Impacts of pandemic to Hawaii’s kupuna go far beyond public health threat

Updated: Mar. 23, 2021 at 6:00 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Over the last year, COVID-19 has devastated Hawaii’s kupuna community ― and the impacts go far beyond the public health threat.

Hawaii health statistics show COVID deaths and hospitalizations increase significantly by age.

Those over 50 make up 94% of the deaths. That’s prompted a race against time and a deadly virus.

On a recent weekday, pharmacist Reece Uyeno brings COVID vaccine to a small Waipahu care home.

“Who would like to be the first brave soul to go get their shot?” she asks residents.

[This story is part of a week-long series from HNN, “The Pandemic: A Year with Coronavirus,” exploring where Hawaii is and where it’s headed a year after the pandemic started. Click here for details.]

On that day alone, Uyeno visited 31 homes to vaccinate residents. “Just a lot of coordination. including myself. We have four teams out today,” Uyeno says.

Despite the hectic schedule, there’s compassion for the most fragile.

Vanessa Lopes, 63, is bedbound because of a muscle condition and dementia. She’s among those Uyeno was able to vaccinate.

“It’s so important for lifesaving vaccinations to come directly to people like her,” Lopes said.

Maribel Tam is president of Adult Foster Homecare Association of Hawaii and also owns the Waipahu care home. She lives there with her family.

“This pandemic year has been painful, personally and professionally,” she said. “Nobody is prepared for this. It’s hard to protect our family members and our clients.”

One of the strongest voices for kupuna in Hawaii is AARP.

Right now, they are pushing the state to vaccinate younger seniors, focus on delivering vaccine in communities, and they’re also worried about senior isolation.

Kealii Lopez, AARP’S state director, said it’s important that kupuna have convenient access to vaccines in their neighborhoods.

“I think having the state understand that they’re going to have to take extra steps to bring it to those communities is key,” she said.

During the pandemic, seniors weren’t just at highest risk of serious symptoms from COVID-19. They were also more likely to suffer from isolation.

Marlene Montiho relies on deliveries to her house because of a multiple health issues.

She says she’s grateful for social services like Lanakila Meals on Wheels, which delivers seven days of frozen meals ― with milk, bread and fruit.

“I love them. Believe me. They help me,” she said.

The gratitude goes both ways.

Gary Shintaku, a shuttle driver at Lanakila Meals on Wheels, said he’s always so happy to see his clients week after week.

“I’m proud that throughout this whole pandemic we haven’t missed a delivery,” he said.

And as every week and day passes, more seniors are getting vaccinated ― and getting a chance to resume some of the activities they’ve had to put on hold for so long.

In Kapolei on a recent day, Linda and Donovan Lewis were at a pop-up vaccine clinic to get their shots. They said the hardest thing about the last year was not being able to see family.

What was the first thing they were going to do after getting fully vaccinated?

They answered lightning fast: “Oh we are going to have the family together!”

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