Tag Archives: masks

The New Neurotic Normal

COVID and the daughter’s boyfriend

It’s been a few months now since COVID moved into our neighborhoods and made itself comfortable.  If COVID could be a person, it would be the tattooed, lip-pierced boyfriend your daughter introduced you to months ago, and you commented privately on the ridiculously stiff and spiky black corona of hair where the part on his head should be. And you prayed that he would be passing through, like others before him, gone by summer, incinerated by warmer weather, poof!

Summer rolls around and the spiked Corona is still around, lounging on your sofa, scarfing up your snacks, and moving his toothbrush and hand sanitizer into the spare bedroom. He’s now metastasized into a fiancée, who has been kicked out of his apartment (all of Europe and the Far East and China) and needs a place to stay—the good old USA.

COVID evokes the same feelings as the daughter’s scruffy, disruptive boyfriend turned fiancée, who isn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. (There’s also a distant possibility of him murdering everyone and decamping with the family silver in the middle of the night, a scenario which keeps you on high alert, all the time.)

So, what is our “new normal” now that COVID isn’t going anywhere? It’s getting neurotic.

The Sneeze at the Grocery Story

I was at a grocery store when I felt a tickle in my nose under the surgical mask.  To my horror, it was a sneeze, pushing its way out through my nostrils with a final contraction designed to eject the snot baby into the atmosphere. I didn’t have time to think before I went ‘Achooo!’

When I looked up, I was alone in the aisle.  The two people near me had dive-bombed to the floor and were crawling towards the exit.  An assistant came running and shouted at me from a great distance, as if I were at the end of a long tunnel. Are you sick, Maam?

“I’m fine,” I mumbled and slunk, full of shame, out of the store.

One would think I had fired a gun—no wait, that was 2019. Nobody is afraid of being shot anymore. Not with COVID around.

The Fateful Trip to the Pharmacy

I was all equipped for this. We’ve been practicing for months, after all. Mask, gloves, goggles (eyes are susceptible too), tight clothing which doesn’t brush against things or people, boots, crossbody slung close to the hip not a giant bag swinging around inviting germs by hobnobbing with other people’s elbows or arms.

CVS, with its blessed automatic doors that slid open without touching, was a haven of social distancing and plexiglass partitions. The pharmacy counter had an extra table between the counter and the pharmacist to ensure over 6 feet of distance.

I picked up my medications and sailed out, soothed by the completely flawless, touchless, encounter with the pharmacy.

I peeled off my plastic gloves, discarded them in the outside trashcan and sat in the car. I was about to turn the key in the ignition when my beautifully constructed germ-free encounter suddenly collapsed.

I HAD LEANED AGAINST THE TABLE IN FRONT OF THE COUNTER WHILE TALKING TO THE PHARMACIST. THE BOTTOM OF MY T-SHIRT AND MY CROSS BODY HAD BRUSHED AND REMAINED PRESSED FOR A TIME AGAINST A SURFACE WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN CONTAMINATED.

I threw my cross body off and flung it on the seat next to me as if it were a vile thing, crawling with germs. What about the t-shirt? The COVID tribe of viruses could be doing a dance on it right now if it had picked up anything from the customer before me, who, now that I thought about it, was an elderly man looking pale and sick, and who may even have sniffled.  Now that I was jogging my memory, yes, I was pretty sure he had sniffled. And, he’d gripped the table with both hands to keep his balance.

Where was my disinfectant? I fumbled desperately through my bag—I had forgotten it at home! No, I wasn’t going back into that CVS cesspool of possible COVID encounters! To my horror, here I was, stuck in a contaminated t-shirt, upon which the COVID cannibals could very well be doing a dance in preparation for their upcoming feast—me!

Dare I tear off the Corona virus festival shirt and fling it onto my contaminated crossbody? That would leave me in my underclothes – all saucy lace and frills, bought on Victoria’s Secret special sale – driving home two traffic lights away.

This is the USA, the birthplace of toplessness after all, I told myself. No one bats an eyelid. It was just a five-minute trip back home. Who could I possibly run into, in my car, in the middle of the afternoon? I was going to whoosh home, straight into my garage, and charge upstairs for a bath. I tore off my shirt, hunched over the steering wheel and sped down the road.

At the next intersection I tried desperately to sail through the traffic light, but it was too late.  I was staring steadfastly ahead, counting down the seconds and a movement made me glance quickly left. It was my neighbor’s father-in-law Mr. Narsimha, smiling back at me, waving his hand. Mr. Narsimha, who had hosted his grandson’s naming ceremony in early January. He nodded and waved in recognition. Mercifully, the light turned red. I shot out of there like a cannonball and nearly totaled my car speed-swerving into my garage!

COVID almost killed me, but not the way you would imagine!


Jyoti Minocha is a DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Image by Chetraruc from Pixabay

Break Out of the Outbreak

Though separated by a malfunctioning Zoom dashboard, I could see the passion radiating from youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak when I met the team for the first time. “How can we contribute to our society? How do we make a difference?”, asked Sky Yang, founder and Chief Executive Officer of the group. “It is our responsibility as members of the community to stop the COVID-19 outbreak from spreading and endangering more people.”

More than fifteen teenagers from across the country were constituents of this virtual board meeting, where the team discussed their recent impact on the community, sources of funding, and plans for the future. I found myself nodding with silent pride for my generation. Despite the onslaught of Advanced Placement testing, final exams, and pre-college drudgery, so many students have dedicated their time and tears towards addressing the outbreak — an effort that was thoroughly refreshing to watch. Over the past three months, a handful of teenagers established ten chapters across three states, received thousands of dollars in donations, and collectively distributed more than five hundred masks to local communities. Impressed and slightly intimidated by this nonprofit’s meteoric rise, I decided to chat with the teenagers who made it happen. 

Sky Yang, Founder and CEO of Break the Outbreak

 How did Break The Outbreak begin? Were there any obstacles you faced during the initial stages of founding the organization?

In the beginning, I realized that people don’t have a centralized platform to post about COVID-19 necessities and assistance. Instead, I found hundreds of posts on platforms like Facebook, NextDoor, Reddit, and Instagram. Inspired, I spent three straight days and nights to construct our website — https://breaktheoutbreak.org/.

This was just the beginning. At the time, I still had a few months of school left and managed to recruit four like-minded students from the city. Once I formed a small team, we were on the move — buying supplies, editing the website, and trying to figure out what places needed our help. Eventually, we decided to direct our attention to different stages of the food industry, from farmer’s markets to grocery stores to restaurants.

In April, we partnered with a local Rigatoni’s, and Break the Outbreak took off from there. It was difficult at first. Our operations were small at the time, and we had to finance them on our own. Without a relationship with local establishments, we faced initial rejections from many restaurants. But we persevered and forged a student network with San Ramon. After gaining traction among local farmers’ markets, we expanded in cities like Fremont, Pleasanton, Roseville, Salt Lake City, Chillicothe, Los Angeles, and San Jose. 

 

For our readers who may not be familiar with your cause, could you describe what “Break The Outbreak” does? 

Break The Outbreak is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to donating masks, face shields, and money to local businesses in order to keep them afloat during the current times of global pandemic as well as when the pandemic is eradicated. The meaning behind the title “Break The Outbreak” simply means: breaking out of the current outbreak of pandemic and rising from the rubble it has created. 

Lizzie Davies, Director of Livermore Chapter

Tell us a little more about your group’s experience in making masks? What kind of technology is required? How do you maintain safety and sanitary standards? 

Making masks was actually quite difficult at first. We had many problems with the quality of the masks not being good enough and having to get rid of them. It took us a while to get a small subsection of individuals that would do a good job and produce high-quality masks. We had to learn how to use a sewing machine as well as be meticulous with our work. We couldn’t settle for something mediocre, so often times masks had to be redone to ensure that they were safe enough. Face shields on the other hand were quite easy to make. To maintain sanitary standards, all of the materials are cleaned beforehand — the cloth is thoroughly washed and all shield materials are wiped down with disinfectant. All materials are then cleaned a second time once it has been assembled.

Adithya Krishnaraj, Director of San Ramon Chapter

Here’s a simple tutorial documenting how Break the Outbreak makes their face shields!

Over the course of your time with “Break the Outbreak”, have there been any notable stories about students you’ve worked with or projects you’ve initiated that you would like to share?  

I remember the first time we ever donated and it was at Rigatoni’s in Dublin. I remember that we were pretty nervous in that donation because none of us had done anything like this before and we really didn’t know how to approach it. We just went in and talked to the staff and they gratefully accepted our donations. It was a great feeling being able to donate to people in need and knowing that these donations will help save lives. It was a great day and kicked off our operation as Break the Outbreak. I think the most positive response we’ve experienced has been from Banana Garden in Dublin. When I talked to the owners Luis and Aldo over the phone, they were very encouraging of our operation and were delighted to see us when we arrived to donate. Though we were social distancing and all wearing masks, I could see the happiness on Aldo’s face when we handed him the box of PPE and he got the whole staff to try our face shields on then and there. Luis was very grateful and offered us tokens of their appreciation as well. It was a nice gesture and an enjoyable experience which made us all happy to be part of Break the Outbreak.

Ansh Tripathi, Associate Founder

5) There are millions of adults working ‘round the clock to promote safety and awareness. Why do you think it’s important for young people to contribute to these efforts as well? 

I’ve seen people die due to the virus. I’ve seen people lose jobs due to the virus. I’ve seen companies shut down due to the virus. I want the world to return to normalcy when people aren’t skeptical of each other, when we can sit in classrooms for school, and when everyone isn’t afraid of a global pandemic. Since most young people are quarantined at home doing nothing during these hard times, I think it is important to contribute to society. We can do our part and help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Sam Zhou, Director of Roseville Chapter

What advice can you give other young teenagers who want to make a difference during these nebulous circumstances?  

When people try to tell you that your plan isn’t going to work, you’re too young to make a difference, or your voice is unimportant in a world full of powerful adults, you cannot let their words stop you from moving forward. There will always be people that will try to tell you that you’re either not good enough or you won’t succeed, but if you believe that you will succeed, then you will. Letting people’s harsh words pollute your conscious won’t allow progress to be made. 

Lizzie Davies, Director of Livermore Chapter

Break the Outbreak is a powerful reminder of how initiative sprouts from adversity. It’s the kind of sprawling endeavor that requires a medley of both courage and compassion from its members. It’s evidence that young people want to make a difference, and will.

For more information, follow BTOB on their social media platforms:

Make the movement work! Be sure to contribute to their Gofundme page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/we-break-the-outbreak

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, editor-in-chief of her school news magazine The Roar and the Director of Media Outreach for nonprofit Break the Outbreak. Find Kanchan on Instagram (@kanchan_naik_)

How We Come Together: Teen’s PPE Initiative

While young people are less likely to suffer the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, it is their responsibility to protect vulnerable, immunocompromised communities. And that’s precisely what Presentation High School student Mitthra Senthil is trying to do. After the transition to distance learning, it would have been easy for Mitthra to focus on the onslaught of AP exams, finals, and projects that are typical of any high school workload. Instead, she directed her passion for STEM towards addressing the current deficiency in medical supplies. 

The coronavirus outbreak has threatened the resources, staffing, and support available to medical facilities all over the Bay Area. To date, there have been 2,120 confirmed cases in our community — a number that can only be the lowest possible estimate. According to the Los Angeles Times, healthcare and sanitation workers are being forced to reuse N95 masks, thus endangering the lives of the individuals trying to protect ours. Although Gov. Newsom recently announced a large purchase of masks for the state of California, the reuse of medical gear runs rampant in some of the area’s largest facilities. And healthcare workers are not the only ones in desperate need of masks. Shelters, soup kitchens, and food banks in California struggle to accommodate the growing population of homeless individuals vulnerable to the virus. 

It is amid this environment that Mitthra Senthil used her STEM and sewing skills to make masks of her own. “The idea came to fruition when Mitthra’s mother was at a grocery store and a few of the workers and customers asked where they could buy their own masks because they didn’t have access to reusable masks to wear – especially when working. So, with her grandmother (who taught her how to sew), Mitthra contacted family friends at hospitals and had them send an approved template/design that would be effective for all users”, says a representative from Presentation High School. 

With the help of her family, Mitthra has distributed 100 cloth masks to local hospitals, and more than 150 to homeless shelters and the general public. Even better, these masks are available to all communities. “The cost of the masks ($3) is put directly toward the purchasing of supplies.” Although the future of the pandemic is nebulous, it is heartening to know that young people are using the wealth of resources and knowledge available to them to bring out the best in our humanity. Mitthra continues to make masks for the Bay Area. To request masks, you can email mitthrasenthil@gmail.com or place an order on her website. 

Kanchan Naik is a junior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the Editor-In-Chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.

Indian Girls Are Making Masks Global

COVID-19 isn’t a test of whether we can fend for ourselves. Rather, it’s the story of those who choose to fight for the rest of us. And that’s precisely what a hundred young girls from Uttarakhand, India are trying to do — but they need your support. 

Since the coronavirus was declared a Public Health Emergency in January, countless medical facilities have struggled to accommodate the growing need for surgical masks. Hoarding, misinformation, and price gouging have all contributed to the scarcity of masks in hospitals. And while masks should be a priority for all members of society, it’s absolutely critical for medical professionals and sanitation workers, who are directly exposed to infected patients on a daily basis for hours at end. A single mask could break a chain of infections and hospitalizations before it even begins. According to the Mayo Clinic, masks have proven to filter out COVID-19 particles, thus protecting you from those infected but also allowing victims of the coronavirus to avoid infecting others. These girls know what’s at stake. 

That’s why Uttarakhand’s students, with the support of the non-profit organization Educate Girls Globally, have pledged to sew fabric masks and distribute them among communities in need. With nothing but their grit and their sewing machines, they have already brought a nascent change to their locale by providing a nearby hospital as well as the Uttarakhand Police Department with more than one thousand cloth masks. And that was all in a month’s work!

It was after a representative from Educate Girls Globally reached out to me that I realized the need more resources, attention, and support from the rest of the world. At a time when healthcare professionals are being forced to reuse existing masks, it’s crucial to encourage public movements that make more masks available. With the help of Educate Girls Globally, we started a GoFundMe account in hopes of scaling this endeavor to the international level. 

These funds will allow the girls to purchase additional materials, as well as transport these masks to healthcare facilities. More than twenty hospitals in the United States desperately need masks  — both  homemade and surgical — to protect caregivers, hospital visitors, and volunteers

These empowered young girls from Uttarakhand want to raise $25,000 to distribute more than 50,000 high-quality fabric masks to hospitals in the United States. They tell a story of perseverance amid immense adversity and fear. 

With your small financial contribution, we can give this story the ending it deserves.

To donate, click here.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the youth editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Think Globally, Act Locally

“These are unprecedented times…” is probably the beginning of every email that you’ve written, received, or been forwarded over the course of the last month. While our lives have surely been changed, our day-to-day schedule in quarantine largely looks, well, pretty precedented. If you’re anything like me or my family, you’ve probably tried your hand at the internet’s favorite Dalgona coffee, baked banana bread out of boredom, or co-starred in your younger family members’ TikToks (reader, please explain to me why I’m now obsessed with the Skechers song!). In the world of social distancing, we often believe that we are at a loss to do anything other than propping ourselves up with these mundane pleasures. After all, many of us aren’t epidemiology researchers, state legislators, or doctors (as much as my parents would have hoped differently). But the truth is, there’s more we can do to help our community than we might currently think. 

The Indian-American community is one of the most successful ethnic minorities in America, with the highest average income of minority groups in this country. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is receiving praise for his commitment to donate $1 billion (28% of his net worth) to the COVID-19 crisis, but leaders in the Indian-American community have not pledged nearly the same. Several Indian-led nonprofits have stepped in to help in ways they can. Our community has seen over 40 deaths in America. While saddening, these figures pale in comparison to the health disparities in black and LatinX communities, which shows that we have more of an obligation than ever to contribute. There’s a variety of ways for people to get involved in local efforts, donations, and advocacy, and it’s important to keep these opportunities on our radar as we brace for several more weeks of isolation. 

Donating Time:

While not everyone can be in a place to be able to financially support local charity work, there’s plenty that can contribute with their time. In today’s climate, vulnerable populations often see their challenges exacerbated, with social-isolation, medical bills, and job losses plaguing our country. Victims of domestic violence are quarantined with their abusers, high-risk senior citizens are spending days alone, and the impact on migrant and refugee communities is terrifying. For many of the non-profits seeking to provide resources to these communities, what they need most is an increase in volunteers to reflect their increased needs at this time. Here are a few ways you might be able to get involved: 

  • You can help with contactless driving for Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit that helps provide food and check-ins for senior citizens. 
  • You can get trained to be a domestic violence crisis counselor from your couch  
  • You can even be a decoder for Amnesty International
  • Got extra cloth? Help sew masks for your local health professionals. 
  • Looking for a more comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities? Look no further.
Madhavi Prabha sewing masks for local hospitals.

Donating Money

While some of us might be able to donate extra hours, if someone’s quarantine-buddies are immunocompromised, or if the hectic pace of our lives has not calmed down, donating money might be an easier avenue for them. Mutual Aid collectives, which organize under the philosophy of “solidarity, not charity,” help mobilize a community’s financial resources for those who are in need. Mutual aid groups have been used in several universities and municipalities, and this locator helps a user see the aid efforts nearest to them. There are several well-known non-profits and locators that families can use to donate to at this time:

Think Globally, Act Locally

While the saying might be trite, the most impact that we can make is within our own communities. Whether it’s buying gift cards to your favorite small businesses, dropping off groceries for a neighbor, or caring for the children of medical professionals, there’s a lot we can do by simply keeping ourselves aware. You can subscribe to the email list-servs of your local political representatives, who often can provide constituents with information about neighborhood efforts. Charity navigator is also a great resource that can help you identify what organizations are doing great work in your community. If you’re from the Bay Area, Silicon Valley strong is a wonderful place to start with your efforts. The possibilities are endless, and the genuine good in the hearts of everyday people is incredible. If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it’s this: we are stronger together.

Swathi is a junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.

What Are Bay Area Residents Doing Behind Closed Doors?

Toilet Paper Na Milega Dobara,” writes Sheetal Gokhale as a rehashed title to a Bollywood film. Then quickly types “Doh Toilet Paper Bahrah Hanth”. On a Saturday morning the Saratoga dentist is playing a game of adding toilet paper to names of Bollywood films. Her WhatsApp group is in giggles. Nina Daruwalla, the realtor who has been collecting shoe covers to donate to Santa Clara nurses and staff, joins in, “Gumnam Toilet Paper”.

The entries come in fast and furious: Mein Toilet Paper Tere Angan Ke; Dilwale Toilet Paper Le Jayenge; Kagaz Ke Toilet Paper; Maine Toilet Paper Se Pyaar Kiya; Hum Toilet Paper De Chuke Sanam; Jis Desh Main Toilet Paper Bhathi Hai; Pati Patni Aur Toilet Paper.

Toilet Paper Hunting, Toilet Paper Wars, the gaffes continue. It is like a valve has been released and the overstressed brain has come up for air.

Masks made by Bay Area women. Image courtesy Hema Raja.

The nurses of Santa Clara have requested for some supplies. The ladies used to receiving wishlists from teachers at the start of every school year are now pooling resources to meet this request. Tailoring of masks is starting in earnest. Patterns and sewing instructions are exchanged, sewing machines borrowed and the ladies are off to a running start. All hands on deck. It is when stress creates a yoyo of emotions and whatsapp messages roller coaster through the phones that equanimity is most desired.

Salil Jain, a Cupertino resident unrolls his mat. He has been doing yoga at home with his own private yoga teacher out of India. myYogaTeacher, a Silicon Valley based fitness startup, offers its customers private 1-on-1 yoga sessions online. “For a fixed sum I can do unlimited hours. I plan to do two hour sessions three times a week,” says Salil as he shutters himself in his office. He is signing up for a session by selecting a teacher from their profile and their introduction videos.

Rajiv brews his fourth cup of tea for the day and clicks on the website. In response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, myYogaTeacher has launched live online group classes to help those practicing social distancing. To support our communities and our health these classes are completely free says the CEO Jitendra Gupta.

“For others not so motivated myYogaTeacher not only guides but more importantly will make sure that you are showing up and practicing,” says Rajiv to his wife Ritu. He decides to sign her up. She purrs and pours herself a gin and tonic and heads to the study to join a zoom book club meeting. Reading soothes her nerves.

In homes across the Bay, members of her book club are downloading zoom for the first time. They struggle with getting their audio and videos working and soon their first zoom book club meeting is off to a good start albeit minus two members who couldn’t join in despite their best efforts. As they munch on ideas and thoughts the ladies who usually lunch together discuss Amitav Ghosh’s latest book The Gun Island while sipping their gin and tonics. After all Chloroquine the malaria drug of the colonists is being bandied about as the new cure for Corona.

A Bay Area group comprising of 6 couples has decided to have dinner together via a Facebook meeting on Saturday at 7pm. Everyone will join in virtually for Gupshup and Quaratini or now Chat and Gin-chloroquine.

The Krishna Balram temple has set up a 10 minute chanting call for 6pm ending to end the day on a calm note.

Long walks are becoming part of the new routine. Like students on a silence meditation course the walkers avert their eyes as they pass each other in the park.

Brown yanks at his leash. His routine has not been disrupted by Corona. After finishing his breakfast of poached eggs and dog food he is ready for his walk. With a jaunty step he heads out of the closed door out towards McClellan Park where other dogs are walking their owners. It is business as usual for him. He passes the CEO of myYogaTeacher, a bay area resident and gives him a wag of his tail. No sniffing of the butts in the days of social distancing thinks Brown as he dutifully averts his eyes from his buddy Froddo.

Building mental immunity is as important as building immunity of the body to deal with stress.

Ritu Marwah is washing her hands hourly. She agrees with “Better Saaf than Sorry”. Her husband and dog feel she could do better on the walking and yoga fronts.