COMPTON, Calif. – As coronavirus cases continue to surge in Los Angeles County, it’s especially tough on one ethnic group – Pacific Islanders. They are among the hardest hit during the pandemic and faith leaders, such as Reverend Pausa Thompson, have stepped up to help shepherd the tight-knit community through the difficult times.
When Thompson took over as head pastor of Dominguez Samoan Congregational Christian Church in November, he never anticipated he would have to guide members through a global health crisis.
“In order to tend to people spiritually, you also have to take care of them physically,” he said.
Compared to any racial or ethnic group, Pacific Islanders have the highest case rate at 2,560 per 100,000 residents and the highest death rate of 103 per 100,000 people, based on July 20 data from the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Thompson points to underlying health issues as a major factor.
“Diabetes, for one and high blood pressure,” said Thompson. “We know through research those are the conditions that make us most vulnerable.”
Poor access to healthcare and a high number of Pacific Islanders working in essential jobs are some other factors, according to Thompson.
“There are a lot of Pacific Islanders that are nurses, quite a few that are doctors as well,” he said. "But also, those who are working in the grocery stores and those chains. Some folks caught the virus by working at grocery stores.”
He’s getting the word out about the virus, translating county information into Samoan and explaining it to his congregation.
“Every week, every Sunday, that’s my constant reminder. I close off with that all the time, the social distancing, the mask,” he said.
The reminders are crucial, especially as L.A. County marked the highest number of coronavirus hospitalizations on Monday at 2,232.
“Twenty-six percent of patients are in the I.C.U. and 19 percent on ventilators,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer with the L.A. County Department of Public Health. “This is the fourth day in the last week that we reported the highest number of patients being in the hospital.”
Thompson hopes by relaying the dangers, it will help his community combat the virus, especially reminding them to physically distance.
“It’s a very communal, collective community so things are always done in families and in large gatherings so that’s been a very difficult thing to do,” he said.
Thompson is also part of the nationwide effort to inform Pacific Islanders about the coronavirus. It’s called the Pacific Islander COVID-19 Response Team, a group of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community leaders and health experts who work to inform and support their communities about coronavirus.
He’s confident that he along with other leaders can come together and bring down the infection rate.
“We experienced a lot of different challenges, being a diasporic people in the United States,” he pointed out. “I think we were well equipped to deal with this on the spiritual side. It’s just on the precautionary side of taking care of each other that’s been a difficult thing.”
It’s a challenge he’s willingly taken on, less than a year into leading a new congregation.