Community groups, education helped drive down COVID-19 cases among Pacific Islanders

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Updated: Sep. 22, 2020 at 5:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In just the last three weeks, Oahu has seen a dramatic drop in new COVID-19 cases in the Pacific Islander community.

The group, made up of Micronesians and Samoans, was the largest ethnic cluster of infections in Hawaii. Amid the peak in new infections in August, the group accounted for almost 40% of the state’s cases.

But since the beginning of September, community support and leaders have made incredible strides.

Data shows the dramatic drop in cases in the PI community
Data shows the dramatic drop in cases in the PI community(None)

Pacific Islanders now make up 16% of the cases.

“It’s just fabulous. I want to stand up and cheer,” said Dr. DeWolfe Miller, a University of Hawaii epidemiology professor.

Miller had been tracking the data since the spring and helped organize a community testing site after seeing the spike in August. But he credits the Pacific Islander community for stepping up and taking action.

We Are Oceania is among the groups that sought to educate residents on the virus.

“The first thing was masks,” said Josie Howard, of WAO. "We all understand that masks play a big role in controlling the spread of this disease.”

Donations allowed WAO to distribute 100,000 masks and other PPE on Oahu and the Big Island.

“The private donations that we got from the community really helped because WAO didn’t have the capacity,” she said. "But we were able to get donations that allowed us to buy cleaning stuff, and gloves.”

Working with church groups, like Ohana Baptist Church, also helped educate people. Public service announcements were made in the various languages.

WAO also recently received some CARES Act money to help pay for hotel rooms to limit exposure. Howard said isolation was a huge problem before the funding came in.

She cited several cases where more than a dozen family members shared a small apartment unit.

When one person got infected, it would spread quickly through the home. Once WAO received funding, they were able to help stop the spread by moving healthy family members into hotels.

“It’s remarkable,” said Miller, of how the PI community rallied together to regain control.

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