Marshallese community remains resilient after harsh impacts of COVID-19, as Delta variant spreads

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SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — The Marshallese community in Northwest Arkansas has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and continues to be vigilant as the pandemic continues.

Leaders in the community are urging people to continue with COVID-19 safety practices, because each loss is felt by all.

“It’s been a very sad story for us,” said Carolina Edwin, a member of the Marshallese community.

The grass is starting to grow back on the dozens of gravesites in the Friendship Cemetery in Springdale, where some Marshallese people who died of COVID-19 now rest.

“It was very difficult,” said Edwin. “It got to a point where I think we felt numb because it happened every weekend. I don’t think we’ve had that back home where somebody passed away left and right.”

“Because we are such a close knit community, everybody that passed away, everyone knows who they were,” said Dr. Sheldon Riklon. “They were part of us so it hit us hard.

Dr. Riklon is an Associate Professor at UAMS, a family physician and a member of the Marshallese community. He said the last year was tough for all of them.

“Per capita, we had really high rates of COVID cases, hospitalizations as well as deaths,” he said.

Dr. Riklon said as of the morning on Friday, August 20th, data from the Arkansas Department of Health said there were 71 active cases in the Marshallese community. Forty-five involved households under quarantine, and there are 2,743 recovered cases. He said according to local community sources, there have been four additional COVID-related deaths in the past four weeks or so.

Now that the Delta variant is circulating and hitting younger people, he’s even more concerned, as a doctor and as a grandfather.

“For Marshallese communities as a collective, it’s all about family,” he said. “All of my (immediate) family who are 12 and up who are eligible to get the vaccine have gotten it. But we still have grandchildren who are less than 12.”

He said the 65 and older Marshallese population responded really well to getting vaccinated. But due to misinformation, he said the younger populations have been more hesitant.

Leaders in Benton County want to put money from the American Rescue Plan toward helping these communities.

“We discovered that some of our populations, Latin and Marshallese weren’t really engaged in public health,” said Benton County Judge Barry Moehring. “So those are some communities we want to spend more time on and engaging with.”

Dr. Riklon is urging people to get vaccinated. He said they are working hard with community organizations to push getting people over 12 vaccinated, and they are seeing an uptick in the number of Marshallese people getting vaccinated.

“When we go home, there are kids who are not eligible and they are at risk,” he said.

“Being Marshallese is being considerate and being kind to each other,” said Edwin. “I think that’s all it takes, just to be considerate of the other person.”

The Marshallese community is starting to get back out doing community service projects that are important to them, such as cleaning up downtown Springdale. Dr. Riklon said these events are all about giving back thanks to the people of Northwest Arkansas who have welcomed them as neighbors. However, they are doing these events safely, with mask wearing and social distancing.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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