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Oahu restaurants adapt to new COVID-19 rules

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Monday marked the first day of the Safe Access O‘ahu program. Above, waitress Jennifer (no last name given) spoke with customers during lunch Monday at Highway Inn in Kakaako. The restaurant reported no problems with patrons providing documents to dine in.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Monday marked the first day of the Safe Access O‘ahu program. Above, waitress Jennifer (no last name given) spoke with customers during lunch Monday at Highway Inn in Kakaako. The restaurant reported no problems with patrons providing documents to dine in.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The Safe Access O‘ahu program’s restrictions apply to restaurants, gyms and movie theaters. Above, customers were spaciously seated during Monday lunch hour at Morning Brew in Kakaako.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The Safe Access O‘ahu program’s restrictions apply to restaurants, gyms and movie theaters. Above, customers were spaciously seated during Monday lunch hour at Morning Brew in Kakaako.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Moku Kitchen hostess Lil’Ann Cosido verified a customer before allowing her entry to the restaurant for lunch.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Moku Kitchen hostess Lil’Ann Cosido verified a customer before allowing her entry to the restaurant for lunch.

Restaurants are adjusting to new dine-in requirements for patrons who must now present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to be seated.

The Safe Access O‘ahu program went into effect Monday, and also requires restaurant employees to provide proof of either vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. The restrictions, which will continue for the next 60 days, also apply to establishments such as gyms and movie theaters in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 and keep Oahu’s hospitals from reaching capacity.

All around Oahu, signs explaining the new city requirements to the public were posted at affected establishments around entryways, on doors, in windows and other conspicuous places as required by the program.

“Proof of vaccination or proof of negative COVID- 19 test result taken within 48 hours is required for all individuals 12 years and older,” read a couple of framed poster-size notices on stands leading to the Basalt restaurant in Waikiki.

At the Royal Hawaiian Center food court, a security guard was checking vaccine or test documents, matching them with photo identification and giving out red “COVID-19 Vaccinated” stickers to customers who wished to sit at tables that were cordoned off from restaurant counters. The guard said only one person from about 1-6 p.m. had to be turned away.

Alex Robinson, manager of Shorefyre at International Market Place, said he was hoping that business might pick up from customers feeling safer, but that didn’t happen Monday. Instead, the restaurant and bar’s customer rejection rate was about 30% for reasons that included some people having a negative test more than 48 hours old.

“It’s a huge learning curve for everybody,” he said.

Duke’s Waikiki took a highly proactive approach by calling customers, some of whom made reservations three or four months ago, to explain the new rules. The restaurant also posted information online, and was even letting customers know where they could get free coronavirus tests in Waikiki.

“It was a pretty big push these last two weeks,” said Drew Crocker, the restaurant’s general manager. “We tried to load our team up so they’re not just saying no to people.”

Crocker said Duke’s trained 27 employees who now do vaccine/test verification in four shifts covering 30 work hours daily. On Monday he said a couple of guests were unhappy with the requirement, but Duke’s still had waiting times of roughly one hour for bar area seating and three hours in the restaurant section shortly before 6 p.m.

Some establishments had printed copies of the city’s emergency order available or displayed.

Isabel Calderon, a vaccinated visitor who arrived in Hawaii on Monday from California, said she heard about the requirement before she left on her vacation and wasn’t surprised.

“I think it’s safe,” she said.

Frank and Laura Harris, visitors from St. Louis, also were informed before their trip and showed vaccination cards for lunch. “Everything went well,” Laura Harris said.

At Morning Brew in Kakaako on Monday, employee Kamryn Kepa said she did not see much of a change in the number of people dining in. “We’re super fortunate that a lot of our regulars in the area seem to be very understanding,” she said.

“I’ve had a lot of people thank me, too, for being safe,” said Kepa, adding that she also felt safer at work.

The employees at Highway Inn had a similar experience. Ku‘uipo Lorenzo has been a hostess at the restaurant for the last seven years, since the Kakaako location opened in 2013.

When the restaurant opened Monday morning, there was a line outside the door, but checking the vaccination cards or tests wasn’t as complicated as Lorenzo thought it would be. “I would bring them in at the time, one by one, because until our tables were available, they waited outside,” she said.

“I asked to see their vaccination card with their matching ID, and I went right around the block. We had a line, and I just made that announcement to everyone so they could have it ready when they came to the door. That worked out perfectly.”

A line out the door in the morning is not unusual for Highway Inn, and Lorenzo said she did not notice much of a difference in the number of people coming to the restaurant.

Of all the people she seated Monday morning into early afternoon, everyone had been vaccinated. No one had yet instead opted to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

The only bump in the process was when Lorenzo was seating a table and one of the members of the party forgot his vaccination card at their hotel and couldn’t remember his password for the Hawaii’s SMART Health Card app. However, he was so eager to eat at Highway Inn, he told the rest of the party to order for him while he went back to the hotel to get his vaccination card and join the group.

Generally, people were receptive to the program, Lorenzo said.

“I just sat a family down, and we were going through this and she said, ‘Thank you for checking on this,’ because they feel safer dining in. And that was the first response I’ve heard from someone,” she said.

“I felt really good about that because our restaurant is here for customer service. We always want someone to feel safe dining in and enjoying their meal and their experience so that they would come back.”

The city has set up an additional free drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena which is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. People can sign up online for either a rapid antigen test that would produce a result in one hour, or a PCR nasal swab with results in 24-48 hours. Both tests would satisfy the requirements for those who are unvaccinated under the Safe Access O‘ahu Program.

An appointment is required, and available every five minutes at testing.nomi health.com/signup/hawaii.

“We recognize testing is a key component for our community and we are happy to be able to offer this new location for people,” said Mayor Rick Blangiardi in a statement.

“We want people to be able to get a test if needed, but I strongly urge people to get vaccinated instead of continually opting to take a test just to go to work or patronize businesses.”

People can either bring their physical vaccination card, take a photo of it on their phone or use the Hawaii’s SMART Health Card app, a form of digital verification that was just launched by the state. Those who are not vaccinated must provide a negative COVID-19 test from the past 48 hours.

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