Maui businesses find challenge with mask mandate enforcement

WAILUKU — Some Maui businesses face tough calls about who should be exempt from universal mask rules as the county pushes for greater compliance during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Privacy laws prevent businesses from asking customers for proof of underlying health issues that exempt them from wearing masks in public, The Maui News reported Tuesday.

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Business operators worry some shoppers may be abusing exemption rules by claiming to have medical conditions only to enter without masks.

Requiring customers with medical or disability exemptions to continue wearing face shields complies with Maui County protocols and the state’s emergency proclamation regarding the virus, county spokesperson Brian Perry said.

Businesses also have the authority to refuse entry or service, unless an exception such as a medical condition applies, Perry said.

“The proclamation also addresses the use of face shields as a substitute for face masks, but only if there’s an applicable exception to the face covering requirement,” Perry said.

The proclamation remains unclear about allowing exempt customers without face coverings to enter businesses, even with health screenings.

Businesses who violate the mask mandate may be subject to enforcement, fines or mandatory closure, Perry said.

Some store owners and managers said they struggle to keep up with frequent changes to the health proclamation, while enforcement has been inconsistent.

Pukalani Superette President Megan Nakashima said the use of face shields only is not allowed in the store.

“If someone is claiming that they cannot wear a mask due to any reason, we provide the option to order groceries through our curbside pickup program, or they can have a manager shop for them on the spot while they wait outside,” Nakashima said.

Maui County on Friday announced the launch of a program to increase the use of face coverings throughout Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

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The program, Mask Up for Maui County, enlists volunteers to serve as community ambassadors to remind visitors and residents that masks are mandatory.

Hawaii Department of Health data indicated proper mask use in Maui County reached 96% in mid-January, but recently slipped to 88%.

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