Indian students in the United States say they feel helpless amid the massive wave of coronavirus infections back home.
"I have very old grandparents and we just had one of my grandparents' siblings die of COVID, so there is a lot of tension in the air with that," said George Mason University senior Shabrina Parikh. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
India's second coronavirus wave has become a devastating crisis, with about 21 million cases and more than 230,000 deaths, according to the latest information from Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the global outbreak. From April 25 to May 1, India reached a record high, with about 2.6 million reported cases that week and 300,000 to 400,000 cases per day.
"It has been a very challenging time for students from India, including for the ones already here," said Amita Gupta, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education.
Students from India represent 18% of the foreign nationals coming to the U.S. for education, according to the Institute of International Education in New York.
"COVID has significantly reduced that number and importantly impacted their educational experience and quality of life," said Gupta, who also serves as a professor of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins' School of Medicine.
Gupta explained how the doctors in the U.S. have coordinated with counterparts in India during this second surge of cases.
"Our group at Hopkins is working on making brief evidence-based educational videos for lay persons and for practitioners regarding treatments for COVID as many pay out of pocket for therapies that are not evidence-informed or are used sub-optimally," Gupta said.
Vaccines in India
Supplies needed in hospitals, including oxygen cylinders, personal protective equipment, and medications, are running low. Family members are not permitted to see their loved ones in the already overcrowded hospitals, which has made the situation emotionally exhausting for many.
While India is home to the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India, only 2% of the country's 1.3 billion people have been vaccinated, according to reports.
The country recently expanded its vaccine eligibility to anyone 18 and older, but many locations reported that they did not have any vaccines. Many in India have blamed Adar Poonawalla, Serum Institute's chief executive officer, for the gap.
Poonawalla had been in Britain but was supposed to return to India to oversee vaccine production.
Anxiety in U.S.
George Mason University student Parikh said she is close to her grandparents, and not being there for them has increased her anxiety and nervousness about the COVID crisis in India.
"If I see them calling or if I see a family member calling, I get very nervous because you know what that call may be about," Parikh said.
George Mason University junior Darshni Patel said social distancing in India is complicated by overpopulation, which contributes to the crisis.
"Social distancing looks really different in the East than it does in the West. Like being able to social distance is a luxury, at least where my grandparents live. It is not quite that accessible," Patel said.
"You know, it's really hard to work from home when you work on a farm seven days of the week. It is really hard to social distance when you live in a communal community, you know where you have a room and a house full of 20 to 24 people," she said.
To combat the crisis both in India and abroad, the U.S. has issued a ban on flights from India. It took effect May 4.
College of William and Mary sophomore Sathvika Madisetty said she supports that decision.
"Countries like New Zealand who have had the travel ban have been better at maintaining the numbers of people affected and maintaining the general state of life," Madisetty said.
At the same time, however, she said that from the standpoint of an Indian residing in the U.S. with family in India, she feels every day that her family would be much safer if they came to the U.S.
"Most of my family in India are also pretty old. I mean, even the simplest task of them going to the hospital to pick up their medication is dangerous for them because of how contagious the new variant is," Madisetty said. "So, while I understand the necessity for a travel ban, I can't help but feel selfish and want the best for my family."