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COVID ravaged the Pacific Islander community last year, but grassroots efforts helped turn the tide

Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 4:22 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 9, 2021 at 4:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - COVID infections devastated the Pacific Islanders last year, but community-focused vaccination efforts have helped turn the tide.

Before the vaccine was available, Pacific Islanders made up about 25% of all of the infections in Hawaii ― even though they’re only 4% of the population.

They now only represent about 8% of the cases.

Community leaders like Josie Howard, CEO of We Are Oceania, credit grassroots efforts to get around the language and cultural barriers that have blocked access to healthcare for Micronesians and other Pacific Islanders for years.

For instance, because all of the COVID testing forms and consent forms were in English or Spanish, Howard said her organization began hosting testing clinics with other community groups.

“Early on there were no contract tracers of language,” added Dr. Neal Palafox of the University of Hawaii Cancer Centers.

“So we trained them at the Windward Community College ― 50 at a time ― and they (the Health Department) ended up hiring all of them.”

And DOH found its role as well.

“We have been trying to develop community partnerships and working with people already in the communities doing the work, putting on PPE drives, food distributions, translating documents, hosing rent assistance seminars,” said Chris Johnson, project specialist with the Department of Health’s COVID-19 Community Outreach and Education unit.

The Health Department believes the approach that was used to slow the spread in the Pacific Islander community can also be used to combat future waves of the disease and as a model for outreach in other hard-hit communities like among Native Hawaiians.

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