As California enters another surge of COVID-19 cases, Sacramento’s Filipino community is concerned.
Dr. Ninez Ponce at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health said that there was early indication from social media and Filipino-specific COVID memorial sites that Filipino communities were being hit hard by the pandemic.
Surveys indicated that Filipinos are at high risk for the virus because many work in the healthcare field or in nursing homes. But there’s imprecise data on the group, because they’re categorized under the larger umbrella of Asian and Pacific Islander.
“In fact one of the first deaths in Los Angeles county was a Filipino nurse,” Dr. Ponce said. “But part of the problem is that the data on COVID that’s available aggregates all Asian subgroups together.”
She said that if different populations of Asian Americans aren’t parsed out separately, the impact on the Filipino community can get lost.
“If you look at all Asian subgroups together, the case and death rates don’t look as alarming as other groups such as the Latinx and Black populations,” Ponce said.
But in breaking down the data, Ponce said she saw that Filipinos were a group within the Asian category that was bearing the brunt of the disease.
She said based on restricted data, 40% of Asian cases are Filipinos, and about a third of the deaths in Asian cases are Filipinos.
The high rates are likely due to Filipinos who work in the healthcare industry as well as those with pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, Ponce said.
About 20,000 of Sacramento County’s 1.5 million residents are Filipino, according to the Sacramento Asian Pacific Islander Regional Network.
A survey by the UC Davis Bulosan Center of Filipino Studies found that despite the high risk factors of this population, the group was also not likely to be getting tested. Researcher R.J. Taggueg, who conducted the survey, said less than 1% of Filipino respondents said they had been tested for COVID-19.
”That’s particularly jarring when we consider the folks who are embedded in the healthcare industry themselves or living in a household with a healthcare worker,” Taggueg said.
He said he believes that COVID-19 could be impacting Filipinos at higher rates because they were more likely to be living in multi-generational households where quarantining could be more difficult.
Taggueg’s survey was done over the summer. In response, a multilingual testing site for Asians and Pacific Islanders has opened up in Sacramento.
Bobby Roy of the Phillipine National Day Association runs the testing site, which is located at 7248 S. Land Park Drive. Roy said the site has been busy, seeing predominantly Asian Americans coming in to get tested.
He said the site also has an eye towards serving large and multi-generational families.
“We have certain networks that we continue to outreach to,” Roy said. “I personally lost an aunt who had been intubated for an entire month, and then the following Monday a friend of mine contacted me who said they had dinner with a friend and they got it. It’s about telling people to follow the guidelines, quarantining and staying away from folks.”
Megan Sapigao, coordinator for the Sacramento Regional Asian Pacific Islander Network, says the lack of data on the community also leads to overlooking certain COVID-19 risk factors specific to Filipinos in California.
According to Sapigao, a significant portion of the Filipino community is undocumented.
“The language barrier has been a huge issue, but also we have that difficult relationship with seeking help from the county and public resources because we’re undocumented, and so that plays a huge role too,” she said.
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