‘They call us the COVID family’: Why shame is fuelling virus spike in one LA community

A devastating surge of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles is hitting one small community hardest of all, it has been revealed.

People with heritage in the Pacific Islands have been found to have the highest infection rate of any racial or ethnic group in LA County.

COVID family
Image:The Ali family has been labelled ‘the COVID family’ after speaking out
Pacific island community
Image:LA’s Pacific Islander community has the highest infection rate of any racial or ethnic group

Health department data shows it is six times higher than that for white people, five times higher than black people and three times higher than Latinos.

While the Pacific Islander community is relatively small, the statistics are alarming and those who have fallen victim say some of the community’s traditions are to blame.

Pele Ali documented his own family’s encounter with the coronavirusthrough a video diary.

His mother Lina, father Aoga and brother Taylor all ended up in intensive care after falling ill with COVID-19.

They have all since recovered and are now back home.

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Pacific Island community
Image:Some blame the community’s traditions for the coronavirus surge

“It was definitely an emotional time. I think the scariest part was just not knowing what was going to happen,” said Pele.

Experts say Pacific Islanders are prone to some of the same health conditions as other groups who face an increased risk.

Low income, multi-generational housing and poor access to healthcare also play a part, but so does a feeling of shame about health issues.

Lina said: “In our community they’re embarrassed to share their story even with their family because they see it as a stigma, that they’ll frown upon you.”

Coronavirus: The infection numbers in real time

Coronavirus: The infection numbers in real time

As if to prove their point, they say they have been labelled “the COVID family” since deciding to speak out to encourage others to take the virus seriously.

“It was hurtful,” said Lina.

“It wasn’t anything we wished upon ourselves, or I would wish on anybody, and no-one should be calling people names, especially for other families who don’t have a mum or dad anymore or their children passed away because of COVID. Why would anyone say that?

“When we see on the news the numbers and all the people passing away, I sit and wonder ‘Why am I here?’ Maybe this is part of my purpose, to tell my community about what we’ve gone through.”

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Lina and Aoga were born in Samoa and the community is made up of those from other islands including Fiji and Tonga.

Pele said his decision to document the family’s suffering, while still trying to look after his youngest brother, was an attempt to educate the community.

The family is still cautious about gatherings and have urged others to follow their lead.

Aoga said: “If we can save a life, we’ll take the name calling and the backlash.

“As long as we can inform somebody that wasn’t informed, we’ll keep putting that message out there.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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