COVID-19 took serious toll on Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander mental and physical health: Two studies found concerning psychological and physical health problems among more than 300 NH/PIs in five US states

Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, or NH/PIs, comprising more than 20 ethnic groups hailing from Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, are understudied despite being the third fastest growing racial group in the United States. Two studies now report that NH/PIs have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andrew Subica at the University of California, Riverside, led research groups that surveyed more than 300 NH/PIs from April-November 2021 in Washington, Utah, Oregon, California, and Arkansas — states with large NH/PI populations. Their findings are published in two journals.

Described in the first paper, published in Public Health Reports, the researchers found 30% of the NH/PI participants reported being diagnosed with COVID-19 and approximately 50% of the participants reported having a close family member with COVID-19.

Further, nearly 1 out of 5 NH/PIs reported the death of a close family member due to COVID-19 infection; the overall U.S. COVID-19 mortality rate was 1 death per 400 persons at the end of 2021.

“NH/PIs may carry the highest rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths of any U.S. racial/ethnic minority group during the pandemic,” said Subica, an associate professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Social Medicine, Population, and Public Health. “For example, an earlier report found NH/PIs possessed the highest per capita death rate in 90% of states reporting NH/PI COVID-19 deaths.”

According to Subica, several factors increase NH/PIs’ risk for exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that spreads COVID-19. These factors include employment in essential frontline positions, dwelling in dense households and neighborhoods, and traditional sociocultural practices and obligations that result in large in-person group contact.

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