores workers are trained to handle the incidents with aloha, but will call police if necessary. So far, those instances have been rare, he said.
Gov. David Ige said he would not change the state’s mask mandate because of the difficulty in discerning who’s been immunized, and he wanted to wait until more residents are vaccinated.
The Hawaii Department of Health on Monday also said it was ending its mask-wearing survey in partnership with the University of Hawaii after eight months, saying its focus is now on COVID-19 vaccinations.