Maui News

AARP Survey Finds Most Kupuna Wear Masks Despite High Vaccination Rate

June 11, 2021, 10:35 AM HST
* Updated June 11, 10:36 AM
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Craig Gima with AARP Hawaiʻi receives a vaccine shot. Photo Courtesy: AARP Hawaiʻi

AARP kupuna activists who responded to a questionnaire in late May have overwhelmingly been vaccinated but say they will still wear masks in gatherings with strangers. Most also support the state’s indoor mask mandate and the Safe Travels program, which requires people coming to Hawaiʻi to get a COVID-19 test before traveling or quarantine for 10 days.

While the survey was not scientific, it provides a glimpse about how older Americans feel about the vaccination effort and changing guidelines about travel and masks.

“The questionnaire results suggest that even though most kupuna have been vaccinated, older Hawaiʻi residents are still cautious and would rather be safe when it comes to wearing masks and taking other measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” said Kealiʻi Lopez, the state director of AARP Hawaiʻi. “As officials and private businesses continue to open the economy, they should keep in mind that many kupuna, who without vaccination are the most likely to suffer serious consequences from COVID-19, are still cautious and concerned about safety measures when they interact with others, even if they themselves have been vaccinated.”

About 90% of respondents age 50 and older said they received a second dose of the vaccine by late May, compared to about 42% who responded yes in an early March AARP Hawaiʻi questionnaire. About 94% said they got their first shot by May, compared to about 54% who said yes to the question in March. A significant number of respondents in March (22% of the first shot and 27% of the second shot question) left the question blank, compared to a 99% response rate to the vaccination questions in May.

Most respondents gave the state good grades for its vaccination effort. About 42% said the state deserves an A, 41% said B, 12% said the state should get a C grade and about 5% said the state deserves a D or F.

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More than four in five respondents said they would continue to wear a mask in gatherings with strangers even after vaccination, and 86% said they supported the indoor mask mandate. About 60% of those who support the mask mandate said there’s no way of knowing if others have been vaccinated as the main reason to keep masking. Some said they continue to wear a mask as a courtesy to others or they still don’t feel safe without a mask. Others noted that they are caregivers or still concerned about catching COVID-19 and spreading it to others.

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Kupuna who responded to a question about what they would most like to do after vaccination listed travel as the top activity, followed by gathering with family and going to restaurants and bars. About 20% cited other reasons such as “ballroom dancing,” “see people’s smiles,” “resuming my volunteer work in relative safety,” and “going about my daily activities with less concern about getting infected or infecting someone else.”

About 580 people responded to the online AARP Hawaiʻi questionnaire, which was distributed by email to people who have responded to previous AARP advocacy emails. It was also publicized on the AARP Hawaiʻi Facebook page and through news stories. The questionnaire responses are not scientific and have not been adjusted to reflect state population characteristics, but they do provide a general view of how kupuna feel about the vaccination process and anecdotal accounts of their experiences with it.

The survey was taken just after Gov. Ige announced that the state was dropping the outdoor mask mandate, but before the announcement of vaccine incentives and the relaxation of the Safe Travels program for those who are vaccinated and when vaccine milestones are achieved.

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Only 33 respondents, about 6%, reported not getting at least a first shot. Most cited safety concerns as the reason why they did not get the shot. Some citied allergies or compromised immune systems. A few said they were too busy with work or were homebound and haven’t been able to get vaccinated. Other reasons cited included “low stranger and family contact in lifestyle.”

About 70% of Kupuna who responded to the questionnaire support the state’s Safe Travels policy of requiring testing or quarantine for those entering the state. About 80% think people who are vaccinated should be able to come to Hawaiʻi without testing or quarantine.

There were a mix of reasons people supported or opposed the Safe Travels policy. Many cited the need to reopen the economy and that enough people have been vaccinated as reasons to change the policy. Those who support the policy think not enough people have been vaccinated and the need to continue to protect residents from COVID-19. Other comments included: 

  • “Should continue for now until enough residents have been vaccinated to reduce risk of disastrous outbreak since we have limited health resources in Hawaii to care for large volume of sick tourists in addition to our residents.”
  • “Safe Travels should continue, with proof of full vaccination by-pass of quarantine (residents and visitors).  We don’t have enough community immunity, more variants coming in.”
  • “The freedom to travel amongst the states in America is a right of the citizens. Hawaii should not be allowed to make special rules.”
  • “It’s not working well. Long lines!” 
  • “It should be called the Unsafe Travels program. So many variants appearing — some more contagious than the original, and possibly more dangerous.  I expect to wear a mask the rest of my life.”
  • “There should be one policy for residents and one policy for visitors.”
  • “My health status in not your business nor anyone else’s.”
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