Retailers see confusion, conflict over mask mandates

HONOLULU — Retailers in Hawaii say the state’s mask mandate is creating confusion and conflict among customers, many of whom come from different states to vacation in the islands.

Hawaii still requires people to wear masks — whether vaccinated or not — at all indoor public places as well as outdoors when physical distancing is not possible.

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While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its mask recommendations for vaccinated people, state laws still apply, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday.

Tina Yamaki, president of Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said enforcement has been a struggle throughout the pandemic, but it’s becoming harder now.

“Now we’re having more visitors who say, ‘Well, we don’t have to wear masks in our state and the CDC said,’” Yamaki noted. “The CDC offers guidelines. It’s not the law. It’s a recommendation, and we have to follow the state law.”

She said it puts retailers in a tough spot.

“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.”

Violations of the mask mandate can result in fines for the violator as well as for the retail business, Yamaki said.

“The burden is on us when we’re trying to tell them don’t do it,” she said.

As a small-business owner, Debbie Ah Chick-Hopkins, owner of the Global Village boutique in Kailua, Oahu, said the enforcement of mask rules puts her employees in an awkward position.

“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.”

The shop has a sign on its front doors reminding people to wear masks and the property owner has another outside of the store.

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The problem is compounded as more national chains that have stores in Hawaii — such as Costco, Walmart and Target — have announced that they will no longer require masks for fully vaccinated customers.

Gov. David Ige said the state’s mask mandate will remain in place for now because it’s difficult to discern who has been vaccinated and who has not.