Locals concerned for family, friends impacted by India’s COVID-19 surge: ‘Hospitals have no beds’


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket across India, area community members are reacting to the chaos. 

Hospitals are overwhelmed, there’s a lack of PPE and vaccine supplies and variants are spreading, causing cases to rise to more than 20 million.

Dr. Rishi Gupta with the University of Rochester Medical Center has family and friends in India who have been impacted. 

“I don’t know even a single friend of mine, or even a family member, who has not been infected. It’s that bad,” Dr. Gupta said. “It was never anticipated, that such huge number of people would be sick in such a short time.”

Dr. Gupta says the country of roughly 1.4 billion people thought the worst of the pandemic was over, but in the past two to three weeks, cases have soared. Currently, there’s an average of 400,000 new cases per day, and that might not be the entire picture. 

“The real number is considered extremely high, much more than that because the testing is not so easily available. A lot of people are not able to get tested because they are worried if they go out to get tested they are going to get infected,” Dr. Gupta explained. 

Dr. Kanakadurga R. Poduri, who is part of the teaching faculty at Strong Memorial Hospital, has lost five family friends in India to the virus.

“Ambulances are hard to get. Hospitals have no beds. Medication is in short supply, oxygen in short supply, vaccinations are not fully given to everybody,” Dr. Poduri said.

She uses social media apps to stay in touch with her family and hear about the current situation of the country. Poduri says the rise in cases may in part be because the government was allowing large gatherings, like political events and religious activities, to continue up until recently. 

“Allowing the religious festival that we see people are not wearing masks, not wanting to distance from each other, that has contributed a lot,” Poduri said. 

Poduri has a niece that lives in the city of New Delhi, where cases are high. Her niece told Poduri, “It is so devastating. At the same time, the community is coming together. There is more empathy now than ever.”

Poduri said (of her niece), “There are teachers, who are her colleagues, who have lost their husbands, mother or father, and the kids who also have had COVID, they’re all still functioning as though they have one more day.”

Poduri’s niece told her the teachers in New Delhi are making sure their students keep learning during this tough time. “We need to put a positive spin on this. The teachers need to be recognized, just as we recognize the frontline medical professionals.”

Rajeev Ramchandran, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the India Community Center, says the concentration of India also makes it hard to keep the virus from spreading. 

“If you imagine India, it’s a very concentrated country in terms of population, so it’s a small land area with more people and especially in the cities where our families are from, you’re running into people all the time so a sense of social isolation and social distancing is a little bit more difficult,” Ramchandran said.

Being thousands of miles away during this time hasn’t been easy for many either. Ramchandran says he lost a young family member recently to the virus. 

“It’s been really tough and you’re sitting here helpless and you can’t go and attend their funeral and their memorial and you can’t be a part of that,” Ramchandran said. 

Ramchandran’s wife, Bavana Rangan, says she is in group chats with friends in India who say the community is coming together to help keep people safe. 

“People are really coming together to source everything, from oxygen tanks to ICU beds, with and without ventilator,” Rangan said. 

She also says there are mask mandates in place for people when they are outside and that restrictions have gotten more strict to help slow the spread of the virus. 

India is one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines, but the country is running low on vaccine supplies and PPE. Multiple other nations, like the United States, have offered help, sending millions of dollars worth of supplies to the country. 

Dr. Gupta said there are also ways you can help. He says donating to organizations like Sewa International, Unicef, and Red Cross, can help provide oxygen concentrator machines to those in India who need oxygen. 

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