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Young Pacific Islander speaks about being a COVID-19 survivor

By: Cassie Ordonio

30 November 2020

Lorenzo “Lolo” Finau-Cruz woke up one morning with a headache. Then he felt muscle pains, nausea and had a fever up to 101 degrees.

 

The 26-year-old University of Hawai‘i graduate had COVID-19, but it wasn’t the worst of his symptoms.

 

“One of the parts that scared me the most was breathing,” he said. “It was really hard to breathe. It felt like my lungs just collapsed.”

 

In early September, he attended a gathering of nine people to celebrate a friend’s upcoming podcast. The next day he was contacted by his friend who had the virus.  Finau-Cruz was tested two times. The first test was negative, then two days later, he showed symptoms of COVID-19. Then he was tested again – it was positive.

“For me, I was surprised because you always hear about COVID, but you never think it will happen to you or anyone you know,” he said.

 

In Hawai‘i, Pacific Islanders – excluding Native Hawaiians – are being hit harder by the pandemic than any other group.

They make up 4% of the population, yet they are 30% of COVID-19 cases and 16% of deaths. This includes Marshallese, Samoans, Tongans, Chuukese and other Pacific Islanders. 

Finau-Cruz, who is Tongan and Filipino, said it saddened him to see his people affected by COVID-19.

 

“It hurts,” he said. “I do have to admit that our culture is really a part of who we are and community is a big part of who we are, but at the same time, it’s also what’s harming us. So knowing that it’s happening, you’re torn between choosing safety and your own communal identity.” 

 

Feeling ignored by the state, the Pacific Islander community conducted its own outreach to stop the spread of the virus.

 

Lorenzo “Lolo” Finau-Cruz poses for a portrait inside of his McCully apartment, where he quarantined for two weeks when he contracted COVID-19 in early September.

(Photo by Cassie Ordonio/ Hō‘ā O‘ahu)

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Josie Howard, program director of We Are Oceania, is working with 10 volunteers to send supplies to families in multigenerational homes and to provide translation services for those who speak Marshallese and Chuukese.

“The community is impacted greatly,” Howard said. “However, the community has great resiliency. You can see that in the response. 

 

I think one thing that’s evident is that the community is really rising to take care of each other, just like how we usually do it.”

 

As for Finau-Cruz, most of the resources came from his friends. They delivered food, medicine and the medicinal plant, noni.

When he was sick, Finau-Cruz would boil the plant in water then inhale the steam to help his breathing. 

 

“I think if I didn’t have the community sending me all these things, the stress alone would make it so much worse,” he said.

 

Two months after his recovery, Finau-Cruz still has some side effects from the virus, like his loss of smell. His advice to people in the Pacific Islander community who may have contracted the virus or are afraid of contracting the virus is to talk to the community about it.

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