COVID-19 hitting Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders hard

The John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) Department of Native Hawaiian Health has released a report saying that several states with large populations of Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders have data showing that COVID-19 is hitting these communities harder than other ethnic groups, more than American Indians and African Americans.  The rate among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders is as high as 217.7 cases per 100,000 population.  The report references statistics from San Diego, California; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Washington State.

The JABSOM report notes that all indigenous peoples share similar concerns that put them at an increased risk for COVID-19 and other related problems. These include limited access to healthcare services, more chronic and infectious diseases, higher rates of smoking and vaping, more Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders in essential service jobs, more incarcerated, and poorer economic and living conditions. These are all long-standing health concerns for indigenous people that predate the arrival of COVID-19, but they are even more concerning now. The higher risk of infection among NHPI is linked to preexisting and underlying inequities in the social determinants of health across racial and ethnic groups that are ubiquitous in the U.S.

JABSOM is  partnering with the American Psychological Association to look at the issues and develop plans to address the inequities, which could include more and free testing, better paid sick leave, ongoing data collection, providing Personal Protective Equipment, and hazard pay for affected workers.

According to the State Department of Health, the state’s percentage of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders is 10%, and the group has 14% of the COVID-19 cases.  Those listing two or more ethnicities are 24% of the state’s population, and have 26% of the cases.  Those listed as white make up 26% of the state’s population and have 31% of the cases.

One cluster of COVID-19 cases on Hawaii Island was focused on Pacific Islanders in a large family group who spread the disease among themselves because there really was no way to isolate.  The cluster so far is confirmed at 36, 19 employees of the McDonald’s in Kailua-Kona and 17 family members.

Click here for the report and references by authors Keawe‘aimoku Kaholokula, PhD,Professor and Chair Department of Native Hawaiian Health (pictured), and Robin E. S. Miyamoto, Psy.D. Assistant Professor Department of Native Hawaiian Health.