Guidelines create incomplete Hawaii virus data, critics say

HONOLULU — Coronavirus information from Hawaii health officials presents an incomplete story of the pandemic’s impact on racial and ethnic communities in the state, some critics said.

The state Department of Health continues to gather data on the pandemic’s impact on residents, Hawaii Public Radio reported Monday.

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State health authorities collect data on race and ethnicity using federal forms provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which some say highlight deficiencies in identifying cultural backgrounds.

Health officials continue to deal with a flood of information about COVID-19, but face a challenge “making sure the data is complete and clean,” state Epidemiologist Sarah Park said.

Officials are attempting to divide the categories of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders into more specific designations, Park said.

Until recently, health authorities did not have time to take a second pass at data to make more focused breakdowns such as whether people in the two larger categories were of Filipino, Korean, Japanese, or Chinese descent.

“In the heat of the outbreak, the reality is that oftentimes our investigators are just going to collect what they need because the focus is contact tracing, trying to identify people who may have been exposed and making sure they’re in quarantine,” Park said. “And so things like race sort of are not prioritized.”

Sheri Daniels, executive director of Papa Ola Lokahi, said the pandemic highlights data collection and “the picture that data presents.”

Daniels, whose organization works to improve Native Hawaiian health, has partnered with other Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community leaders to push for data with more details, including racial and ethnic information.

A lack of uniform reporting practices at the county, state and federal levels adds to the delay in seeing a full picture of community health, she said.

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“Whether it’s a Pacific Island perspective or a Native Hawaiian, we really need to know the underlying data so that we can understand what effective strategies that we can apply, support and advance in our communities,” Daniels said.

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

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