Surge in COVID deaths took heavy toll on Native Hawaiian community

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 5:57 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 6, 2021 at 6:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The surge in COVID deaths in September took a particularly heavy toll on the Native Hawaiian community, new figures find.

According to data from the Department of Health, Native Hawaiians died from COVID at a faster rate in recent weeks compared to other groups.

Experts say in the past two weeks, Native Hawaiians have accounted for up to 40% of the state’s COVID deaths. That’s according to COVID Pau, a group dedicated to getting more information out about the virus. According to state data, 141 Native Hawaiians in total have died from COVID in Hawaii.

Officials said the key to convincing more people to get the shot is the right messengers.

“They might need more information someone who they trust that can answer questions for them,” said Naalehu Anthony, the director COVID Pau. “They might need someone to do that in their community, versus asking them to come to town.”

COVID Pau, along with other groups, is trying to reach Native Hawaiians.

Recently, they began knocking on doors, trying to get accurate information out.

“People on the West Side not only know someone who’s been ill with COVID and recovered from COVID, but somebody who has passed away from COVID,” said Juanita Benioni, known as Aunty Nalani, works with the Center for Native Hawaiian Traditional Healing at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center.

Aunty Nalani said there is still mistrust in the Native Hawaiian community of the vaccine.

“We have an unfortunate history of distrust to the government or any kind of organized groups that come into our community,” she said. “And rightfully so.”

But she says the community has seen too much death, and the vaccine plays a critical role in stopping numbers from going up.

WCCHC has been dealing with low vaccination rates throughout the pandemic. Right now, only about 45 percent have at least one shot.

“Vaccination has increased slightly,” said Jacob Schafer, the director of infection control with the center. “And that’s great news, you want to continue to encourage that. But part of the reason that this Delta variant has hit our community so hard is because of low vaccination rates.”

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