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A COVID Crisis Comes to Light

Dr. Ninez Ponce, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor of health policy and management, was interviewed by UCLA Magazine about the tragic impact of COVID-19 on Pacific Islander communities, and her research on how to help researchers and clinicians better understand the virus’s effects on this population

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

In California, the people most disproportionately devastated by COVID-19 are Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPIs). They are three times more likely to contract the disease compared to white people and nearly twice as likely to die.

But this is not only a story about health disparities between whites and racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. A deeper look at the data reveals that NHPIs are suffering disproportionately compared not only to white people, but also compared to other Asians. In fact, the infection and mortality rates for Pacific Islanders are alarmingly singular.

There are 1.4 million Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders living in the United States. In 11 of the 16 states that track their death rates separately from other Asians, NHPIs are dying at the highest rates of any racial or ethnic group. For doctors, public health experts and, most importantly, the people in those communities, the questions are why, and what can be done?

by John Harlow and Mike Fricano; photo by Ryan Young