Conflicting messages regarding Hawaii County’s participation in the state’s pre-travel testing program, scheduled to begin Oct. 15, have prompted unease among West Hawaii businesses on Tuesday.

After the Honolulu Star-Advertiser broke the news that Big Island Mayor Harry Kim would opt out of the program, the county clarified its position later in the day.

“A definitive decision has not been made yet — it’s forthcoming this week,” Maurice Messina, Kim’s executive assistant and chief of staff, said Tuesday morning.

The uncertainty isn’t sitting well among business owners.

“I had thought we had heard a final decision, and I think most businesses were of that same opinion: Oct. 15 was a firm date,” said Debbie Baker, executive director of the Kailua Village Business Improvement District. “They were looking forward to it. To have the plan change at the very last minute is disheartening to say the least.”

Baker further explained that many small businesses had been bringing back employees and making arrangements and orders with the Oct. 15 date in mind. For businesses with a razor-thin margin for error, the damage has already been done; some have expressed panic with the day’s newfound confusion.

“We’ve seen some temporary closings already; we’ve seen some permanent closings already. One restaurant operator told me, ‘We can’t afford to open and close more than one time.’” Baker added. “They don’t have the cushion to do that.”

The response has been wide-ranging among the business community, from restaurants and hotels to tourist activities on land and water alike. Mendy Dant, executive vice president of Fair Wind Cruises and Kona Sunrise Charters was particularly frustrated with the sudden turn of events.

“Devastation, just stunned,” Dant said was her initial reaction. “To totally opt out, it puts us in a position behind all the other islands. It’s like putting a dark blanket over us like we’re not here. The government has had over six months to figure this out and to make a plan and to get things in order. It’s just really frustrating that the government can’t get it together.”

For now, business owners on the Big Island are once again back in wait-and-see mode while they stand by for a clear decision from the mayor’s office.

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