Analysis: Asians in Hawaii more likely to die of COVID-19 than other ethnic groups

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Updated: Nov. 19, 2020 at 5:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - New research shows those of Japanese and Chinese descent die of COVID-19 more than any other ethnic group in Hawaii ― despite much lower infection rates.

The demographic data is routinely reviewed by Dr. DeWolfe Miller, epidemiologist at the University of Hawaii.

Miller said trends are changing.

For example, Pacific Islanders ― made up of Micronesians, Samoans and Tongans ― once accounted for nearly 40% of the infections in Hawaii.

The numbers dropped in September but then climbed again recently to 29%. That group makes up just 4% of the state’s total population.

Miller said efforts to raise awareness have helped, but more has to be done.

“They need resources,” Miller said.

There are now contact tracers who speak the various languages in the community and testing sites have been set up. Distributions of free masks and other supplies have also been organized. And free hotel rooms are being made available to those who aren’t able to isolate at home.

“People are crammed into housing, and in small apartments,” said Dawn O’Brien, of CHOOSE ALOHA. “You’ll have a family of 12 who have to quarantine they are either going to have to go out on the street or in the car.”

O’Brien said they have been getting creative on how to get the word out. A virtual concert to help raise awareness is scheduled for this Saturday.

The Native Hawaiian community has also seen a recent uptick in cases. That group now makes up 17% of the state’s infection rate, but it is 21% of the total population.

“Their case rates aren’t really any greater than anybody else, nor is their case fatality rates but they have a lot of (infections),” said Miller.

Filipinos account for 21% of the cases while representing 16% of the population.

COVID-19 Infection Rates up until Nov.
COVID-19 Infection Rates up until Nov.(None)

The Japanese have only a 7% infection rate but account for 15% of the state’s population.

But in that 7% is a very vulnerable group.

“They are at greater risk because they’re older and that is a risk factor, one of the major risk factor, for mortality in COVID,” Miller said, adding that Japanese and Chinese have the highest fatality rates in Hawaii. Many who died were in care homes.

That contrasts to Pacific Islanders and Hawaiians who were infected. They tended to be younger.

COVID-19 Fatality Rates up until Nov.
COVID-19 Fatality Rates up until Nov.(None)

Miller said he has not seen a surge connected to travel despite the state’s reopening. He said clusters are still the result of community spread.

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