HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii's Micronesian community has experienced a diplomatic leadership void throughout the coronavirus pandemic because of an ongoing vacancy at the nation's Honolulu consulate.
The Federated States of Micronesia has been without a representative at its consulate in Honolulu since 2019, Hawaii Public Radio reported Wednesday.
Hawaii's Micronesian community leaders said they do not know why the seat has not been filled, especially as virus cases have recently increased among the state's Pacific Islander residents.
Pacific Islanders in Hawaii, including Micronesians, have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. They represent 27% of the state’s cases but only 4% of the population.
Oahu resident and Kosraean native Shanty Sigrah Asher was nominated to fill the consulate position.
Asher has failed three times to gain the necessary votes in the Federated States of Micronesia Congress, while an online petition supporting her has gained more than 1,700 signatures.
“At this point, whether it’s me or whether it’s someone who can run that office, we will be grateful and we’re gonna stand by ready to support that leader,” Asher said.
Asher assists Honolulu as a temporary liaison to the Pacific Islander community.
“Right now, with my work at the city and county, it’s really trying to build a solid communication channel, a systematic one,” Asher said.
“If there are resources to send to Pacific Islanders, then we know who to send it to,” Asher said. "And then community can also voice their concerns they might have about the lack of resources available to them.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.