Associated Press

HONOLULU — Hawaii health officials said 23 Native Hawaiians died from COVID-19 last week, accounting for 20 percent of all fatalities among Hawaii’s Indigenous people since the start of the pandemic 18 months ago.

Native Hawaiians made up 40 percent of all deaths in the state during the seven days through Friday, KITV reported. Hawaiians are one-fifth of the state’s population.

“We’ve also seen a number of really, really tragic stories move very quickly throughout our community,” said Nā’ālehu Anthony, the director of COVID Pau (pau means done, out, or finished in Hawaiian), a collaborative of businesses and nonprofit organizations delivering public health messages during the pandemic. “And, you know, one death is too much. One person dying is too much when it’s preventable when you have the vaccine.”

COVID-19 vaccination rates among Native Hawaiians have lagged in comparison to the rest of the state. To counter this, Anthony has started a series of public service announcements on the importance of inoculating Native Hawaiians.

HAWAII COVID Hawaii deaths due to covid as of Sept. 30, 2021

The advertisements also focus on the importance of testing, mask wearing and social distancing. Some of the ads that have resonated refer to past diseases that wiped out much of Hawaii’s native population in the 1800s.

“We’ve seen over 170,000 views and it’s started a robust conversation set that’s shifted some of the narrative that we’ve seen in how the COVID vaccine has been characterized in our community,” Anthony said.

Anthony says getting out the facts to combat the misinformation about vaccines is especially important for younger Hawaiians who haven’t yet decided to get the shot.

“If we are to survive this pandemic, as our kupuna did in the past, then we really need to weigh out how we can do that and what’s important for us to move forward to be able to grow as a population and to be able to make sure that our kids and our grandkids live healthy lives,” he said, using the Hawaiian word for elder.

As part of a pilot program, the Hawaii department of health is also distributing free home COVID-19 test kids on Oahu, the most populated island in the state. The tests are available at four drive-through testing sites. The Honolulu Fire Department has about 3,000 kits to hand out today, out of an ultimate one million kits it plans to distribute. Each kit has eight tests. Recipients are to test themselves twice a week for four weeks, regardless of symptoms. The goal is to see if the kits help prevent the spread of the COVID infection.

The tests have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, require a swab of the nostrils, and will provide test results in ten minutes.

The kits are part of a “Say Yes! COVID Test '' campaign hosted DOH, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), community partners, test manufacturer Quidel, and healthcare technology company CareEvolution.

Academic health center researchers at NIH-supported academic health centers will work with CDC and NIH to use publicly available data to determine if the local testing efforts slowed the spread of COVID-19.

The Honolulu Advertiser reports the state has set aside 45,000 kits for community partners to distribute to underserved communities, including those without Internet access.

Testing would slow the rate of community spread of COVID, that is, cases that are transmitted within the community.

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Indian Country Today National Correspondent Joaqlin Estus contributed to this report