Alarming rate of COVID-19 deaths among Filipino Americans; new data points to several culture-specific factors

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- There's no denying that Filipino Americans are incredibly embedded within the healthcare system. Recently, an article published by the L.A. Times revealed the population is dying of COVID-19 at an alarming rate.

In response, ABC7 News reached out to several Bay Area front liners to learn about their experience.

Jeanette Mariano, a medical-surgical cardiovascular nurse, explained she works with COVID patients daily.

"It's different, just because it's a new virus that we're dealing with every day," she explained. "We're learning from it. We're always at risk, and it's always something to think about that. We could always catch it."

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The L.A. Times cited occupational hazards, underlying health issues and multi-generational households as factors.

"A lot of us have diabetes, and my family members have preexisting conditions, too," emergency room nurse Mathew Naldo told ABC7 News. "So, it's really scary coming home, thinking that I could possibly transmit COVID-19 to them."

The Times found Filipino Americans account for at least 35% of COVID-19 deaths in California's Asian population.

As it stands, the State's Public Health Department doesn't report ethnicity by Asian subgroups. Therefore, additional data specific to Filipino Americans isn't exactly available.

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"Asian Americans, more broadly, really suffer from the stereotype of being model minorities, or all lumped together as if our experiences are all identical and parallel, which they are not," Dr. Robyn Rodriguez with the UC Davis Bulosan Center for Filipinx Studies said. "There is a lack of investment as a consequence of that, in really being able to interrogate what the issues Asian Americans, kind of sub ethnic groups, actually have. So therefore, we cannot get a picture of what the impacts are for specific Asian ethnic groups.

Dr. Rodriguez is the founding faculty director of the Bulosan Center.

She added, "I think this is really a moment between kind of what we're seeing now in the pandemic and the racial disparities when it comes to infection rates, death, to also just the newer awareness. Which, for many of us is not new, and awareness of the deep ways institutional racism cuts across all institutions, including institutions of higher learning."

The Times found a fifth of registered nurses in the state are Filipino.

Acute care unit nurse Christina Silva explained it's a reflection of the culture.

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"I mean, there's definitely a stereotype," Silva said. "If you're Filipino, then most likely you're going to be a nurse. I mean, I did have a lot of influence in regards to a lot of my family members - my cousins are all nurses."

She continued, "I think a lot of Filipinos get into this this registered nurse profession because they have an extreme amount of compassion towards people And I can definitely say that about all the nurses that I've come in contact with in the Filipino culture."

The Bulosan Center surveyed nearly 1,000 Filipino Americans across California. Their research showed that, while so many are in the health profession, many others aren't sure how to prioritize their own health.

"You think that because we are in that discipline, in that labor force, that folks would know how to get tested, where to get tested," Director of Research RJ Taggueg said. "But a lot of the people within our sample, 30% of them, indicate that they don't know where the nearest testing location is."

Beyond that, Taggueg said, "As a consequence, we are seeing - and we believe - that we are being undercounted. In terms of like, who is actually getting diagnosed with COVID."

According to Taggueg, he said to date, 2% of the center's entire sample have indicated they have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

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"If this was a rate that was comparable to other communities out there, that number should be around 5 to 6%," he explained.

To access the full Bulosan Center report, click here.

While the L.A. Times article is alarming, the Bay Area nurses who spoke with ABC7 News said they all entered the healthcare industry with the understanding of the risk and cherish the reward.

"I still love it to this day. I still love helping people," Nurse Mariano shared. "And with the pandemic going on right now, with the COVID patients, it just makes me more in love with nursing- because we are the front liners. I am very strong and just very adamant about helping patients."

Silva added, "If you got into the nursing profession, you have a level of compassion that far exceeds a lot of people. And you have a lot of patients, so to kind of put yourself in another family shoes or another patient shoes is kind of what we do all the time."

"These patients come in by themselves because hospitals aren't allowing visitors at the moment," Naldo explained. "So we're their only source of comfort. And, you know, it's really scary for both the patients and for us, with this all being brand new to everybody."


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