Jake Fitisemanu

Pacific Islanders Infected, Hospitalized at Highest Rates in Salt Lake County

The Pacific Islander community has seen a significantly higher impact from the COVID-19 pandemic than other groups in Utah.

Speaking during Gov. Gary Herbert’s weekly briefing Wednesday, Jake Fitisemanu said the infection and hospitalization rates for Pacific Islanders and native Hawaiians is the highest in Salt Lake County since the beginning of June. It is the second highest statewide.

Fitisemanu, who is the chair of the Pacific Islander Health Coalition and a West Valley City councilman, said during the televised news conference that his community is being hit hard because of a high prevalence of underlying health conditions and multi-generational households. There are also economic and cultural factors that increase risks.

“This pandemic has interrupted lifestyles, it’s disrupted livelihoods, it’s taken lives in our community,” Fitisemanu said. “Every Pacific Islander family, congregation, and cultural group in this state has been impacted.”

Compounding the problem of the pandemic is that many of the 47,000 Pacific Islanders in Utah live in some of the areas with the highest rates. That includes the westside of Salt Lake City and West Valley City.

Slowing the spread will take a concerted effort from his community, Fitisemanu said, especially when it comes to measures like social distancing. While it is culturally difficult, he pointed to the 1918 flu pandemic. While many people died in Samoa, other islands enforced quarantines and masks and many of their residents were spared.

“That’s a very poignant lesson for us today,” he said. “It’s not easy but if we work together, we can do more to protect our families, preserve out cultures, and prevent COVID-19 from taking more from us.”

Resources and information are available for the Pacific Islander community at upihc.org.

To learn more about the 1918 flu pandemic in Utah, watch this recent story on Fox 13 or listen to the episode of “Speak Your Piece.”