Pacific islanders in Utah facing heightened virus impact

July 1, 2020 GMT

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak has disproportionately impacted Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians living in Utah, state data indicate.

The groups make up 1.6% of Utah’s population but account for 3.8% of reported cases of COVID-19, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday.

State analysis indicates Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians have experienced the highest hospitalization rate among ethnic groups in Utah of 124.7 per 1,000 cases.

The groups also have the second highest rate of confirmed cases, behind Hispanic residents, at 1,537 per 100,000 people.


Local health department figures show they have the highest rate of confirmed cases in Salt Lake County.

Jacob Fitisemanu Jr., co-founder of the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition, said some of the reasons why the Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian communities have been so hard hit are not unique to them.

Fitisemanu said that among the groups are many people in essential jobs who are not able to work from home or practice social distancing during the pandemic.

There is also a “prevalence of large multigenerational families” living together in the same home, resulting in one infected person potentially spreading the virus throughout a household, he said.

Dr. Kalani Raphael, a nephrologist with University of Utah Health, said there are underlying chronic medical issues that are widespread in the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population, including high rates of asthma, diabetes and kidney failure.

The medical conditions put them “at risk of really needing to be hospitalized” and “needing to be on a ventilator,” Raphael said.

Organizers with the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition have created a COVID-19 resource website for the communities, which includes a comprehensive guide of agencies and contact information to help with issues ranging from health care to unemployment.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.