HONOLULU (KITV) — As Pacific Islander communities continue to grapple with high COVID-19 infection rates, much attention is now focused on language barriers.

In many instances, Micronesians are left feeling either invisible or victims of racism.

Rensiana Thomas says she didn’t know much about the coronavirus until she was tested and sent back to her home at Mayor Wright Public Housing.

A day later her test results returned and she had tested positive.

“They told me that I’m going to call hotel. I said, I asked question, why hotel? They told me that because I have I’m positive,” Thomas said.

Left confused Thomas was placed in isolation despite not believing she was given proper medical guidance.

Thomas says she needed an interpreter to help explain what was going on.

She claims all she was told was to check into the Equus hotel.

“I’m so scared because I was alone. And first time I was, I saw the hotel,” Thomas said.

That hotel is one of the places used by the Department of Health to house COVID-19 patients.

“When I went, I feel hungry and thirsty before midnight, they drop off my water and the kind of sandwich I don’t want to eat. I never sleep the whole night never sleep because I was scared. I still thinking about my kids and my dad,” Thomas said.

While in the hotel, in-person contact is restricted to ensure the safety of both staff and guests.

“How do they know if I’m dead. How can I stay at the hotel? How many days never checked me,” Thomas questioned.

She was released after ten days but was never re-tested. Thomas says that her experience left her with a bad impression.

“I thinking maybe because of the racist. I Micronesian. That’s why they do like that to me,” Thomas said.

Josie Howard of non-profit We Are Oceania says cultural differences and language barriers contribute to distrust.

“We cannot do things in silence. We need to do things together,” Thomas said.

To help in such cases the non-profit launched a new hotline offering interpreters for at least seven different Pacific Island languages. The interpreters can help with accessing resources like hotels and rent relief.

For help, call (808) 913-1364 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. The nonprofit is also hiring for more helpline specialists in any of the following languages: Chuukese, Marshallese, Kosraean, Yapese, Pohnpeian, Palauan, or Samoan. Click here for more information.

The Hawai’i State Department of Health issued this statement in response:

The Department of Health is establishing multi-disciplinary investigation teams that include language interpreters. These specialized teams would work on investigations involving prioritized cases. The DOH already uses bilingual health aides and is partnering with Community Health Centers and the Hawaii Primary Care Association to provide language interpretation and culturally appropriate support for the communities they serve.

Statement on isolation and quarantine rooms:

The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) in partnership with the counties is working hard to offer more robust voluntary isolation and quarantine support to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and close contacts of confirmed cases when doing so in their own home is not possible. Local hotels and businesses have stepped up from the very beginning offering their services to support the state. Their collaboration and efforts have prevented the spread of coronavirus and protected the community.

All services are offered by DOH on a case by case basis when individuals identify challenges that may prevent them from safely quarantining or isolating. Assistance may include home delivery of food or essential items to people who do not have another way to get supplies. In some cases, individuals may be offered a hotel room or other alternate accommodation when they cannot safely isolate or quarantine away from other household members. The decision to use assistance offered or relocate to a hotel is voluntary and up to each individual. We continue to look at ways to improve this support and make it accessible to those in need.

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