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Hawaii community leaders: State Is failing Pacific Islanders in the pandemic

COVID-19 testing sign
Source: Honolulu Civil Beat
Pacific Islanders — not including Native Hawaiians — make up 30% of Hawaii’s coronavirus cases but only 4% of the population.

Honolulu, HAWAII — Leaders of a community group dedicated to helping Native Hawaiians and other Pacific peoples address the pandemic in Hawaii want the state to hire Pacific Islander contact tracers and improve education and outreach to their communities.

The Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander COVID-19 Response, Recovery, and Resiliency Team met with Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist, on Wednesday. But its four co-chairs told reporters Thursday that they came away discouraged.

“There was no movement or willingness to do anything different,” said Sheri Daniels, one of the co-chairs and executive director of Papa Ola Lokahi, a nonprofit dedicated to Native Hawaiian health.

Their recommendations include hiring Pacific Islanders to conduct education and outreach, and changing the education requirements for contact tracers to allow people who have worked in community health but perhaps don’t have college degrees to apply.

The group wants the state to provide more personal protective equipment like masks to their communities, and provide culturally appropriate public service announcements in targeted languages.

The organization also noted that no grocery stores accept food stamps for grocery deliveries and said there’s a need for gift cards to help quarantined families pay for food.

Daniels said they shared their recommendations with officials who weren’t willing to act on them.

Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Department of Health, did not reply to a request for comment or an interview with Park Thursday.

At a press conference with Gov. David Ige Thursday afternoon, officials announced that Park will no longer be leading the effort to trace and investigate the spread of COVID-19 cases. She’s been replaced by health department deputy director Danette Wong Tomiyasu.

Sharing information in a culturally appropriate way is particularly important to Feleaʻi Tau, who works as a special assistant to Lt. Gov. Josh Green but was speaking Thursday in her capacity as a co-leader of the task force and a member of Hawaii’s Samoan community.

“I think they need to recognize that there are more complex issues going on that we can help with,” she said.

Read full statement and list of recommendations at Honolulu Civil Beat