by Edwin Quinabo
YEAR-IN-REVIEW: 2021 transitioned seamlessly from 2020 punctuated by COVID-19 and toxic politics. Pandemic anxiety once again permeated. But 2021 brought newfound hope and healing.
Life-saving COVID-19 vaccinations rolled out as a new president heading that effort rolled in. Insurrectionists motivated by false, unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud stormed the nation Capitol.
Asian communities faced another year of unprecedented assaults despite political and social activism against AAPI violence. And yet another form of attack, arguably more insidious because its use of legal channels to do harm, Republican lawmakers rushed to pass anti-voting rights legislation throughout multiple red states.
Data revealed Hawaii’s Filipinos were among the hardest hit by COVID-19, a low point. A high point, Filipinos across the globe celebrated the first Filipino – journalist Maria Ressa – to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Her win was also a win for journalists as she and co-recipient Dmitry Muratov became symbols of a resilient press fighting back against another year of smear and intimidation.
As millions rolled up their sleeve and got vaccinated, the nation’s economy reopened and businesses started their long rebuilding journey. A few covid surges slowed down recovery efforts but state-city governments were mostly in agreement that another 2020-complete shutdown of the economy was not the right course to take.
One major byproduct of the relentless pandemic moved healthcare to front and center. As eyes focused on healthcare delivery locally, the pressing problem of Hawaii’s physician shortage finally begun to receive the public attention it deserved. Nationally, additional awareness in healthcare spurred lawmakers to propose groundbreaking legislation (still pending) to improve Medicare and to expand access to coverage and services.
On the education front, schools restarted. Forgiveness of some Federal loans were approved but roaring calls for more relief reverberated. Hawaii Filipino Chronicle (HFC) continued its journalism and mass communications scholarship despite a slump in non-profit (including HFC) donations.
HFC chronicled all these events in what collectively could be characterized as just one notch down in magnitude from the historic, the seismic year of 2020, a year unlike any other in generations.
The following is HFC’S top 10 Year-in-Review of news for 2021 (with updates for this cover story). Original articles appeared in HFC cover stories, editorials, news or topics written by columnists. In each article, HFC presented a Filipino-community angle reporting on and for our niche audience.
#1 COVID-19 Vaccines rollout, largest in nation’s history
Topping the list of news perhaps universally for media worldwide was the highly anticipated rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations. Public health officials say the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine was the largest in the nation’s history. It first became available to healthcare staff, essential workers, the elderly and select populations in the first two quarters of the year.
By late June, early July, approved vaccines (the two mRNA vaccines Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna, and the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine) were available to the general public, followed by younger age groups as more clinical trials data showed vaccines were safe to administer to teens and children. The latest group – children ages 5-11 – recently got Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approval for the mRNA vaccines. While J&J is still available (due to initial approval), CDC now recommends people should opt for Pfizer or Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine instead of J&J, citing safety concerns.
As of Dec. 28, 2021, 74.2% of Hawaii’s population completed the two-part or single J&J vaccination. Nationally, 61.2% of the population are fully vaccinated, 72.4% received at least one dose.
Early December a new variant Omicron originated in South Africa and quickly spread throughout the world. The most contagious of variants to date, Omicron accounted for more than 70% of new cases by late December.
CDC is now recommending a booster shot (third vaccination). Health officials say the term “fully vaccinated” is not as meaningful with Omicron’s outbreak. Studies show without a third booster shot, protection from contracting COVID-19 with this latest variant went from 70+% down to 30s%. But health officials say vaccinations (two-shots) will still help to prevent severe symptoms and hospitalization.
Health officials have said the 2021 vaccination rollout is the greatest modern success story in public health. But unlike other previous vaccines with higher compliance rates, the COVID-19 vaccines have been met with resistance (by approximately 25% of population) largely due to the politicization of the pandemic and the vaccination program.
#2 U.S. Capitol under siege
In any other year, the siege of the U.S. Capitol would have been an undisputable number one on any media’s news year-recap.
Jan. 6, 2021 will go down as one of the darkest days in U.S. history as Trump supporters stormed and breached the U.S. Capitol to protest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results. The siege forced Congress to suspend certification and go into lockdown. That same day lawmakers resumed the order of business to meet the Constitutional deadline of certifying the election.
The attack has been called a coup, an insurrection by most; while right-wing groups are calling it a simple protest that got out of hand. Video footage captured rioters violent, bellicose, snaking their way through Congress’ hallowed halls in search of lawmakers. Millions of Americans watched live broadcasts in disbelief and shock that a coup was actually taking place in the U.S. The insurrection resulted in five deaths; but law enforcement says the breach could have potentially ended in a massacre of the nation’s top leaders.
Citizen watchdog groups criticized that most of the rioters were allowed to walk free that day, citing racial disparity in law enforcement compared to widespread arrests at Black Lives Matter protests.
Since Jan. 6, over a hundred arrests have been made; currently 727 people face prosecution or have already been prosecuted for a range of charges from criminal to trespassing violations. According to the FBI, among the rioters were right-wing elements, white supremacists, QAnon, Proud Boys and militia, along with individual Trump supporters not associated with extremist groups.
#3 Hawaii Filipinos among hardest hit by COVID-19
Ranked very high on HFC’s 2021 list is news specific to the newspaper’s target audience. HFC did a comprehensive cover story on Filipinos and COVID-19 to a depth no other media had done. The article ran in the Oct. 2, 2021 issue.
MORTALITY. At the time, Hawaii Filipinos ranked number one in COVID-19 mortality in the state accounting for 174 or 23% of deaths, according to the Department of Health’s online tracking site. About three months later (as of Dec. 29, 2021), Filipinos remain the ethnic group with the highest COVID-19 mortality at 239 or 23% of total deaths in the state, followed by Pacific Islander (194) and White alone (191).
INFECTIONS. In the first week of Oct. 2021, Filipinos held the number two spot (20%) in highest infections, behind Native Hawaiians at 24%. Nearly three months later, Filipinos have made dramatic improvements during the Delta variant stage falling from second to fifth (18% of total infections) among Hawaii ethnic groups.During the Pre-Vaccine Period between March 8, 2020 through Dec. 26, 2020, Hawaii Filipinos were also second at 20% of COVID-19 infections.
Public health experts, Filipino physicians and members in the community attribute work environment, multigenerational living and less access to healthcare as reasons for high infection rates in the Filipino community.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, also an Emergency Room Physician, told the Filipino Chronicle, “The Filipino community is one of the very hardest working communities in our state, however during a pandemic this work can come with risk. Jobs like being a caregiver, a doctor, running a care home or working in a hotel (some examples of prominent jobs in the community) means a lot of close contact with people and therefore more chances to catch COVID.”
Dr. Green attributed Filipinos’ high COVID-19 morbidity is likely due to high levels of preexisting conditions. “The high rate of hypertension, diabetes or kidney disease means that our Filipino brothers and sisters can get more sick if they contract COVID,” he said.
There is no hard data on vaccination in Hawaii for Filipinos who are part of the Asian category. There is only a DOH commissioned survey (not a comprehensive data-tracking) conducted by Anthology Research from April 20, 2021 to May 3, 2021 that showed Filipinos last among those vaccinated.
#4 First Nobel peace prize winner of Filipino Ancestry
Having a first Filipino to win a Nobel Prize was monumental news; but doubly newsworthy was the fact that one recipient (of two) is a journalist – which made this news a shoo-in to break HFC’s top 5.
Filipino-American (Philippines-based journalist) Maria Ressa, CEO, president and cofounder of Rappler (digital news site) and fellow journalist Dmitry Muratov of Russia were selected co-awardees of the Nobel Peace Prize in October. They are the first journalists to win the Nobel Peace Prize since 1935.
The two received their Nobel in Oslo on Nov. 10. Ressa is praised for her reporting exposing abuses of power and growing authoritarianism under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. She is also a crusader against internet and government disinformation. She has been jailed twice, posted bail eight times, received death threats and constant bullying. She currently faces charges that could lead to imprisonment of over 100 years. She is free on bail appealing a six-year prison sentence for libel conviction. She faces five tax evasion and other charges.
The Philippine government denies hounding Ressa and the media, which her supporters say it is doing. During her lecture at the Nobel awards ceremony, she said, “Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without trust, we have no shared reality, no democracy, and it becomes impossible to deal with our world’s existential problems: climate, coronavirus, the battle for truth.
“Our greatest need today is to transform that hate and violence, the toxic sludge that’s coursing through our information ecosystem, prioritized by American internet companies that make more money by spreading that hate and triggering the worst in us,” said Ressa.
#5 Asian hate crimes continue in 2021, Hate Crimes Bill Passed
This next news is another issue specific to the Filipino community and has made not only HFC’s top 5, but also has been included in most mainstream media year-end recaps of top news.
Attacks on the Asian community in the US has not slowed since the pandemic started in 2020. According to Stop AAPI Hate, there were 9,081 incident reports between March 19, 2020, and June 2021. Of those, 4,548 occurred last year, and 4,533 in 2021. The final year-end count is expected to show a considerable jump in anti-Asian hate incidences from 2020, trackers say. Asians have reported harassment that run from humiliating taunts to criminals’ acts of physical abuse and homicide. Asian groups say these attacks are motivated by scapegoating of Asians for the outbreak of the pandemic.
Hawaii’s U.S. senator Mazie Hirono, the only immigrant currently serving in the United States Senate, sponsored the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that President Joe Biden signed into law in May. Some of the features of the Act expedite Justice Department review of anti-Asian hate crime and make available federal grants to organizations combating hate crimes.
Two high profile anti-Asian hate crimes involved a mass shooting in three spas in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16 that resulted in the deaths of six Asian women; and on March 29, a 65-year-old Filipino woman in midtown Manhattan, NYC suffered severe injuries from an unprovoked attack on a street while she walked to church. Another assault that involved a Filipino occurred on Feb. 3 when Noel Quintana was brutally slashed on the face by a box cutter while on an NYC subway. The attack was unprovoked.
Locally, Hawaii State Sen. Bennette E. Misalucha introduced resolutions (passed unanimously) that denounced all forms of anti-Asian sentiment and all acts of racism. Sen. Misalucha told the Filipino Chronicle, “In February, I started to see the increase in news coverage on the U.S. mainland on hate crimes directed at Asian Americans. At that time, it was when I started to draft SCR66 and SR48 since I believe it was important to make a statement regarding this alarming trend.
“It is important to note that I wrote and signed the resolution to push the intent that our communities here in Hawaii serve as an example to the rest of the nation of what diversity and inclusion look like, regardless of your gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. It is crucial to stand in solidarity with our Asian American Pacific Islander community during these difficult times. These heinous crimes cannot and must not be tolerated.”
#6 Voting rights under attack nationally
The Brennan Center for Justice tracked hundreds of legislation that State Legislatures in 2021 have introduced to restrict voting access in 47 states.19 of those states, all with GOP-majority legislatures, have adopted 33 new voting restriction laws.
Republican-dominated legislatures said stricter laws were necessary to prevent voter fraud, following a presidential election that a majority of Republican voters believed was fraught with cheating and irregularities. Independent and bipartisan observers found no evidence of cheating and recounts in disputed states were found to be sufficiently accurate within a margin that would not have changed election results.
The Brennan Center report attributes restrictive voting laws to “racist voter fraud allegations behind the Big Lie (a reference to former President Donald Trump’s repeated false claims of a rigged election) and a desire to prevent future elections from achieving the historic turnout seen in 2020.”
Common themes of new state voting laws include imposing tougher identification requirements to cast ballots, shortening the window to apply for a mail-in ballots, reducing the number of ballot drop off boxes, reducing voter day hours, reducing early voting hours, reducing voting locations.
Democrats in the U.S. House passed two major voting bills, For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, both aimed to create new national standards for elections, while preventing common forms of voter suppression and easing access to voting. Both bills aimed to counter the suppression bills passed by states this year. Both bills failed to get support by Republicans in the Senate.
U.S. Rep. Ed Case told the Filipino Chronicle, “Continued voter suppression throughout our country is a national disgrace. In our Hawaii we have largely overcome the prejudices that in earlier generations effectively suppressed large portions of our voters and have served as a model, which causes us to not fully understand that in much of the rest of our country there are very active efforts to discourage many voters from exercising their most basic and critical right of citizenship. We must do everything we can individually and collectively to guarantee the right to vote to all Americans.”
#7 Pandemic pushes millions more into poverty
The three COVID-relief Acts passed by the US Federal government were life-saving measures to the US economy and millions of Americans, economists say, but poverty, food insecurity, shelter insecurity, mounting debt – overall extreme economic hardship was pervasive in 2020 (nearly 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty during the last half of 2020) and continued into 2021.
Economists found heaviest hit disproportionately were low-wage earners, service workers, and minorities. In the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization’s 21Q1 UHERO State Forecast released March 5, 2021, local Hawaii economists had similar findings. “The crisis has had a disparate effect on high- and low-income households. Professional workers have been able to continue to work remotely, while many lower-income households are dependent on the face-to-face services that have been hardest hit. This has led to disproportionate economic hardship for these families. Income and housing support programs have been crucial in preventing economic collapse for some families and communities.”
The poverty threshold or Federal Poverty Level (FPL) in real dollars for 2020 is as follows: Household of 1 person $12,760; 2 persons $17,240; 3 persons $21,720; 4 persons $26,200.
#8 American Rescue Plan of 2021 keeps nation afloat
This next news could have easily placed second in HFC’s year in review. The American Rescue Plan did exactly as its name – it was monumental legislation ($1.9) that rescued millions of American families and businesses. It saved state governments from slashing their budgets to shreds or having to raise taxes in the most financially depressing of times by giving states much-needed federal money.
The American Rescue Plan helped fund the nation’s vaccination production and rollout. It provided a last round of stimulus for most Americans and last round of federal unemployment benefits.
The legislation was passed by Democrats with no Republicans voting for it.
#9 Hawaii faces physician shortage
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an already grim situation of Hawaii’s physician shortage and the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle was among only a few media that reported on this pressing issue.
Researchers at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in its Hawai’i Physician Workforce Assessment Project Report for 2020 found that Hawaii’s physician shortage is between the range of 710 to 1,008. There are 10,227 physicians licensed in Hawaii; 2,812 full-time physicians (FTEs) in Hawaii compared to what is needed, estimated at 3,529 statewide.
Some of the reasons for the shortage in Hawaii include the aging of physicians and retirement; not enough new physicians are coming to practice in the state; the high cost of living is driving doctors to leave the islands; insurance reimbursement is lower in Hawaii compared to other states; Hawaii lacks adequate residency training positions that forces local graduates to move; administrative tasks got too complicated; and newer technology also got too complicated for older physicians not tech savvy.
What are some consequences of having a physician shortage? Possibly not getting proper patient care or having to wait longer at the doctor’s clinic or even to book an appointment. Or worse yet, not finding a primary care physician to the patient’s comfort, having to travel out-of-state to get certain specialized treatment, or paying higher prices for consultations. Patients could also resort to ER visits for non-emergency health issues.
Dr. Charlie Sonido, one of the medical directors of Hawaii Filipino Healthcare (HFH) group and CEO of Primary Care Clinic of Hawaii (PCCH), one of the state’s largest independently-owned private practices, said “the Filipino community is in for a big shock. It will be harder and harder for them to find a primary care physician in the next few years who understands their culture because their own physicians are retiring and there is no one to replace them. There is an acute shortage of Filipino physicians in Hawaii to take care of the unique healthcare needs of the growing Filipino immigrant population.”
#10 Hawaii students return to in-class learning
Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that K-12 schools could and ought to reopen with proper health protocols in place, the Hawaii Board of Education, Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE), working with Gov. David Ige and the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) made the decision to resume in-person learning for the academic school year 2021-2022.K-12 virtual instruction (one-year) posed multiple problems for both students and teachers. Virtual learning also passed on extra hardship for many parents of young children. Parents scrambled for daycare, opted for reduced work hours, and in dire cases, quit their jobs entirely.DOH director Libby Char said in a press conference that children need to be back in school, even with the surging case count. “There is risk involved in everything, but I think we also have to be cognizant that there is a cost to not having children in school and having them fall further behind in learning and the continued social isolation,” she said.
Venus Delos Santos, parent of a Hawaii public school student, told the Filipino Chronicle, “I believe the distance learning was a necessary mandate because of the covid circumstances, but it leaves a lot to be desired as far as degree, amount, and quality of instruction and education. Tapping into a student’s academic potential is by far best done through in-person instruction.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Original articles of these top stories and others not included in the top 10 can be accessed in HFC’s archives of articles at www.thefilipinochronicle.com.
by Edwin Quinabo