The deadline for the vaccine threatens Hawaii state officers regardless of an absence of steerage
By Monday, thousands of government employees will have to prove they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly tests to comply with an executive order issued by Governor David Ige on Aug. 5 that employees could be fired if they fail to comply.
But the details of how the program will work appear to be ongoing, and the state agency overseeing the human resources department refused to provide a copy of the existing instructions to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
“We have a draft directive that we are working on and that we are finalizing and we will certainly make it available to the press as soon as we are finished,” Ige told the media on Friday morning when he asked about the directive’s details during a press conference became.
Ryker Wada, director of the human resource development department, said later that day guidelines were distributed to department heads and supervisors on Wednesday detailing how to implement the governor’s guidelines. But he wouldn’t provide a copy of it to the star advertiser.
“The guide itself is an internal document for our department heads, HR managers and supervisors,” he said. “So it’s not something we would normally share.”
Wada said if the star advertiser wanted to see the instructions, the newspaper would have to make an official request for public records.
Under state law, government records are available to the public unless they fall under a defined exception, for example because they constitute an unjustified invasion of privacy or are subject to a court order to maintain confidentiality. Government agencies are required to provide readily available documents upon request. However, it can take a few weeks for the government to respond to an official file request, or in some cases months.
When asked which exemption under state open records law would allow DHRD to withhold the document, Wada said he was not sure.
“If you really want to, you can apply,” he said.
Wada has outlined some of the requirements for government officials outside the Department of Education, the University of Hawaii, and Hawaii Health Systems Corp. for which separate guidelines apply.
He said staff must submit a form by Monday to confirm whether they are fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated or unvaccinated. Employees must also present a vaccination card.
Wada said the information would be kept confidential.
Any unvaccinated employee can choose to have regular testing instead of applying for an exemption for medical or religious reasons. However, the state will undertake to cover the testing costs only for employees who have received such an exemption.
Wada said his office does not provide guidance to staff on how to apply for medical or religious exemption. He said there was no law requiring the state to do so.
He said that unvaccinated and partially vaccinated government employees must submit another confirmation form by Aug. 23 stating that they performed an emergency COVID-19 test approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration . These workers have to certify a negative test every week in order to be able to work. In cases where the test providers fail to show a negative test result, the employee must sign a statement stating that they tested negative, he said.
State officials were reluctant to prescribe vaccines for government workers as case numbers remained low and the state’s vaccination rate continued to rise. But the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus shot up the number of cases last month.
The state averaged more than 700 new cases a day last week, compared to a seven-day daily average of 50 cases just a month ago. In response, Ige introduced increased restrictions, including vaccine and testing requirements, for all government employees.
While the major government workers’ unions have not spoken out against the vaccine and testing requirements, they are critical of the introduction. Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, criticized the Ige government for the lack of detail when the governor announced the policy last week.
In the meantime, officials from the city and counties of Honolulu, Hawaii Counties, and Kauai Counties, who must also comply with the governor’s orders, have provided the Star Advertiser with the previous guidelines. Some counties are still working on the details.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi has taken a tougher stance on unvaccinated workers, demanding that all employees be vaccinated unless given a medical or religious exception.
The city’s seven-page guide explains that employees must fill out a form to apply for an exemption. If this application is denied, the policy states “up to five calendar days to initiate the COVID-19 vaccination process or unpaid leave pending employment status”.
Unvaccinated employees who do not apply for an exemption by Monday will be given unpaid leave and may be fired.
Employees are required to be tested at city-designated locations, using city-set tests “to ensure we centrally deploy testing and track compliance,” said Tim Sakahara, a mayor’s spokesman.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami has taken a gentler approach to Ige’s order, emphasizing that any county employee can opt for the weekly testing if they don’t want to be vaccinated.
“We’re working to make this easy and convenient for each of you,” Kawakami said in a video message to the county staff. “And I’m telling you this, I support every decision you make. We are 100% behind you. “
Sarah Blane, the mayor’s chief of staff, said detailed guidelines on the testing program have not yet been issued, but will likely be released on Monday. “Our focus was on disseminating and collecting our attestation forms to determine how many employees need to be tested so we know how best to conduct tests,” she said via email.
Hawaii County’s policy also allows unvaccinated employees to opt for testing without seeking a medical or religious exception.
A Maui County spokesman did not respond to a request for information about its policy.