Emil Guillermo: The alarming Covid-19 death rate of Pacific Islanders

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This year, the man who puts the “P” in Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, or the “NHPI” in Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander, a/k/a AANHPI Month, is Dr. Raynald Samoa.

When Dr. Samoa tells you how to pronounce his name, he says it’s like “rainbow” with no “b.” So it’s “Ray-no," a tribute to his Hawaiian birthplace, though his last name tells you he is also a proud Pacific Islander with roots from Samoa.

He wants to make sure you don’t forget our Pacific Islander brothers and sisters, not in this Covid-era APA Heritage Month.

They’re dying at alarming rates.

Of all APA groups during the Covid crisis, Pacific Islanders are being devastated the most.

In the most Asian American state in the U.S., California, Pacific Islanders number just 120,000.

But their death rate to Covid in L.A. County is astonishing: 12 times higher than for whites, 9 times higher than other Asians, 7 times higher than Latinos, 5 times higher than African Americans.

That’s 840 cases per 100,000 people. Latinos are at 114 per 100,000. (source: California Department of Public Health and L.A. County Department of Health, as reported by NPR).

Nationally, we know about the Covid inequalities affecting the African American community, but the numbers for Pacific Islanders are much higher than anything that’s been reported.

And yet, even among our large APA umbrella, the P part is practically ignored as one of the hardest hit ethnic groups in the country.

Samoa, an endocrinologist at City of Hope, was so alarmed by the stats, he formed a team to ensure that the community had the information and care it needed. The doctor has had first hand experience. He not only fought the virus since the beginning of the pandemic; he caught the virus.

Image by AALDEF

But unlike the Pacific Islanders who died, Samoa survived. Now he wants to make sure that more of them who may have the virus also survive–Samoans, Tongans, and Native Hawaiians.

Part of that is trying to reverse the trend of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure that already hits the community hard. Part of it is just the constant reminder to social distance, wash hands, and stay home.

“We see a second and third wave coming,” Samoa told me on Emil Amok’s Takeout. “Unlike the first wave that’s happening now, we’re going to do our darndest to protect ourselves so that we don’t see the same thing happen.”

That’s hard to do when the federal government too often contradicts science and President Trump seems hell bent on a mad rush to open up the country while deaths are still rising.

Samoa doesn’t get into the politics. He just focuses on his community. And if any of them are taking part in the protests demanding the country be opened prematurely, Samoa has an answer.

“I say protest for better leadership,” said Samoa. “Protest for safer conditions so that we can open up the economy safely.”

By Friday, more than 40 states will begin to loosen up restrictions. All that while we are simultaneously racing to 100,000 deaths in the overall count. Some studies are indicating that by the end of the year, 100,000 could be the daily toll.

How can the federal government advocate for a return to business as usual when we haven’t even addressed the impact on Pacific Islanders and the overall inequities exposed in the death rates among people of color?

When does Trump show some concern for us?

The deaths aren’t just an abstract number. These are staggering numbers of African Americans. Worse numbers for Pacific Islanders.

Every time you see the president push for opening the economy over our health, the message is clear: Drop dead.

See the video of Emil Amok’s Takeout interview with Dr. Raynald Samoa.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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