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'Very Anxious': Vermonters With Family In India Watch That Country's COVID Wave

Two people with a row of metal oxygen tanks
Ajit Solanki
/
Associated Press
Workers stack empty oxygen cylinders near an oxygen plant at a government COVID-19 hospital in Ahmedabad, India on Tuesday. The country's health system is dangerously strained as daily COVID case counts break world records.

The COVID-19 situation in the U.S. seems to be trending in the right direction, but in India, the pandemic has quickly become catastrophic in the last few weeks. The country has broken world records for daily virus case counts multiple times, with new infections numbering around 350,000 per day. The health system is dangerously strained, and this week the Biden administration pledged to supply medical aid to the country.

Here in Vermont, those with family in India are checking in with relatives, watching from afar and in some cases, receiving news of lost loved ones.

That includes South Burlington resident and entrepreneur Vijay Desai, who has in-laws in Vadodara — also called Baroda — an uncle in Mumbai and employees in Bangalore:

“Every single day before I go to sleep, and when I wake up, I’ve got more than 50 messages on WhatsApp about how people are doing, who’s in the hospital, who is in critical situation, who left the hospital, etc., etc."

Mendon resident Tejal Dholakia says she's worried about her parents and siblings living in Mumbai.

I mean, sitting here, we can really just be stressed out and worried about them. And, you know, it's actually them who really have to watch out and be careful,” she said. “I mean, we can only do so much sitting here at this distance. You know, we really cannot do much.”

"... whoever has the extra supply — whether it's raw material or vaccines or whatever — they should think of it as a global citizen. I mean, this sounds very good, but it's not easy to do that, I understand that. But that's the message that has to go to the leaders of the industrial world, basically." — Shyam Parikh

Essex resident and retired IBM employee Shyam Parikh has a sister and brothers-in-law in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and he says those in power around the world should put bureaucracy aside, and act.

"This is not the time to worry about politics," he said. "And whoever has the extra supply — whether it’s raw material or vaccines or whatever — they should think of it as a global citizen. I mean, this sounds very good, but it's not easy to do that, I understand that. But that's the message that has to go to the leaders of the industrial world, basically."

VPR’s Henry Epp continued the conversation with Dr. Rup Tandan, professor of neurological sciences and director of the National ALS Association Center of Excellence at the University of Vermont and UVM Medical Center. Tandan has many family members living in Lucknow, the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: What have you been hearing from your family members in India about the COVID situation right now?

A person in a white docto's jacket
Credit Courtesy
Dr. Rup Tandan.

Dr. Rup Tandan: I have my younger brother there and his wife and two of their sons. So, they unfortunately all got COVID infection, all four of them. My brother had the most serious infection. He was bedridden for about maybe 10 to 12 days or so from the infection. He's slowly improving from it. My sister-in-law is on the way to nearly coming back to normal, and their two sons, who are in their 20s, are back to normal.

Their situation is, at least in Lucknow, is that there are slowly increasing number of cases with the COVID infections in the city. There are five government hospitals in the city of Lucknow, that has a population of 3.6 million. It's a big city, and there are several private hospitals as well. And apparently what I hear from my brother and sister-in-law is that all the beds are completely taken over by COVID patients in Lucknow. And there are patients who are actually waiting in the emergency rooms, which they call casualties there, they are waiting in emergency rooms to actually get into the hospital to get treatment.

And from your family, were they concerned about COVID-19 as much before this wave hit?

Yes, my family was very concerned. In fact, they were not going out at all. They were staying at home, and they were not allowing any people to come into the home. They simply had some folks who did the groceries for them, but they would not go out at all.

And so, what did it feel like in terms of that, the change to this situation where so many people are getting infected right now?

It is quite disconcerting for everybody. Everybody is very anxious. You know, they do not want to go out and mix with people. Unfortunately, the masking situation and the social distancing situation in the northeast, in Lucknow, is a little bit worse than it is here.

So, there are quite a few people who do not mask in the city. And you can imagine if there are people moving around in a city of almost 4 million people without masks, what can happen in terms of the spread of the COVID infection. They have had about 120 or 130 million vaccinations with the COVID-19 vaccine to date. But, you know, India has a population of 1.4 billion people almost. They have a long way to go with vaccinations.

For you, what does it feel like to watch this outbreak from here in Vermont?

I feel helpless and I feel sad that, you know, the people in India are going through this crisis situation now. I think that some of this could have been avoidable if people were more cautious and more careful with distancing and wearing masks. I wish and hope that that things are going to turn around very soon.

"I feel helpless and I feel sad that, you know, the people in India are going through this crisis situation now. I think that some of this could have been avoidable if people were more cautious and more careful with distancing and wearing masks. I wish and hope that that things are going to turn around very soon." — Dr. Rup Tandan

As someone in the medical profession, do you have a sense of what the medical system in India needs right now to handle the severity of this outbreak?

They need to educate the people about the disease, about the virus and how it spreads, because, as you know, almost two-thirds of the Indian population lives in the rural areas. And some of the people there are not as highly educated as people in big cities and metropolises.

I think education is one. And the second is they should talk about the importance of social distancing. They should talk about the importance of masking. They should talk about not going to political rallies that had been happening recently in the country. They should talk about not going to big sporting events that had been happening in the country, because all these are big spreader events. And I think once educated, and the public understands that, then hopefully I think that will have a significant beneficial impact on the spread of COVID-19.

Obviously, it's very difficult to watch from afar, especially for those who have family members there. Are there ways that you're reaching out to your family or others in India right now to try to help?

Yes, I am, in fact, I am talking to my brother every other day just to see what his progress is, what they are doing in terms of how they are handling the situation. I'm talking to my cousins in India to make sure that they understand the significance of, you know, masking and social distancing and making sure that they do not allow people that they don't know to come into their home. I think once all that is achieved, over time, we will see a significant decrease in the number of infections in the country.

Do you know of any ways in which individuals here in the U.S. can help?

I think that until the Indian government adopts an approach to educate the people there, I think it's incumbent upon us to make sure that our family members in India understand the significance of some of these preventative measures that we are adopting here to prevent the spread of the infection. So, again, social distancing and masking and preventing gathering. So not have parties, you know, and if you are going out, make sure that you wear a mask and distance from other people.

Here are some resources suggesting ways individuals can donate to provide aid to India: New York Times: "How to Help India Amid the Covid Crisis" Vijay Desai recommends: Sewa International USA COVID Oxygen Concentrator for INDIA fundraiser

Clarification 12:40 p.m. 4/29/2021: This story has been updated to reflect that Vadodara is the official name of that Indian city, though Baroda is a popular name for it, too.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

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