'I only hear horror stories:' NC's Indian-American community concerned with COVID-19 overseas surge

Thousands of miles away, the impact of India's COVID-19 surge is being felt in the Triangle.

"Every day I only hear horror stories, it's getting worse and worse and worse," said Srini Ravuri, who grew up in India and now lives in Wake County.

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Friday, Ravuri's aunt in India passed away after contracting COVID.

"All her family members - my cousins, her husband - everybody is in the hospital now," Ravuri said.

Crematoriums are overflowing, adding to the grieving process.

"They can't even see the body. They can't do any last rites. It's hard. No words," said Ravuri.

Monday, India reported 368,147 new COVID-19 cases and 3,417 deaths, numbers believed to be undercounted due to a lack of testing and incomplete data.

Morrisville Council Member Steve Rao, who is Indian-American, says he's heard concerns from constituents.

"Fear, uncertainty, and just frustration of how a situation could get so bad so fast," said Rao.

Rao has family in India who have been infected, and is working with other local advocates to try and raise funds to provide relief.

"I'm reaching out to tech CEO's and executives, asking them to give to these organizations so we can get as much money as possible," said Rao, highlighting the strong Indian-American representation in workforces.

He stressed the situation in India has a global impact, extending past those with connections to the area.

"If this pandemic doesn't go away in a country of a billion people, then that means COVID-19 is going to be (around) much longer, with more mutations. It's just going to linger on. So we all have a vested interest," said Rao.

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Last month, ABC11 spoke with a team of Duke doctors who highlighted the need for the US to play a larger role in vaccine distribution and access, noting the importance it would have on long-term health and safety, travel abilities, and business.

India is the world's leader in vaccination production, but is struggling in vaccinating its own population. Just 10% of people have at least 1 dose, and less than 2% are fully vaccinated, troublingly low numbers in the world's second-most populous country.

"Every family has got a relation there. So unfortunately when talking to individuals, one way or another, someone is impacted. Whether it's through an uncle, a nephew, through a sister, even if it's the extended family. They are all impacted," said Viren Patel, who works with Community Outreach for BAPS Shri Swamimarayan Mandir, a Hindu Temple in Morrisville.

They are working with locations worldwide in raising money for oxygen, PPE, food, and medicine.

"The community members here are concerned and would want any opportunity to help out," said Patel.

The sharp increases in cases, which have largely occurred over the past two months, has put a strain on infrastructure and hospital capacity.

"We're scrambling to try and figure out a way to get medications from here to India as well. So we're looking at different options because there's such a huge shortage of life-essential medication...even oxygen. So we're coming up with a group here in the Triangle, pharmacists and physicians alike to try to gather up some (funds)," said Dr. Ritesh Patel, Pharmacy Director at Eastern Carolina Medical Center in Benson.

Beginning Tuesday, the US is implementing travel restrictions from India due to the sharp rise in cases, which will apply to most foreigners who have been in that country within the past 14 days. India also has strict travel measures in place, limiting who is allowed to enter the country.

"My cousins, they couldn't go back home because the situation is so bad. Their parents were so sick, their mom passed away. But they can't travel because of the travel bans," Ravuri said.

Last week, President Biden pledged the US would offer aid to the country.

If you're interested in donating towards BAPS Charities COVID-19 relief efforts, click here.
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