Ninez Ponce, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, principal investigator of the center’s California Health Interview Survey, and professor of health policy and management in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, received a $500,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to produce data on COVID-19 among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

Under the grant, a team at the center’s Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander COVID-19 Data Policy Lab will address health equity issues brought to light by the pandemic. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are currently seeing infection rates nearly five times that of white people in Los Angeles County alone, and the impact is felt across the nation, in states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, where these groups’ case and death rates are the highest among all racial and ethnic groups. In California, the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander case and death rates are higher than any other racial and ethnic group. The lab was created in part to address the lack of COVID-19 data on Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Data that’s broken up in specific subgroups is essential to deploy appropriate resources and aid to groups that are often invisible or unnoticed due to the alarming lack of representative data.

“To date, only 20 states and Washington, D.C., report NHPI COVID-19 cases, and 19 states and the district report disaggregated NHPI COVID-19 deaths. States either report NHPIs aggregated with Asians or are put in ‘other race’ or may be put in ‘multiracial’ categories,” Ponce said. “If data is not disaggregated, then the high risks are hidden and decisionmakers will think there’s no problem for a given community. Our lab is also tracking cases and deaths over time, and lack of attention to the high COVID-19 risk for this population will lead to what could be avoidable infections and deaths; these are avoidable because resources for community outreach and education could get more testing sites and culturally-effective messages out on the COVID-19 toll on the NHPI community.”

Efforts will be dedicated to addressing striking gaps within data and research for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, as well as the need to increase the number of states reporting cases within the community. Members of the lab will collaborate with network partners to promote resources among community groups and policymakers. Researchers hope that their work will provide a helpful model for other groups wanting to collect data on overlooked groups.

Read the full news release.