As infections soar, COVID-19 is hitting one ethnic group in Hawaii particularly hard

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Updated: Jul. 30, 2020 at 5:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - One third of all COVID-19 cases in Hawaii are people from the Micronesian community, according to a newly-released analysis of state data.

The group is also five times more likely to contract the virus than the population as a whole.

“Not only most of the cases, most of the transmission,” said DeWolfe Miller, epidemiologist at the University of Hawaii, who called the report astonishing.

The analysis showed the infection rates for various ethnic groups, with Pacific Islanders reporting 527.5 patients per 100,000 people ― a significantly higher rate than other ethnic groups.

To compare, Filipinos had 99.4 infections per 100,000 people.

Here are the breakdowns for other ethnic and racial groups:

  • Whites: 68.9.
  • Chinese: 65.6
  • Native Hawaiians: 58.6
  • Japanese: 51.4 Japanese
  • Blacks: 33.8

The Micronesian community made up 34% of all cases in a ten-day span, from July 17 to July 26.

That’s up from 25% for the previous period.

Miller said the numbers underscores the need for more education and outreach.

“You need to do something with this community, you need to reach out to the community leaders and start taking some action,” he said.

Lt. Gov Josh Green said there are several reasons the Marshallese and Micronesian population is seeing higher infection rates.

“We do have some language gaps, we have some cultural considerations because some individuals are not traditionally open to testing and it’s challenging,” he said.

Green said all that makes it difficult to contact trace, too.

He said, for example, there is one COVID-19 patient in a household with 22 people.

“That’s going to be an explosion of COVID. It’s a big concern,” he said.

State Heath Director Bruce Anderson also said he was concerned about living conditions and multi-generational households.

“Many people living in a small apartment, many generations living in an apartment, of course, that’s a condition where you can easily transmit the disease from one person to another,” he said.

Anderson added the Health Department is working with church and community leaders to bring awareness and, hopefully, stop the spread.

“We are doing a lot of outreach, we’re trying to reach out to these communities, using interpreters and we are making progress,” he said.

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