Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders have a disproportionate number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations

Dr Anne Zink, a white woman with brown hair and dark rimmed glasses speaks in front of an American flag.
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink talks to reporters at a press conference about the novel coronavirus on Monday, March 9, 2020. (Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

COVID-19 is infecting more people and leading to more hospitalizations proportionally among Pacific Islanders and Alaska Natives, the state said.

Alaskans of Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander ethnicity make up 4% of the cases in the state, while they’re only 1% of the population. Alaska Natives also have more cases compared with their share of the population.

At a news conference Tuesday, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the causes for the differences are likely complex. She says state health authorities are working to address the issue.

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“There’s a lot of reasons for this,” she said. “And (we) continue to work with local communities to try to do everything we can to prevent these disease outbreaks, as well as hospitalizations and deaths.”

Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are also hospitalized at the highest rate.

Zink also addressed why it’s not possible for the public health response to the pandemic to focus just on those at higher risk from the disease, such as those with pre-existing conditions and older people.

She pointed to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. It found nearly half of adults are at risk for having a severe illness if they contract the virus.

“So, it’s just a lot of people,” she said. “And that’s why it’s really important on all of us to do our part to minimize the spread of this disease. And it’s just incredibly contagious, before people even know that they have symptoms.”

Zink says she’s hoping to share the hospitalization rates for different age groups next week.