In this Part 2 of the series on the COVID-19 misinformation’s impact on the Filipino American community in Los Angeles County, the Asian Journal talks with health and academic experts to explore solutions to address the lingering effects of false information during the pandemic.
“First and foremost, we should identify where the misinformation is coming from,” said California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research Multiethnic press secretary Dr. Yurina Melara Valiulis.
With this, Valiulis underscores the need to recognize the existence of specific misinformation or disinformation spreading in different communities.
Once the misinformation is pinpointed, Valiulis said, educating the community on how to treat and manage this misinformation comes next.
“One of the first things I’ve been doing as part of my work is letting people know that not everything they see or read, especially on social media, is going to be accurate,” she said, reminding audiences to be “more critical” of what they are reading by checking the source and whether concrete data is supporting the information.
Valiulis believes that Filipino Americans can be more susceptible to absorbing misinformation because of their high exposure to social media.
“Since a lot of Filipinos have a higher English proficiency, I think they are more exposed to what they see in different (English speaking) outlets,” says Valiulis, stressing the need for the community to be more vigilant and stern in terms of identifying misinformation.
Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, Associate Dean for Regional Campuses at the University of California, San Francisco, expounds why Asian Americans’ ability to speak at least two languages makes them more prone to misinformation schemes.
“The majority of the Asian households in the United States speak another language either primary language or secondary language. Why that’s important? Your average American population probably tends to get their information from U.S. sources or U.S. journalists or things that are more national or local. Whereas [with] Asian American audiences, many tend to get [information in their] primary language, say Chinese, or Tagalog, or Korean from other countries in the world so if you think about that where these languages are spoken, there’s a lot of misinformation there, depending on what’s going on,” says Chin-Hong, who has been one of the leaders of institutional and community education around COVID-19 and monkeypox.
Approximately two-thirds of Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home, with Chinese (34%) being the most spoken Asian language, followed by Hindi (13%), Tagalog (9%), and Vietnamese (4%), according to a Pew Research Center report.
Chin-Hong, who has held over 4,000 COVID-related talks and interviews during the first years of the pandemic, shares Valiulis’ view that seeing the problem is of utmost importance in combatting COVID-19 misinformation.
Chin-Hong, who helped create and disseminate a petition validating protest as a response to structural racism in COVID times, underlines the importance of studying Asian American sub-groups.
“We know the existence of certain misinformation but because we don’t study Asians sub-groups, a lot of times, regarding mis- and disinformation, we don’t know how big the problem is by sub-group, so I think we need to desegregate that information,” he said.
Another important step to curbing the proliferation of misinformation, Chin-Hong said, is to use trusted individuals, such as health care professionals.
“I think, in the Asian American population, health professionals are still looked on with respect, so I think more health professionals doing webinars, or talks to the Asian population through news media is more important than ever. I think, enough wasn’t done, so again so much diversity in Asian population that it’s hard to flood the market with the truth, I guess we just have to continue to do more of these, using a wide variety of sources,” he added.
Apart from health professionals, trusted members of the communities are important as well.
“We (should tap) other ethnic groups, like people in the clergy, church, community leaders,” he says, adding that using cultural references will also be useful in combating the misinformation.
Reaching out to social media and traditional media platforms where Asian Americans get their information will continue to be an effective tool to counter misinformation.
Dr. Tung Nguyen, a professor at UCSF, echoed the need for making in-language data available for each race or ethnicity.
By zeroing in on more focused information sharing among different ethnic communities, it will not only minimize misinformation but would also address some issues of anti-Asian racism and discrimination.
“We have a system in which there is anti-Asian racism and what that means is that we don’t collect information about Asian Americans. The system doesn’t think that Asian Americans matter enough so they don’t collect information and data,” Nguyen said.
He continued, “Then they think that Asian Americans are all the same so they don’t collect information about Asian American [groups], like Filipinos and Chinese so that’s part of anti-Asian racism.”
Because this extensive, disaggregated data is not available, the communities and broader population are unaware that there are problems within these Asian subgroups.
Nguyen added that when health-related materials are disseminated to these communities, they are not created in language or do not seem relatable.
“Take Filipinos, for example, maybe they have the materials in English, but not in Tagalog, Ilocano or other dialects that they could relate to,” added Nguyen. “They do not have pictures of people who are Filipinos so that the Filipino people can identify, so when you do that, when you don’t have an official organization putting up information like that, you create an information vacuum.”
Moreso, Nguyen said that when there is no counter information, that’s when anti-Asian hate and racism come in.
“If you don’t value Filipino Americans’ right and create materials for them, they’re going to listen to whatever materials there is for them. So there’s no balance. There’s a lot of misinformation, and what’s even worse is you can’t even say how much disinformation there is because nobody is watching all this stuff. Nobody’s collecting data, so that’s where the link between anti-Asian hate racism and disinformation comes in,” opined Nguyen.
“Mis/disinformation isn’t going anywhere,” said National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) CEO Cameron Hickey during a webinar on COVID-19 misinformation trends presented by NCoC and Ethnic Media Services (EMS)’ Myth Buster Project.
“To create a healthier public sphere on the internet, we must scrutinize the content we see online. Global digital platforms are powerful channels of communication, mobilization and community and they have an important role. By sharing the responsibility of identifying and stopping the spread of misleading content, we can collectively fashion an online ecosystem that perpetuates an honest and inclusive view of the world,” said Hickey.
The NCoC chief said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing socioeconomic inequalities and cultural inequities, which greatly affected the vulnerable and marginalized sectors of society. It is crucial to address these disparities to build their resilience to future shocks and accelerate the country’s post-pandemic recovery.
As new strains of COVID-19 are being discovered and identified each day, there will also be more myths, mis- and disinformation about this deadly virus that will continue to proliferate.
Recently, the California government eased the safety precautions and lifted the state of emergency status on COVID-19. But studies conducted by health experts indicate that the impact of COVID-19, not only on public health, but also on the daily lives of the people is far from over.
According to the Myth Buster report of Stanford Health Care, about 10-30% of people who were infected with COVID-19 suffer from long-haul COVID.
“Up to 30% of those who tested positive for COVID-19 are experiencing long COVID (also known as long-haul COVID), meaning new, returning, or ongoing health problems more than four weeks after first being infected,” the report noted.
Even people who were asymptomatic with COVID-19, the study revealed, may become “long-haulers.” The effects of long-haul COVID can include respiratory, cardiac, and digestive symptoms as well as fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, brain fog, loss of taste and smell, and more. Children can also become long-haulers. As of July 2021, long COVID can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The continued health risks associated with a COVID-19 infection are real and potentially lasting, especially for older adults and people who are immunocompromised or have underlying health issues.
Long COVID also remains a risk. Based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, more than one in four people who have ever had COVID went on to experience long COVID. Risk factors that make people more likely to experience long COVID include not getting a COVID-19 vaccine, underlying health conditions, and experiencing more severe COVID-19 illness, especially requiring hospitalization.
In Los Angeles County, across all age groups, for the week ending March 20, people who were unvaccinated were five times more likely to be hospitalized compared to people who are vaccinated with the bivalent booster.
There are existing initiatives within the Filipino American community that could kickstart efforts to help combat misinformation, which is linked to anti-Asian hate and racism issues.
Proponents of the FILLED Project said the study participants advocated for a number of ways public health efforts can be improved to achieve greater equity and ensure preventative measures are accepted normatively, like vaccinations among other at-risk ethnic and community-oriented communities.
The FILLED also highlighted the need to include recommendations for culturally tailored information about COVID-19’s impact, in-language materials about COVID-19, and family discussions about the vaccine.
“With more than half of our sample speaking another language other than English at home, such recommendations provide valuable insight into specific action steps policymakers, public health advocates, and community health workers can all take to decrease vaccine hesitancy among at-risk communities,” it said.
Furthermore, the FILLED survey said an overwhelming proportion of participants shared that they perceived doctors or medical professionals as trusted sources of health information, and over two-thirds recommended that health care providers should encourage patients to get vaccinated as a means of further increasing vaccine uptake in the Fil-Am community.
“Given the level of misinformation during the pandemic, which was eventually coined as an ‘infodemic’ (defined by the WHO as the inundation of COVID-19 information that included false information that could mislead communities), there is an opportunity for health care providers to be utilized as better resources and vessels for positive COVID-19 behaviors (e.g., testing, vaccinations) and other health-related advice (e.g., chronic disease screenings, follow-up or treatment for poor mental health),” the survey indicated.
Drawing up community-driven approaches and methodologies in order to document existing and newly emerging issues among Asian subgroups, like Filipino Americans, and to assess and document COVID-19 behaviors and experiences, comprehensively, for real-time community use is fundamentally essential.
“Through this study, we confirmed the importance of maintaining community-engaged partnerships for health equity research, not only to inform the development of assessments, interventions and services, but also to further amplify community assets and resiliency as characteristics for building capacity and awareness among marginalized groups,” the FILLED project survey concluded.
The Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA), for its part, said it supports national and global efforts toward COVID-19 vaccination, that is essential in promoting a community of immunity for public health and safety.
“It is a great feat to say, ‘COVID-19 is a vaccine-preventable disease,'” the PNAA said.
This article is Part 2 of a two-part reporting series on the COVID-19 misinformation’s impact on the Filipino American community, particularly in Los Angeles County. The Asian Journal is commissioned by Ethnic Media Services under the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) COVID-19 Myth Buster Initiative II. (Donnabelle Gatdula Arevalo/AJPress)