Pacific Islanders Increasing Disproportionate Share Of COVID-19 In Hawaii

Aug 7, 2020

While Pacific Islanders make up just 4% of Hawaii's population, they represent 27% of the state's newly confirmed coronavirus cases, according to state Department of Health data released. Two months ago, their share was 13%.

White people have 20% of the newly confirmed cases and make up a quarter of the state's population.

The next highest rates are people of Filipino heritage at 18% and Native Hawaiians, with 14% of the state's cases. No other ethnic group had double-digit figures, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported this week.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said that the "Pacific Islander community has some unique challenges, particularly while living in very large, committed, multi-generational families — a lot of them in Kalihi.”

State Health Director Bruce Anderson told reporters Monday that the disproportionate number of cases in the Pacific Islander community are rooted in socioeconomics and that state officials must help combat those inequities.

"We’re going to need to make sure we’re focused on the outreach and education," Anderson said. "It’s certainly important to recognize we’re seeing disparities and to focus on those.”

Dr. Neal Palafox from the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine said new Pacific Islander immigrants tend to “live in denser neighborhoods, especially public housing.”

Palafox said that after an infection hits a household, it is harder for family members to practice social distancing. Palafox said that communication barriers make it harder for Pacific Islanders to get accurate information about local coronavirus updates.

Advocates for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders created the Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Hawai‘i COVID-19 Response, Recovery & Resiliency Team in May in part to ensure that more accurate data about their communities was being disseminated.

A member of the organization, Tina Tauasosi-Posiulai, said the group has urged state health officials to provide better education and outreach for the community.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

HPR contributed to this report.