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UHERO survey shows nearly a quarter depleted their savings during the pandemic

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HONOLULU — A new report from the University of Hawaiʻi provides a comprehensive look at how the COVID-19 pandemic affected Hawaiʻi residents with their jobs, ability to buy food, their mental well-being and how vaccination status played a factor.

“Health Effects and Views of COVID-19 in Hawaiʻi,” the first quarterly report from the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization, looks at impacts that the pandemic had on people beyond the direct effects.

“It looks at a variety of impacts on public health, which obviously impacts economics,” said Ruben Juarez, an economics professor at the UH Mānoa College of Social Sciences. “It’s just a start at this point. I’m hoping this will service policymakers and the community to continue the conversation with stakeholders on what strategies we need to move forward.”

The report is based on survey responses from more than 2,000 adult Hawaiʻi residents in May in partnership with the state, Juarez said. Additional monthly surveys will involve the same individuals.

About 66% of those responding said the pandemic had a significant, negative impact on much of the population.

The pandemic caused economic hardship to many of those responding.

Nearly a quarter of those responding said they depleted their savings during the pandemic, 15% said they couldn’t pay bills, 9% lost their jobs while 12.5% said they were furloughed or had their work hours cut.

Another 8% said they didn’t have enough food for their household.

Accessing health care did not seem to be a concern for survey respondents, but about a third reported some symptoms of depression, and 4.2% of the respondents said they had contemplated suicide in the last year.

About a fourth of the survey respondents said they had tested positive for COVID-19.

The survey also shows 31% of those reported long-term symptoms after the infection. The most common symptoms were cough and shortness of breath, followed by extreme fatigue, mental fog and headaches.

The report also examined the characteristics of those who were not vaccinated.

The unvaccinated tended to be younger — the highest percentage were in their 30s — and less educated. The survey found the highest percentage of those unvaccinated, at 41%, did not have a high school diploma.

Of those responding, those with advanced or bachelor’s degrees had very low rates of being unvaccinated, both under 5%.

The survey also found those who were unvaccinated tend to get more of their information from social media and faith leaders than medical professionals or government officials.

Among ethnic groups, Pacific Islanders have the highest percentage of those unvaccinated, at 21%.

This could be of use for the state health department to target strategies for vaccination outreach, Juarez said.

Those who remain unvaccinated tended to experience greater hardship, food insecurity and depression, the survey found.

The May survey included 2,030 adults statewide, with a higher proportion of women, at 62%, and an age range of 18 to 70 and above. More than 40% were ages 60 or older. The sample population was also more educated than the state as a whole.

Future surveys will offer a better understanding of the state’s public health issues, document changes over time and offer insight into new challenges that may arise, Juarez said.

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