HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - While officials have spent months closing off places where COVID-19 could be spreading, an alarming number of Pacific Islanders continue to get sick — and many in their own homes.
Epidemiologist DeWolfe Miller say it’s a dire situation government’s turned a blind eye to.
New data collected within the past week shows the coronavirus continuing to explode within the Pacific Islander community at a rate nearly eight times faster than everyone else.
Miller made the graph using information from the Department of Health’s website.
Looking at the numbers he worries another lockdown could exacerbate the problem because so many Pacific Islanders live in multi-generational homes without room to separate.
“This is very serious,” he said. “The Pacific Islanders make up a sub-epidemic within the larger epidemic going on within the islands.”
The increased rate of infection is translating into more hospitalizations.
“We have clusters of Pacific Islanders in our hospitals at this point in time,” said Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel. “We are very, very concerned about this particular community.”
To get ahead of the virus, Miller says there needs to be an immediate intervention that includes mass testing and contact tracing along with translators to relay information and prevent confusion.
“The other big issue is space,” Miller said. “They’re living in very close contact with each other.”
He’s now urging the state to use empty hotels to provide people living in close quarters a place to isolate.
“We have the opportunity to help the hotels out. To help the Pacific Islanders out and to slow down the epidemic. Why don’t we do that,” Miller said.
The state says it has provided some patients with hotel rooms but hasn’t revealed how many rooms it has lined up.
Meanwhile, state Department of Health officials say they are well aware of the problem and have recruited the support of partners like community health centers, the National Guard and other agencies to provide testing and help educate the Pacific Islander community.