Tag Archives: pandemic

Why Is Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy Worried?

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is worried that the pandemic is getting worse in the US.

At a White House briefing on July 15 to announce a new campaign against COVID-19 misinformation, he shared his concerns about an urgent public health crisis – the growing surge of new Covid infections in the US. “Millions of Americans are still not protected against COVID-19. We are seeing more infections among those who are unvaccinated.”

The CDC warns that a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” is on the rise.

Murthy’s view was echoed by experts at a July 16 EMS briefing on the current state of the COVID-19 epidemic and vaccine rollout.

The CDC’s José T. Montero said on July 15 alone, the CDC recorded 33 thousand new cases of COVID-19.

After a reprieve in early 2021, granted by effective vaccines, masking mandates, and lockdown measures, new COVID-19 infections are increasing, driven by lagging vaccination rates and the highly contagious Delta variant.

The country is witnessing an alarming escalation in the 7 day average of Covid infections added Montero –  from 26% to 211 % per day.

“It is quite clear that this pandemic is not over,” said Montero.

The upward trend is a warning.

Although 160 million people (48.3% of the total U.S. population) have been fully vaccinated, and 55% have received at least one dose, the rapid rise in infections makes it evident that the coronavirus and its lethal Delta variant has unvaccinated communities squarely in their sights.

“Our 7-day average is at 26,300 cases a day,” said Montero, the CDC Director for Center for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support. That represents a 70% increase from the previous 7-day average. The CDC, which is tasked with monitoring the nation’s health reported a 7-day average of hospitalization admissions (around 2790 per day), an increase of 36 % from the previous 7-day period.

Montero emphasized that people who are unvaccinated account for a majority of the new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Unsurprisingly, communities that are fully vaccinated are faring way better. Outbreaks of cases are erupting in different parts of the country “especially those with low vaccination coverage”.

The CDC’s Covid data tracker reported a corresponding ten percent increase in counties at high risk and a 7 percent increase in counties at substantial risk in the past week.

As of July 14, a total of 605,905 COVID-19 deaths have been reported. Almost 99.5 percent of the Covid deaths were among the unvaccinated, confirmed Dr.Fauci in an interview on PBS.

Surgeon General Murthy called the needless loss of life  from the virus “painful” and pointed out that “nearly every death we are seeing now from COVID-19 could have been prevented.”

So why is a surge in infections occurring despite the wide availability of vaccines available nationwide?

To a large extent, social determinants of health – “ where people live, work, learn and play”  – affect health risks and outcomes. Long-standing systemic health and social inequities in rural areas, for example, put some communities at greater risk of getting Covid.  But the uptick in cases correlates with low levels of vaccination and not in areas where a high percentage of the population is vaccinated.

Statistics shared by experts at the briefing confirm the virus is surging in pockets of the country with low vaccination rates. Cases are spiking in Yuba and Sutter Counties (California), which rate high on the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.  Only 33% of Yuba County is vaccinated, compared to Placer County which has vaccinated more than half its residents.

“We are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations, and sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated, ”said Dr. Murthy.

He blamed the rapid spread of misinformation on the Internet for exacerbating the Covid public health crisis. His office has issued an advisory on how to counter misleading health information which “poses an immediate and insidious threat to our nation’s health.” Inaccurate content is poisoning the health environment and leading vulnerable people in high-risk settings to resist wearing masks, turn down proven treatments and choose not to get vaccinated.

“Simply put, health misinformation has cost us lives,” said Dr.Murthy, and is “taking away our right to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones.”

Current vaccines offer a measure of protection against COVID-19 and its mutations.

But the greatest danger ahead comes from the Delta variant which is quickly becoming the dominant coronavirus strain across the country. The Delta variant is highly transmissible and spreading rapidly. CDC experts confirmed that it is the most prevalent variant in the US, representing more than 57% of the samples being sequenced across the country. Less than a month ago in the middle of June, infection rates which were at 26% have gone up to 57%.

Dr. Lauri Hicks and Dr. Jose T. Montero, CDC

Lauri Hicks, DO |Chief Medical Officer of CDC’s Medical Task Force, warned that people who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated were at high risk of COVID-19 and its mutations. She urged people to get vaccinated ‘on time’ and take advantage of the increase in nationwide vaccine availability of FDA-approved vaccines that offer protection against Delta and other known variants.

Hicks, who works with an independent advisory committee that makes vaccine recommendations, reiterated the importance of getting fully vaccinated. Pfizer and Moderna each exceed “90 percent effectiveness against illness including severe disease,” she said.

Hicks emphasized that completing the series of two doses for both vaccines offer effective protection two weeks after the second dose. She confirmed that there was no need to restart the series if the second vaccine dose was taken later than recommended – after three or four weeks.

“Not completing the series puts those who are partially vaccinated at risk of Covid, including the highly contagious Delta variant,” said Hicks, adding, “COVID-19 vaccination is our most effective strategy without a doubt to prevent infection and control the pandemic!”

At the White House briefing, the Surgeon General shared that he lost 10 family members to Covid, highlighting that the pandemic affects everyone.  As the concerned father of two young children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, Dr. Murthy urged people to get their shots because our kids rely on us to shield them from the virus. Younger, unvaccinated people are more at risk, says a CDC study which reported that people under age 30 accounted for more than 20% of US COVID-19 cases. 

“We’ve come a long way” he said, “but we are still not out of the woods yet.”

As the Delta variant rips through unvaccinated communities across the US, how painful will it have to get before states reconsider their rescinded mask mandates?


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents


 

Out Of Sight. Out Of Mind. Why Seniors Are Getting The Invisible Treatment.

America is going back to normal as states reopen and Covid restrictions lift, but in many communities, the elderly, people of color and people with disabilities feel left out. Though vaccines have brought hope to millions of Americans, seniors are getting the invisible treatment in the race for population immunity. They are at the most at risk, the hardest to reach, and have suffered the highest fatalities from Covid 19.

Covid 19 vaccines are now available at no cost to everyone living in the US (over the age of 12+) regardless of insurance or immigration status.  Given that the world is bracing for the next wave of infections spawned by the virulent Delta and Delta Plus variants, why aren’t vaccines reaching vulnerable seniors who need it most?

Advocates at a June 5th EMS briefing explained why seniors are getting left behind.

Why seniors in minority communities aren’t getting vaccinated 

Overall, some 25% of people 65 and older have not been vaccinated though that number is possibly higher, said Kim McCoy Wade, Director, California Dept. of Aging, which co-sponsored the panel. Data showed shocking disparities about why older people in minority communities were not getting their shots.

Describing the vaccination trend in California, Wade said the variation in vaccination rates by race, ethnicity and age, and by community, was striking.

“The number that jumped out at me was that only 40% of Latinos over 60+ were vaccinated, compared to more than 75% of older adults (3 out of 4 seniors 65 + ) statewide – half of what the state is tracking for White and Asian American elders,” said Wade. The vaccination rate for white and Asian elderly in California is at 80%, and only at 60% for Black and Native American elders, she added. But older Latinos (60+) are the only racial group where the vaccination rate is much lower than for Latinos in their 50s and even lower for those in the 70-80 age range.

At issue in the vaccine rollout employed by the medical establishment, noted disability rights advocate Jessica Lehman, is that race hangs like a shadow over black and brown bodies.

It’s why people facing the greatest challenge accessing vaccines are seniors with limited English language ability from immigrant and low-income communities.


What’s stopping seniors from signing up for vaccines?

Typically, many seniors are isolated and hard to reach because they live alone, are homebound, not mobile, do not speak English, or cannot access the Internet. But there is a higher biological risk associated with age and disability, that the pandemic exposed with devastating effect.

Four percent of older Americas live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, explained Dr. Louise Aronson, Professor of Medicine, UCSF, but accounted for 35% of deaths nationwide. Older people who contracted Covid when the pandemic hit were relocated to nursing facilities alongside the high-risk residents already there. There was limited or no access to testing or PPE for care givers, who in turn took Covid back into their communities.

For Infectious Disease specialist Dr. Rakhshan Chida, Medical Director at an OTP (opioid treatment program) clinic in New York, it was a nightmare that became reality.  Working in inadequately ventilated treatment rooms when the pandemic hit, without access to masks, PPE, or testing, Chida described the inevitable disaster as “working in a den of covid.” Every day 2 or 3 patients tested positive.

In March, at the start of the pandemic, half her staff of 40 contracted the virus, and Chida took the infection home to her 87-year-old mother who lives with her. While her mother made a quick recovery, Chida experienced severe Covid symptoms and was ill for three weeks. But she was back on the frontlines after her quarantine, to attend to her vulnerable population of active and ex-users, including those who are in the 50+ age group.

But Chida was starting to see signs of vaccine reluctance in her patients. One 73-year-old patient who developed nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea after the first shot, refused to get the second because her reaction scared her.

Fear of the vaccine is not an uncommon barrier reiterated Aronson, an expert on aging and author of the book “Elderhood”. While some seniors are primarily concerned about unknown side effects or allergies, there is a prevailing distrust of vaccines that stems from how quickly they were developed, and suspicion of the people responsible for decision making around them.

One of Aronson’s patients confessed she feared the vaccine would insert a tracking device into her body. Others felt their existing illnesses should preclude them from getting the vaccine when in fact the opposite is true.

“There is so much misinformation, particularly for the limited English community,” added Anni Chung, President & CEO, Self Help for the Elderly.

The fault lies in the US public health structure, remarked Aronson. Without a nationwide system, federal, state, and county websites employ digital strategies that don’t reach or address the needs of at-risk seniors, for the same reason that census and voter registration drives did not work effectively.

With little or no Internet access, it becomes harder for the homebound elderly, people in rural areas, and people for whom English is a second language, to get or receive communication from Federal, state and county health systems.

“Digital strategies are adding to the problem and to the risk,” said Aronson.

A study of Black seniors in their seventies, by Cindy Cox Roman, CEO, Help Age USA, identified gaps in their knowledge of vaccine facts arising from difficulty with digital access, and also from conflicting information obtained via a mix of sources – TV news, senior centers, elected officials, and libraries.

“Everybody does not have access to the web and cable is expensive,” said one respondent. “When the library is closed, where do people go for information? We are the lost generation of the information age.”

Chung, a member of the California Commission on Aging, said that elders could not navigate the appointment system. Some had grandchildren who hovered over their computers for 6 to 8 hours to get two appointments for their grandparents. But a senior who has nobody to help them “is at the mercy of waiting for something to happen.”

Even when seniors did manage to sign up for vaccines at mega sites, they encountered long lines and no seating which drove them away said Aronson. Homebound people had no way to get there. Unfortunately, the mega-site vaccine roll-out also kept away older folk who had been advised to stay away from crowds for their protection.

At Chida’s clinic in New York, one patient refused a vaccine, saying “We don’t leave the house so why should I vaccinate when I’m not going out and meeting people?”

The problem when elders don’t come out of the house, is that they remain invisible in the public eye, warned Aronson, but an older person of color who is homebound – is triply invisible and gets left behind.

Seniors with disabilities are another group getting the invisible treatment, added Lehman, Executive Director at Senior and Disability Action in the East Bay. She said nearly 1 in 10 nursing home residents died of Covid, while 1 in 12 died in long-term facilities, a crisis that took a while to recognize. Instead, hospitals with limited beds or ventilators were guilty of care rationing – making judgment calls about who to treat based on who they viewed as having a better quality of life. Often it meant that older people and people with disabilities were low on the priority list because they are seen as ‘expendable”. In Texas, for example,  Michael Hickson, a black, 46-year-old quadriplegic patient died of Covid after a doctor ordered his removal from a ventilator.

“The Covid pandemic is the most horrific manifestation of ableism and ageism we have ever seen in our lifetime,”  remarked Lehman.

 

How are states vaccinating seniors and at-risk adults?

In California, there’s a push to funnel vaccines from mega-sites to community sites, offer free transportation, phone lines in addition to online sign-ups, and drop-in appointments.

Community groups are getting outreach grants from the state, so trusted messengers – community leaders and partners – can address people’s concerns. In California, public health officials have planned town halls to reach minority communities. For example, Surgeon General Dr. Burke Harris will meet with the African American community and similar strategies will be employed for the Latino and AAPI communities. Gov. Gavin Newson has also introduced a lottery and gift cards to persuade the unvaccinated to get their shot.

High-touch community programs are necessary to reach and deliver information at a local level, using trusted messengers such as the local press, faith leaders, and caregivers. Aronson urged people to contact their health department to identify community groups that are creating vaccine access for homebound elders – fire departments, in-home supportive services, Meals on Wheels, the YMCA, and other community partners.

At her clinic in New York, Chida offered mobile patients metro cards and arranged car services to assist with transportation. About 27 homebound patients were targeted with single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccinations administered at home by nurses, and schedules for older patients were adjusted to sync vaccines with regular visits. Social worker representatives coordinated with the clinic to organize nurses, sharp boxes, PPE, consent forms and arranged dedicated outreach to patients at homeless shelters. And, the clinic coordinated with New York’s Department of Health to organize an in-house vaccination drive for  its own patients, including seniors.

“The community really has to step in big time,” and rally the community agreed Chung, because many seniors, especially in immigrant communities, are unlikely to answer phone calls from “official government agencies.”

In San Francisco, her Self Help team asked the Department of Health to identify alternative ways to get vaccines out to where seniors need them instead of waiting for seniors to come to get their shots.

Local health departments listened.  By March and April, they began to approve the distribution of vaccines through clinics, PCPs, primary care providers, and locations where seniors were more like to have access and are comfortable. At senior centers, people received shots along with their healthy meal packages.

“At one point 7 of our centers were reaching about 1500 people every day,” said Chung.

In April, Self Help and a community partnership team with providers from  NICOS Chinese Health Coalition, YMCA, Chinatown CDC-Self Help Chinese Hospital, and the Chinese doctors association, headed to a Chinatown zip code with the lowest vaccination rates to administer doses at congregate housing facilities. Through an intensive phone call campaign and neighborhood canvassing, they identified and contacted almost 1000 people in the tract.

”We were just very fortunate there were no major outbreaks in Chinatown,” added Chung. What helped was door-to-door advocacy and education early in the pandemic advising people to mask and practice social distancing, and trust in local, community health professionals. In an initiative to reach vulnerable bed-bound and homebound seniors, Self Help mobilized 14 doctors, 10 volunteer drivers, and 10 social workers, to administer vaccines to about 130 seniors. Self Help’s next vaccination rally in partnership with Walgreen will include a small raffle to persuade seniors to get the vaccine.

The panel encouraged reporters to cover stories from their communities to remind the government to add more resources where they were needed.

The pandemic is far from over cautioned Wade, and a true comeback will depend on being ‘laser focused’ on vaccinating older and at-risk adults.

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In California, everyone age 12 can easily book a Covid 19 vaccine up via the MyTurn website, while entering to win Vax for the Win incentive program. My Turn also helps with organizing transportation and provides a list of hundreds of COVID-19 vaccine clinics accepting walk-ins, or call for services at 1-833-422-4255.


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.


 

For Toddlers, Pandemic Shapes Development During Formative Years

Lucretia Wilks, who runs a small day care out of her home in north St. Louis County, is used to watching young children embrace, hold hands and play together in close quarters.

But the covid-19 pandemic made such normal toddler behavior potentially unsafe.

“It’s weird that they now live in a time where they’re expected to not hug and touch,” said Wilks, founder of Their Future’s Bright Child Development Center, which cares for about a dozen children ranging from infants to 7 years old. “They’re making bonds, friendships, and that’s how they show affection.”

Day care and other child care providers said they are relieved to see covid cases drop as vaccines roll out across the United States. But even as the nation reopens, mental health and child development experts wonder about what, if any, long-term mental health and development consequences young children may face.

In the short term, medical and child development experts said the pandemic has harmed even young children’s mental health and caused them to miss important parts of typical social and emotional development. Besides not being able to get as close to other people as usual, many young children have seen their routines interrupted or experienced family stress when parents have lost jobs or gotten sick. The pandemic and its economic fallout have also forced many families to change caregiving arrangements.

“Coronavirus is impacting children and families in many ways mentally. The biggest and most obvious way is in the children’s structure and routine,” said Dr. Mini Tandon, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Young kids thrive in structure and routine, so when you disrupt that, things go awry pretty quickly in their day-to-day lives.”

Tandon, who has spoken frequently with parents and caregivers since the pandemic began, said she and her peers have seen more severe anxiety and high levels of stress in young children than in the past.

Child behavior experts pointed to a number of problems exacerbated by the pandemic in a National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness webinar last year, including separation anxiety and clinginess, sleep issues and challenges learning new information. Children have also shown regressive behaviors — wetting the bed even though they’ve been potty-trained, for example.

For young children, changes in caregiving arrangements can be a huge source of stress. And the financial strain of the pandemic forced many families to rethink how they cared for their youngest children.

The average monthly child care cost in Missouri, for example, is $584 for 4-year-olds and $837 for infants, according to Procare Solutions, which works with over 30,000 programs for children. That has been too high for some parents who lost their jobs in the pandemic. President Joe Biden’s covid relief plan signed into law in March gives monthly payments of up to $300 per child this year and his latest proposal would help reduce child care costs and increase access to preschool, if approved.

But in the many months when day care has been out of reach, some parents have had to rearrange their work schedules to care for infants or toddlers while also helping school-age children with virtual learning. Others have relied on grandparents for help, although that option was potentially dangerous before vaccines were available. Keeping children apart from grandparents has been tough for both kids and seniors.

Even when parents could afford day care, fear of getting or spreading covid affected their choices about whether and when to send them. And some facilities closed temporarily during the pandemic.

Aimee Witzl, 34, of St. Louis, an accountant and new mom, said she and her husband were hesitant to send their daughter, Riley Witzl, to day care early in the pandemic. Riley was born prematurely in November 2019 and had to spend nine weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit before coming home. So, the couple waited until August to send her to day care part time, then until January to send her full time.

“We were already high-risk,” Witzl said. “Then covid happened, so we kept her home even longer than planned.”

Fortunately, she said, no one in her family has contracted the virus.

In March 2020, the Early Childhood Development Action Network, a global collection of agencies and institutions promoting child health and safety, put out a “call to action” shared by the World Health Organization saying they were concerned about the pandemic putting “children at great risk of not reaching their full potential” because the early years are a “critical window of rapid brain development that lays the foundation for health, wellbeing and productivity throughout life.”

Tandon, the Washington University psychiatrist, said she’s especially worried about young children who may have been isolated in unsafe homes where they were mistreated. Maltreatment is more likely to go unnoticed, she said, when children are outside of the day cares and schools where adults are required to report child abuse and neglect.

But Tandon said the stresses of the pandemic can affect the mental health of any child, which motivated her to write a children’s book about a girl dealing with anxiety during the pandemic.

Now, though covid vaccinations still remain months away for the youngest children, a shift is occurring that may cause a new round of disruptions for them. Nancy Rotter, a child psychologist and assistant professor at Harvard University, said young children may be experiencing separation anxiety as they fully transition back into their schools and day cares after being at home with their parents.

To help kids heal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests families make sure kids stay connected to relatives and friends. The agency also advises that parents do their best to recognize and address fear and stress in themselves and their kids and seek professional help if needed. CDC experts suggest parents talk about emotions and provide opportunities for children to express their fears in a safe place.

Yet as children and toddlers return to a new normal, it may not be as strange to them as it is for adults. Though the pandemic has presented stressors, Rotter said, children can be very resilient.

“Supportive caregivers and supportive emotional environments help with resilience in the child,” she said. “Resilience is not just what’s in the child, but what’s within the child’s environment. It’s the home, religious community, school and day care environment that aid in the child’s development and how they cope with changes.”

And the pandemic may leave behind one benefit for children: the emphasis on washing hands. Child care experts said good hygiene habits are an important life lesson that will likely last beyond this health crisis.


This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Health News), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.


 

Will They? Won’t They? What Parents Think About Giving Kids A Covid Shot

By September this year, children as young as two may be eligible for a Covid vaccine. While many parents welcome the prospect of protection against a deadly virus, some parents aren’t so sure.

What do parents think about vaccinating their children?

“In my circle”, says Anjana Nagarajan, a Los Altos parent with two high school age children, “parents are gung-ho.” Her 16-year-old daughter is fully vaccinated while her 14-year-old son just received his first shot.  Her view is largely shared by parents in her area where, according to CA data, almost 87% of the population have received one or more doses of the vaccine.

But for Priya Nair Flores, a management consultant in San Antonio, TX, the vaccine is still out of reach for her son who just graduated fifth grade. “My son is 11 years old,” says Flores, “so he’s one year from the age at which CDC recommends children start getting the COVID vaccine, which is 12 years old. I and other parents of his friends talk about how much we wish they could get the vaccine. I believe in science.”

The science says that the vaccine is safe. Clinical trials have demonstrated even higher efficacy rate among adolescents than young adults (16-25 years old). The FDA just approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in adolescents 12 to 15 years old. Moderna just announced that its TeenCove study was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in adolescents ages 12 to less than 18 and will request FDA emergency authorization in early June. By this fall, children ages 2-11 could potentially be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. It will be the next major milestone in containing the coronavirus pandemic.

Even so, though vaccine availability across the US is going up, some parents are refusing to vaccinate their children, citing concerns about the newness of the vaccine and its potential side effects in the future. Public health experts fear that vaccine hesitancy will prolong the fight against Covid19.

In a White House briefing on May 19, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy urged parents to protect their children from Covid 19 and help turn the pandemic around.

Why Parents are Hesitant

Scientists and doctors emphasize that vaccinations are safe and offer protection from COVID-19. The CDC reports that some people may experience short-term side effects which subside after a few days but are normal signs that the body is building protection.

However, at an Ethnic Media briefing on May 21, Dr. Jose Perez, Chief Medical Officer at the South-Central Medical Center in LA, identified misinformation spreading on the Internet as a troubling cause of vaccine hesitancy in his patients.

Dr. Perez’ view was supported by surveys which found that fear and uncertainty about the Covid 19 vaccine ranged from its safety and efficacy to myths about infertility, and fetal cells in vaccines that could change DNA. Among 48% of people ages 18-49 , fear of future infertility was a top concern.

There was uneasiness that the vaccine was created too quickly, even though the technology for mRNA vaccines has been in development for decades and processed through the same FDA clinical trials for all other vaccines.

The Institute for Policy Research reported that young mothers aged 18 – 35 were largely driving the resistance among parents who indicated they were ‘extremely unlikely’ to get their children vaccinated. In contrast, said Matthew Simonson, a researcher with the COVID States project, fathers have become less resistant to the idea of vaccinating their kids.

A KFF survey found that while 30% of parents with children aged 12 to 15 will get them vaccinated right away, nearly 23% definitely will not.

 

When it comes to vaccinating their children, households which have an annual income of under $25,000 or people who have only high school diplomas are the most vaccine resistant, added Simonsen, compared to most pro-vaccine people who tend to live in households making $150,000+ a year or hold a graduate degree.

But, for many parents explained Dr. Perez, whose clinic serves primarily Latino and African American working families, vaccination hesitancy is not a choice. Rather, socio-economic barriers keep many from getting the vaccine.

“One of the major reasons for lack of vaccination, is access to time off from work,” he explained. Parents who have just returned to work low-income jobs as day laborers or in restaurants, have to juggle taking an extra half day off to get their children to a clinic. Most of Dr. Perez’ patients use the bus, so it’s difficult to access public vaccine centers without a car.

“It’s a tremendous barrier,” he stated when “our patients are being asked to choose between earning a day’s living and or vaccinating their children.”

The KFF survey also confirms that underlying socio-economic factors cause vaccine hesitancy. People worry they may have to pay out-of-pocket costs for the vaccine. Fears about immigration status and vaccine eligibility have created vaccine hesitancy because of requirements for a social security number or government-issued identification to get vaccinated (34%), a lack of trust in the provider (32%), or travel difficulties reaching vaccination sites (15%).

Allison Winnike of Texas-based Immunization Partnership told KERA news that their data showed increased vaccination rates in communities of color who were initially skeptical, but that there were higher hesitancy rates among some people that self-identify as more conservative or evangelical.

As a parent himself, with children aged 3 and 4, Vivek Murthy empathized with the challenges of parenting kids in a pandemic which has percolated into kids’ lives in an extraordinary way. “Parents have had to have difficult conversations with their kids about why they can’t see friends and family or have to go to virtual classes.” But parents also worry about the risks of taking their children to the playground or back to school, he said, which is why vaccinating them should be the highest priority.

Why Parents Should Worry

A joint report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association found that Covid is now one of ten leading causes of death among young people who make up 22% of all new Covid cases, compared to only 3% a year ago.

“It’s a significant disease. Kids are also at risk,” said Dr. Grace Lee, Professor of Pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. She has personally seen children hospitalized and dying from the virus. Lee pointed out that less attention had been paid to the ‘burden of infection’ on children, though AAP data has confirmed that 4 million children have tested positive for Covid 19 since the onset of the pandemic. She warned that the CDC noted that when adjusting for under-reporting or under-testing on children, at least “22 million children and adolescents 5 to 17 years have been infected in the US since the pandemic began.” Forty percent of children who are hospitalized have no high-risk conditions like asthma, diabetes, obesity or developmental delay or immune compromise issues, said Dr. Lee, “So, we cannot predict who will be hit more severely by Covid 19 infection.”

“We have to protect children from Covid disease,” Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a principal investigator at Stanford Pfizer trials told NBC. She reiterated that vaccines are necessary for herd immunity. Reports of long-term side effects in teens are only rumors spread by anti-vaxers she added. “There is no evidence that vaccines cause fertility issues – it’s an idea that “has been disproven over and over again.”

In Texas, Priya Flores agrees. “We are a family of scientists and I strongly believe that facts should impact your decision making.” As a healthcare professional, she was in the early wave of those vaccinated . “I felt lucky and grateful I could access the best of what science could offer.  When my extended family who wasn’t vaccinated got sick with Covid, I was able to help them because I was better protected by the vaccine. It was challenging because I wanted my husband and kid to get it too.”

How to Move Forward

Getting that shot in the arms of adults and children means that “The role of people of color like me and professionals like me becomes very important,” said Dr. Perez. Providers who are POC need to dispel misinformation and encourage parents to vaccinate themselves and their children, because when “patients trust people that look like them, the more likely they are to listen to our voices.”

“We have paid a heavy price” said Dr. Murthy, referring to the unprecedented toll on human lives by the virus, but the US has a pathway out of the pandemic with its arsenal of vaccines that time and again, have proven effective.

In Texas, the CDC reports that 51.73% of Texans are fully vaccinated. But Priya Flores says her family is only ‘half protected’ from the virus as she waits for her son’s age group to be approved.  “I often tell my husband our job has shifted from constant vigilance in general to vigilance for our son. We have relaxed a bit, but once again, …the virus hasn’t disappeared, and our fellow Americans haven’t decided to help our children gain herd immunity. So here we are again.”

“If someone asked my son to be part of a vaccine trial I would say yes. I believe in this vaccine and that it is safe and effective for almost all, with the understanding that there will always be vulnerable populations that need higher monitoring and consideration before deciding to take it.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
image source: CDC


 

Can COVID Burst America’s Bubble While The World Battles The Virus?

On May 13, after combating three waves of the coronavirus, the CDC released guidelines stating that  Americans who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing in most settings, indicating that the pandemic may be near an end.

“If you are fully vaccinated you can start doing the things you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” announced CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

But experts at a May 14 Ethnic Media Services briefing questioned whether it was too soon to go back to normal.

“Bubbles are beautiful, but bubbles do not last long in this world,” remarked Dr. Ben Neuman, Chief Virologist at the Global Health Research Complex at Texas A&M University.  “Any vaccine bubble that may exist is going to be fragile, unfortunately.”

As Covid-19 outbreaks occur in Michigan, Florida and Puerto Rico, the AMA reports  there is potential for a fourth pandemic surge.

And yes, the Indian B.1.617 variant is here, says the CDC. It’s monitoring the Indian mutation that the World Health Organization classified as “a variant of concern at a global level” because it may spread easily. According to the CDC, new mutations of the virus are more transmissible and are resistant to treatments or vaccines. These include five notable variants – B.1.1.7: (UK),  B.1.351 (S. Africa), P.1 (Japan/Brazil), B.1.427 and B.1.429 (identified in CA).

Going back to normal could expose adults and children to deadly new strains of the virus and its variants, rippling across the US and elsewhere in the world.

 

Can America survive in its Covid-19 bubble?

Variants can burst our bubble said experts, voicing concerns about our vulnerability to virus mutations and the prospect of ever reaching herd immunity.

Dr. Neuman has been sequencing the virus strains in Texas, and has identified different variants thriving even locally. At the peak of Covid-19 in January, he found that 30% variants of concern were from the B.1.1.7. UK variant. By late April and early May however, he added, “every single virus …has been a variant of concern.”

The virus is changing in unexpected ways, explained Dr. Neuman, driving certain lineages of the virus out of existence.  It’s a Darwinian process that  showcases “an increase in viral fitness.”

But, without any checks or balances on the virus which operates on a short-term risk-reward cycle – a 6-to-8-hour timetable – scientists find it difficult to predict long-term movement.

You can trust a snake, a chicken, or a cat to act in its own best interests to the best of its ability said Dr. Neuman, but “a virus has no such impulse.” Instead, it has an evolutionary incentive that drives it not in the direction we would hope or expect, but in the direction of more severe, sustained disease.

Over time the virus will continue to mutate, and vary unpredictably, warned Dr. Neuman, and solutions will have to be updated continually.

“In this particular place and time, there is approximately a 100% chance that you will run into something that grows faster, and has the potential to spread farther, and perhaps hit harder than one would be expecting otherwise.”

The world has underestimated the virus over and over by relaxing restrictions and causing a virus resurgence, reiterated Dr. Neuman.

 

The question is, “Can we do the wrong things and still expect the right results?”

One outcome that scientists predict could keep the virus at bay or banished altogether is Herd Immunity, a popular concept that is mired in misconception and misunderstanding. Dr. Marc Lipsitch, Professor of Epidemiology and Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health, described herd immunity as a state in which completely immune completely or partially immune people in a population slow down transmission by making it impossible for the virus to pass through them from one person to another in a sustained way, “till the virus essentially goes away.”

Will vaccinations and infections create herd immunity in the current phase of the pandemic? Dr. Lipsitch believes that’s an unlikely scenario – even with the vaccines we have.

At the start of the pandemic, before lockdowns and social distancing, a person infected up to 21/2 or 3 people each. But compared to early versions of the virus, contagious new variants have increased transmissibility by up 4 to 5 persons each. To reduce transmissibility by a factor of 5, explained Dr. Lipsitch, means immunizing 80% of the population,  a challenge that may be impossible given a number of factors.

At the moment, every variant in the world is present in the US.  Immunizing the nation won’t be easy because vulnerable populations – especially racial/ethnic minority groups and economically and socially disadvantaged communities – lack equitable vaccine access, children under the age of 12 are ineligible, and vaccine hesitancy is prevalent.

In the US vaccine hesitancy is based on a lack of trust in its efficacy. At issue also, is that all vaccines currently available in the US do not offer 100% protection. But added Dr. Neuman, “I trust the virus less!”

While Yale Medicine rated Pfizer-BioNTech at 95% for preventing symptomatic disease, its stability depends on strict storage requirements; Moderna has a similar high efficacy of 90% upon full immunization, while the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a 72% overall efficacy.

There is also concern about waning immunity and about revaccination. Limited studies that exist clarify that antibodies decrease over time, but there is uncertainty about at which point a person is no longer protected.

Annual boosters may be necessary at a minimum, confirmed Dr. Neuman, but although each of the vaccines is reasonably effective against each of the variants, there is definitely a lower effectiveness against some, like those coming out of Brazil and South Africa.

It’s more the virus changing than waning immunity that will drive the vaccination cycle.

 

Defanging Not Defeating the Virus

In the wake of the CDC’s new mask guidelines, Dr. Neuman noted that people calculating what precautions to take – to mask, social distance, or get vaccinated – are making decisions predicated on the original versions of the virus.

As ‘stay-at-home’ lockdown measures gradually ease, NIH reports also say that much of the population may return to spending increasing amounts of time in inadequately ventilated workplaces, offices, schools and other public buildings, where they may be exposed to a risk of acquiring viral infections by inhalation.

So, in the midst of an ongoing epidemic, as social barriers to transmission are lowered without reaching herd immunity, and high-risk populations in the other parts of the world face vaccine shortages, we are “in some sense “ said Dr. Lipsitch, “not ‘totally defeating, but simply defanging the virus,” – just making it less dangerous to have transmission.

He predicts “a quiet summer” followed by “some virus resurgence in the fall” as people move indoors and continue to lower their guard.

 

Fighting the Virus at Warp Speed

All the experts argued that the only way out of the pandemic is to ensure that more vulnerable populations across the world get vaccinated.

Peter Maybarduk, Director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Group, called for a global response at warp speed for the world – a catalyst for more funding, sharing resources and technical assistance, more manufacturing, and a definite plan to vaccinate everyone, everywhere, with at least 8 billion doses of MRNA vaccine within a year to make up the global shortfall.

Apart from the moral argument, added Dr. Lipsitch, “we like having interactions with the rest of the world, and for all the reasons we value the rest of the world, we should value their health as well.”

Dr. Neuman called for a single global solution to vaccinate everyone within a window of six months to a year.

Maybarduk, an expert on the Covax initiative which partners with the World Health Organization to get vaccines to low-income countries by sharing vaccines equitably, pointed out that wealthy countries have purchased much of the global supply of doses in bulk, so less than 5 % of the world’s population – only 340 million (one quarter of the doses already administered in the US alone) – have been vaccinated worldwide.

In Brazil only 17% of Brazilians have been vaccinated, said Dr. Rosane Guerra from the Department of Pathology, Biological and Health Sciences Center at the Federal University of Maranhao (UFMA). Brazil does not have an adequate supply of medication to prevent or control the virus.

Covax aims to vaccinate 20 percent of the world with a 2 billion dose target for 2021 but has only been able to ship 64 million doses, stated Maybarduk.  Worldwide access to vaccines is hobbled by the lack of manufacturing capacity, inefficient distribution channels, and low production volumes, access to raw materials, export controls, meeting regulatory requirements for safety and efficacy, obtaining qualifications from WHO for manufacturing facilities, and by politicians prioritizing their own citizens for vaccination first.

Sharing vaccines and vaccine knowledge (like the Trips waiver) is imperative to overcome the vaccine shortfall Maybarduk suggested, and getting vaccines to those who desperately need it in other countries..

“We should not cross our fingers and assume all is going to work out.”

Fighting the virus is like mobilizing for a world war which requires collective, integrated human effort towards achieving one goal. “I don’t think halfway solutions are going to get us there,” said Dr. Neuman. Getting to the next stage requires an integrated effort that scientists know is doable but is ultimately a political decision that world leaders must make.

“It’s impossible to have any kind of bubble in a world when people can move between countries in the middle of an epidemic. We have to close every border to control the disease,” Dr.Guerra concluded.

The bubble could burst as restrictions are relaxed before the pandemic is under control, said Dr. Neuman. “I don’t think that is the path that leads to the fastest extinction of the virus.”

“Get the vaccine, wear a mask, and when the numbers go down, then you know it’s safe to relax!”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents

Photo by Marc Sendra Martorell on Unsplash

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash


 

Hate Crimes & The Pandemic Create Mental Health Distress Among Asian Americans

Many Asian Americans say – we can wear a mask to protect against Covid but how can you protect yourself against racism? 

The physical assaults are the stories that show up on the news.  But the mental impacts of racism have been deadly for Asian Americans. They have experienced the highest mental health distress from both the pandemic and rise of hate crimes during pandemic while they are the least likely to seek help for the same.

“There are a lot of trauma reactions, similar to PTSD symptoms. However what makes racial trauma very unique is where PTSD is post traumatic stress disorder, a lot of racial trauma is not post.  There is no ending to it right now.  It is past, present and ongoing.  So, it makes it very unique and tricky trauma symptoms to treat sometimes.” says Linda Yoon, a therapist and the founder of Yellow Chair Collective.  

For many older generation South East Asians including Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian refugee immigrant population, the recent violent crimes have triggered their PTSD symptoms that remind them of war, genocide, displacement they experienced in their home countries.  

Yoon says that there are a lot of physical symptoms in this trauma, including sleeplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, confusion, loneliness, and a lot of anxiety and depression.  And a lot of anger towards the injustice that they are experiencing. 

A lack of understanding of the available mental health services as well as the cultural stigma associated with it, makes it even harder to reach this community.  

The concept of mental health comes from psychology, which comes from the western culture and study, says Yoon and because psychology separates mind from the physical body, it feels alien to the eastern society.  “In traditional eastern medicine and wellness, they talk about yin and yang – balance which also includes balance of your body and mind.  And there is no separation between body and mind.” 

So a lot of times Asian Americans will complain about their mental health symptoms in their physical somatic sense.  “We talk about pain in our body, we talk about anger that lives inside our body, we talk about the shoulder pain that was caused by family stress, we talk about stomach issues that have been impacted by stress and anxiety.” 

To address mental health issues and reduce the stigma, more integrative holistic approaches to mental health will make more sense to Asian populations in a culturally sensitive and linguistically competent manner. 

But the good news is that they do not want to “shoulder the fear burden anymore” reports Anh Do at the LA Times.  At the start, they “bent to cultural tradition” and kept quiet.  They were taught to keep their troubles to themselves.  And they wanted to avoid attention to their families.  But then as assaults increased, they started reporting and creating safety plans for their loved ones. 

 “They gave their children mace.”  “He makes sure his phone battery is always charged ready to be used in case something happens” and he needs to record it. “Never go alone, even for the smallest errand.” “Hyper vigilance, and avoidance of places”. These are some of the strategies ordinary Asian Americans are employing to stay safe, here in America, according to Do.

The potential for bullying, stereotyping and violence is so high that Asian American parents are afraid to send their kids back to school and generally go back in public.  

 

Who are Asian Americans Exactly?

In 1968, UC Berkeley student activists Emma Gee and Yuji Ichioka coined the term “Asian American” to unite the different communities of Asian descent and strategically create more political power in numbers.  

Then, in the 1980s and ’90s this classification was broadened even further via the addition of Pacific Islander and creating the term Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI.  While AAPI was meant to be inclusive, in reality it has often had the opposite effect. 

According to Pew Research, this demographic marker includes about 19 million people, up 81 percent since 2000. 59 percent of all Asian Americans are immigrants, including 1.4 million of whom are undocumented. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in America, currently 5.6 percent of the county’s population but projected to be as much as 14 percent by 2065.

The income gaps among different Asian American ethnic groups are the widest of any racial group, and they are still growing. While Indian Americans have the highest median income of $100,000, for example, Burmese Americans have the lowest, at $36,000. By bundling over 50 ethnic groups that speak over a 100 languages under one broad AAPI banner, the aggregated data does a disservice to the individual communities.

But what makes us uniquely Asian says Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan, Professor of Public Policy, UC Riverside, to Vox, “is our “history of exclusion” whether this is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, or the 1917 Immigration Act that barred Indians or by 1924, the Japanese as well. 

In all these three cases, the immigrants came to the US as laborers but were framed as the source of economic problems, and in some cases public health ones, too. 

The yellow peril is a racist metaphor for Asian Americans who are seen as outside threats that are invading the west with their diseases as explained by Professor Russell Jeung, Chair & Professor, Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University, at a USC Center for Health Journalism webinar titled “What Anti-Asian Hate Means for Mental Health, Safety and Justice.”

The “model minority” trope that suggests that all Asian Americans are well off, hardworking and successful and pit them against other minorities “masks the inequalities that Asian Americans face.  The yellow peril is much more operative” suggests Professor Jeung, one of the founders of STOPAAPIHATE.org

“Sometimes when we are on the inside, we are model minorities, we are white adjacent, we are crazy rich Asians. But in times of war, such as Japanese incarceration, or what happened to South Asian muslims and Arab Americans with islamophobia –  in times of economic downturn and in times of pandemic,  Asian Americans are framed as perpetual foreigners, or outsiders who don’t belong” says Professor Jeung.

Time and again, when diseases come from Asia, says Professor Jeung, “Asian Americans are perceived as the source of the diseases, policies seek to exclude them, and Asian Americans are met with interpersonal violence.” 

 

AAPI Hate Crime on the Rise

#stopAAPIhate website tracker was created to collect individual reports, to document the issue, to figure out what’s happening, to track trends, and to provide policy interventions.  The hate and anger directed against Asians was appalling, up to 100 incidents a day and that surge has continued. 

Asian Americans report everything from being barred from ride shares, to being coughed and spat on, their businesses being shunned, their elderly being shoved and kicked, their children being bullied in person and online, racial epithets and slurs and the ever common curse –  “go back to China”. 

Almost unanimously, respondents named racism as their biggest stressor and greatest fear during the pandemic. Asian Americans are more concerned about other American’s hate than they are of a pandemic that has killed over half a million Americans.  That’s how widespread and traumatizing the racism is.  

Here in the Bay Area, there were higher incidents of hate crime against Asians in the beginning of the pandemic. This is likely because Northern California, more dependent on public transportation, the likelihood of different communities and different cultures interacting with one another is greater versus Southern California, which is very steeped in the car culture. 

 

Help is At Hand

In Oakland, a volunteer service has been activated where a volunteer comes within 10-15 minutes of a call to accompany you to the bus stop, help you to a grocery store or back to your home. 

Professor Jeung is angry and sad and distressed about the state of America although he is heartened that the Asian American community is standing up and “seeing our community really mobilize and working in unity with other allies.”

But he questions what healing looks like?  And “as we experience racism, we might become racists – how do I stop this within my own self and how do I stop this for my students? What prescriptions do we have for our society so that we can stop that cycle of violence and racism?”

These are questions that do not have easy answers for us in the South Asian community either.  Many of us faced stigmatization and violence in the aftermath of 9-11 but how do we become better allies and show support to our discriminated Asian brethren now? 

A simple check up on your Asian American friends and neighbors, says Yoon, will go a long way.  Her patients report feeling invisible and alone.  Other strategies include intervening if you can when you see an incident, report what is happening and donate when you can.

Words matter, says Professor Jeung as the world watched Trump’s hate speech about the “China Virus” going viral, and normalizing hate towards the Asian American community.  “We need official statements to normalize love and respect.  It is sort of obvious but it is really needed.” 

So, whatever organization you belong to or work at, pressure them to put out official statements about supporting the AAPI community because it helps them be seen and heard and acknowledge their pain and suffering.  

President Biden’s new actions to respond to the increase in acts of anti-Asian violence have been celebrated in the community as a movement in the right direction. But in order to address the root case will require “ more education, more expanded civil rights protections and more restorative justice models”, says Professor Jeung.


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash

Don’t Call The Police! What Will People Say?

In traditional South Asian families, women trapped in abusive situations don’t leave for fear of  societal scorn.

“What will people say?”

Our social structure, based on arranged marriages and multi-generational households, regard family as sacrosanct – staying intact is prioritized over individual wellbeing.

“Culturally in the AAPI community, …victims may be encouraged to stay in their situations for their families, for their communities, for the larger family,” said Monica Khant, at an April 23  EMS briefing on domestic violence (DV).

Khant worked for years with DV clients as an immigration lawyer before joining Asian Pacific Institute of Gender-based Violence (API-GBV) as its Executive Director.

“That was something I had seen first-hand, that leaving their situation might being shame or embarrassment to the family.”

So, victims stay to avoid disrupting family dynamics, losing status, financial security, or children, but mainly because they have very few alternatives.

But during the pandemic, quarantining at home with an abusive partner because of stay-at-home orders, has made a difficult situation even worse for DV survivors. In fact, studies by the NIH reported increasing risk of family violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, stating thatdomestic abuse is acting like an opportunistic infection, flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic.”

According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men report experiencing some form of IPV each year. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement agencies across the country are reporting an alarming upward trend in domestic violence.

By March 2020, compared to March 2019,  calls reporting DV increased by 18 % (San Antonio Police Department),  27% (Jefferson County Alabama) and 10% (New York City Police Department).

DV rates have spiked among women of color and immigrants who face additional structural and cultural challenges trying to access support from the government and community, even before the pandemic.

Narika, a 30-year-old, Fremont-based, domestic violence advocacy group with 90 % of South Asian clients connected to the Bay Area, reported a 3x  increase in DV calls since the pandemic began, while the API-GBV has found that 64% of Indian and Pakistani  women had reported intimate partner violence IPV.

Yet fewer survivors are calling for help despite being trapped at home in abusive situations. At API-GBV which recorded a 76% drop in calls and in people seeking shelters, Khant explained that survivors are unable to access phones or information on computers, so less calls are coming in for assistance.

You Can’t Tell the Police!

In South Asian communities, inaction and compliance by DV survivors has its roots in a patriarchal society which views DV as a taboo subject. Though we worship goddesses and powerful  female icons (Mother India, Kali), female stereotypes in secondary roles to men are equally revered (dutiful, submissive, wives like Parvati, Draupadi), and DV remains a systemic, pervasive  issue. Families are expected to stay intact. In fact, by raising awareness, Narika has been accused  of breaking up families and planting ideas in survivors to move out.

Bindu Fernandes, the Executive Director of Narika explained that survivors don’t want to ‘out’ their family.

Survivors who reach out will say,

 “I don’t want to cause any trouble, but if I die, I just want someone to know what’s happened,” and,  “I’m probably going to be pushed down some stairs so I want somebody to know that could happen,”, and unequivocally add,

BUT YOU CAN’T TELL THE POLICE.’

In many cases in South Asian community says Fernandes, this is the story.

Findings from an ATASK (Asian Family Violence Report: South Asian) survey in Boston supports her claim. In the survey, 44% percent of South Asians said they knew a woman who has been physically abused or injured by her partner. Yet 5% of male and female respondents said that a woman who is being abused should not tell anyone about the abuse. Even though they overwhelmingly endorsed battered women seeking help – from a friend 82%, the police (74%), a family member (66%), a shelter (50%) or a therapist (48%); in reality, very few women from their communities actually do.

Their dependency and  passivity, steeped in inflexible tradition, propels a vicious cycle of IPV and in-law violence.

Cultural norms and traditional roles force women to stay silent. Attitudes expressed in the ATASK focus group convey the insular mindset within South Asian families which prohibit survivors from coming forward and seeking help. Focus group members felt that the woman in a marriage becomes the property of her husband and no longer belongs to her parents. The group  felt that in-laws play a critical role in ‘family violence’ within South Asian families especially in cases of dowry disputes. A woman cannot turn to her own family for help once she is married and parents are not supposed to intervene in the daughter’s marriage. Sometimes parents don’t take divorced daughters back.

Survivors face challenges accessing assistance because of a complex mix of family dynamics, immigration status, cultural mores, lack of English proficiency and technology access, and financial dependence.

In the AAPI community, when survivors with limited English proficiency call law enforcement, said Khant, the officer may speak to the abusive partner who has the dominant English proficiency which enables them to control the narrative. The same language access issue applies when survivors who seek help from medical or hospital facilities need interpreters; having to rely on translation services adds time to getting the attention they need, so sometimes they just may not go. In Brooklyn for example, a nurse said it took over an hour to get a translator for a survivor who used a less mainstream Asian language.

Women who do not have valid immigration status or are on temporary status are not eligible for assistance, for example, even  Covid19 testing.

In the Bay Area, many immigrant women are dependents of H1B visa holders employed by  Silicon Valley’s tech sector. When the Trump administration revoked their EAD 4 work permits, they lost their right to work and experienced increasing abuse, domestic servitude, and  financial dependency.

Khant said that for AAPI community members who work in the service industry, the loss of jobs and lack of work increased financial dependency on abusive partner who is earning income, a key factor in DV survivors not being able to leave. Some of the immigrant DV survivors are ineligible for unemployment benefits because they don’t have valid work authorization permits and may not be allowed to apply for other benefits

Survivors who have lost jobs face eviction. According to the Census Bureau’s housing survey added Khant, 1 in 5 Asian renters reported that they were behind in rent payment as of September 2020. This forces DV survivors to stay with partners in violent and unsafe situations because they cannot afford to pay back rent. Narika said they issued $50,000 in cash assistance requests to survivors in the past year.

Transnational abandonment is the new manifestation of DV inflicted on immigrant women  already besieged by the pandemic and loss of EAD-4 work permits. Narika reports 2 to 3 cases of transnational abandonment a  week, where vulnerable immigrant women  are abandoned in their country of origin by their husbands. This phenomenon is particularly  prevalent within the SA community, in marriages where victims face domestic violence, emotional abuse, cultural alienation, or financial exploitation. Once they are deliberately  removed from the US, these disposable women lose legal protections, rights to their homes, finances and even children. Narika reports an instance where a woman was dropped off at a  grocery store and never saw her husband again.

There is no accountability as courts do not prosecute perpetrators or accept cases  when victims are absent. Narika reports that abusers take advantage of differences in laws  governing marriage and assets between the US and the victim’s country of origin. Nor is help available through  VAWA which has few protections for abandoned victims who don’t reside in the US.

Where do we go next?

While there is a compelling need for broader language service access and more food pantry and housing relief, there’s a growing demand from South Asian families about addressing DV outside the traditional systems in place.

Khant’s work has involved observing existing laws (or a lack of laws and assistance in place during certain administrations), and recognizing the nuances in immigrant cases related to the legal system of DV. But first, she said, we need to acknowledge biases in responses to communities of color. In the land of opportunity with its many resources for DV survivors,  Khant suggested a new approach is necessary to address DV in the South Asian community.

Traditionally DV survivors have been encouraged to follow the traditional systems in place – law enforcement, justice system, filing a complaint and following through with the courts.

But the pandemic has made it difficult for families to seek help from law enforcement or the justice system, so many families would rather go a new route to find resolution. At Narika, Bindu Fernandes shares that restorative justice is one approach that could form a pathway to helping families heal.

“DV is a delicate subject because it involves intimate relationships, family secrets, and it’s a subject many of us are reluctant to raise either publicly or in private. It’s embarrassing, sometimes even shameful to talk about. But we also know that staying silent (about the topic),  won’t make it go away. Suffering in silence makes people give up….lose hope,” remarked Sandy Close, EMS Director, at the briefing.

Khant said her experience as  an immigration attorney shows that, “If divorce or leaving the abusive situation is not the first choice, it’s the choice survivors only take after many attempts at reconciliation.”

Using social services or less criminally endorsed systems, “may get better traction in AAPI community,” said Khant, and help families find a path to reconciliation.


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.

NARIKA 1-800-215-7308 or 1-510-444-6048

MAITRI Toll Free Helpline: 1-888-862-4874

SAVE’s 24-hour crisis line at 510-794-6055

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to assist victims of intimate partner violence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling or texting (800) 799-SAFE (7233).

https://www.thehotline.org/wp-content/uploads/media/2020/09/The-Hotline-COVID-19-60-Day-Report.pdf

Links to SCC District Attorney’s Office Victim Service Unit brochures in multiple languages: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/publications/DistrictAttorneyBrochures/Pages/default.aspx

Family Justice Center Location in San Jose, SCC: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/VictimServices/FamilyJusticeCenter/Pages/FJC-SJ.aspx

Family Justice Center Location in Morgan Hill, SCC: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/da/VictimServices/FamilyJusticeCenter/Pages/FJC-MH.aspx

https://eastwindezine.com/mosf-vol-15-5-queer-and-black-asian-and-young-drama-del-rosario-tchoupitoulas-and-ocean-vuong/

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

‘Don’t Turn Your Back on Immigrant Essential Workers’ Says Sen. Alex Padilla

When Sen. Alex Padilla took the California Senate seat left by V.P. Kamala Harris, the American immigrant story achieved two remarkable milestones.

Harris’ election to the vice presidency marked the unprecedented ascendancy of the first woman, Black and Asian, to a top political office, while Padilla became the first ever Latino to represent California in the United States senate.  After twenty seven years of fighting for immigrant rights, Alex Padilla is finally in a position to achieve the immigration reforms he has long pursued.

Senator Alex Padilla, CA

Padilla now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee and will have jurisdiction over key immigration issues.

In his new role Padilla has promised to restore humanity, dignity and respect to the immigration process, a commitment reflected in the new title he’s given to the immigration subcommittee. It will now be known as the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Safety.

At an ethnic media briefing on April 16th, Padilla was proud to announce ‘The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act‘ – the first bill he has introduced as a United States Senator to honor “immigrant essential workers with action”.

Padilla’s focus on immigration reform begins with a proposal to deliver a pathway to citizenship to frontline workers – a ‘long-overdue recognition’ that ‘they have earned, and they deserve.’

He described the Bill as legislation that “urges a fair, secure, and accessible pathway to U.S. citizenship for over 5 million immigrant essential workers in critical infrastructure sectors such as health care, agriculture, construction, food, energy, emergency response, and care-giving.”

Padilla explained that during the COVID19 pandemic, frontline workers have been critical to keeping the country running and saving American lives, despite the risk of COVID19 to their health and that of their families. “They continue to show up to work every day.”

Essential workers put food on our tables, take care of our loved ones, clean the hospitals, restaurants, and offices. They ensure “that communities stay healthy, and that the economy continue to move,” added Padilla.

To him, COVID Relief not only means addressing the health impact of the pandemic. It also means rebuilding and stimulating an economic recovery that is “much more inclusive.”

Padilla’s home state of California has the highest concentration of immigrants (11 million) of any state in the US, but Padilla sees CA’s diversity “as a tremendous strength” and, that “the entire nation stands to benefit from thoughtful immigration reform.”

Immigration reform had stalled for decades, until the Trump administration declared war on immigrants with a slew of restrictive policies – setting limits on legal immigration and family-based immigration, building border walls, and enforcing child separation. Now immigration reform is also tasked with overturning the anti-immigration directives from the Trump era.

Padilla believes the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act will mark a ‘rather pivotal moment in the nation’s history’ when it’s in the best interest of the country to rebuild from the economic impact of the pandemic.

He reiterated his commitment to “bringing the urgency to immigration reform that this moment demands and millions of hard working immigrants have earned. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to restore dignity and humanity to our immigration policies and to respectfully uphold America’s legacy as a nation of immigrants.”

“The Bill will help boost our economic recovery and will benefit communities across the country.”

The vast majority of current and future workforce growth will be met by immigrants and the children of immigrants, said Padilla. He referred to a 2016 study by the Center for American Progress which found that undocumented workers contribute $4.7 trillion to the United States GDP, while undocumented immigrants contribute $11.7 billion in state and local taxes, and $12 billion in social security revenue every year.

Given their financial contributions,  “We can no longer ignore the 11 million plus people who have been living…’in the shadows’ in this country but working and paying taxes and contributing,” added Padilla.

They have earned their right to citizenship through their service and sacrifice, said Padilla, who together with Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), sent a letter to President Biden, urging the inclusion of the Bill in next infrastructure package.

Padilla was optimistic about helping President Biden move forward with a comprehensive immigration reform package to congress and ‘making significant progress.”

“It is personal for me,” he said, drawing parallels between his immigrant parents and the service of essential workers. “These workers – they remind me of my own parents who worked jobs considered ‘essential today.”

A ‘proud son of immigrants,’ Padilla grew up in the northeast San Fernando Valley, where his parents raised three children in whom they instilled strong values of service to others, in their pursuit of the American dream.

Padilla came to public service following the example of his Mexican immigrant parents.

“It was through their activism and community organizing that in many ways led me to public service”, he remarked, describing how his family worked with neighbors to curb violence in heir neighborhood.

Padilla paid tribute to his parents – for 40 years  his father worked as a short order cook and his mother cleaned houses. Their inspiring ‘journey and life experience’ is the backstory to Padilla’s fight for immigration rights from his time on Los Angeles City Council through to the California Senate and his  2015election  as secretary of state

“I firmly believe that we can’t simply rely on hardworking people to keep our nation afloat and keep our communities safe in times of  crisis and then turn our backs on them as soon as the pandemic is over. That would just be wrong.”

“I believe its time need to honor them and their work and their service with more than just our words”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents

Photo by Arron Choi on Unsplash

Ribbon Fish being overfished in Malvan, India (Image by Pooja Rathod under Creative Commons License)

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 3

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Read Part 1 and Part 2!

Russia is first among the developed nations to say that they are going to be glyphosate-free by 2025.  Mexico will gradually phase out glyphosate by the end of 2024.  Why are we driving our soil to extinction?  Why can’t we pledge to be a glyphosate-free and LibertyLink-free nation?  Why does our government pass legislation that makes it illegal for the Environmental Protection Agency to consider generational toxicity data?

We live in an environment where pig stool is considered such a biohazard that it’s illegal to transport it across state lines.  “Imagine billions of gallons of pig stool outside of Smithfield, North Carolina, or ten times more in Hubei province.  We have these massive pig stool lakes, every teaspoon of which has millions of microorganisms that are all under severe stress from glyphosate and everything else, and they are cranking out viruses at an astounding rate,” says Dr. Zach Bush.

Aerial view of CAFO barns and manure lagoons in North Carolina (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)
Aerial view of CAFO barns and manure lagoons in North Carolina (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)

As he untangles the workings of the virus, Dr. Bush observes that we break down our innate immune system through the mechanisms of soil, water, and air.  While 75% of air samples in the U.S. are contaminated with glyphosate, the wildfires in Australia and California in 2020 also released an enormous amount of PM 2.5 in our environment.  “Sars-COV2 + influenza viruses bind to PM2.5, and when humans experience long-term exposure to this air pollution, it lowers the innate resistance to viral infection,” he explains.  “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention always sends out toxicologists along with infectious disease scientists to a new pandemic site.  It’s been long recognized by the CDC that the environment is a critical piece of the pandemic, but they only publish the findings around the virus, not around the toxicity in the environment.”

Setting the narrative of the pandemic right, Dr. Bush points out that rather than focusing on living in harmony with nature, we have created a perturbation in nature and our relationship to nature is expressing itself in a pandemic.  He also asserts that our reductionist belief system that pharmacy is going to fix everything is keeping the vast majority of our country’s population sick and disease-ridden.  “The human body isn’t as delicate as we are led to believe—we are actually quite resilient.  We don’t live in a world where we are under constant attack by nature.  It’s really the other way around: The destruction of nature by humankind has ultimately altered our biology to a point where we have had to maladapt to our self-created toxic environment.  The human species has become a parasite of planet Earth.  We are the disease.”  Dr. Bush makes a plea for cleaning up our soil, water, and air to prevent future pandemics and affirms that the healthcare system will right itself as soon as we fix the food system.

A nationwide study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health corroborates Dr. Bush’s comments on the known connections between PM2.5 exposure and a higher risk of death from COVID-19 and other cardiovascular and respiratory ailments.  The study states that an increase of only 1 microgram per cubic meter of PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in COVID-19 death rate.  The researchers wrote: “The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”

With the pandemic rampant last year, a TIME article questioned: “As the coronavirus has spread through America’s meatpacking plants amid growing recognition that overcrowded factory farms are risk factors for other diseases, some people have wondered whether we’ve reached a tipping point.  Might Americans finally be ready to go easy on their beloved hot dogs and steaks?”  The answer is: “Simply put, no.”  The article quotes Joshua Specht, author of Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America: “They (the producers) want them to imagine there’s no backstory, and for the vast majority of people, I think that is still the case.”

As if oceans belong on our planet to supply “seafood”, fish are readily offered when servers are asked for meat-free options in restaurants.  If animal agriculture has ravaged our environment, industrial fishing has been equally devastating for the earth, polluting our oceans and waterways.  According to National Geographic, “more than 55 percent of ocean surface is covered by industrial fishing…That’s more than four times the area covered by agriculture.”

As the loss of ocean biodiversity accelerates, it’s predicted that in 30 years there will be little or no salt-water fish.  “Biodiversity is a finite resource, and we are going to end up with nothing left … if nothing changes,” says Professor Boris Worm, a marine ecologist.

Supermarket fish come from commercial fishing or aquafarming.  Both have devastated our ecosystems.  Industrial fishing deploys massive ships–supertrawlers–which remain out at sea for weeks and months at a time.  These ships require large amounts of CO2-producing fuel.  They catch hundreds of tons of fish every single day because they can process or freeze on the ship itself.  “The fishing nets scrape up fish—and anything else in their path—wreaking havoc on delicate ecosystems and ocean habitats.  The United Nations estimates that up to 95% of global ocean damage is a direct result of bottom trawling.”  When hauled out of the water, surviving fish undergo excruciatingly painful decompression that causes severe bladder, eyes, and stomach damage.  Fishing lines catch and kill unintended species such as different fish, sea birds, turtles, and whales.  These animals are considered “bycatch” and thrown overboard.  

Aquaculture farming raises fish in the same unnatural, enclosed conditions as the factory-farmed livestock, and produces enormous waste.  They are also fed high quantities of antibiotics and have alarming levels of harmful chemicals.  Also, it takes up to five pounds of smaller wild fish from the ocean to produce just one pound of fish meat from salmon or bass, two of the most common fish being raised on factory farms.

Dr. Jyotsna Puri, Director, Environment, Climate, Nutrition, Gender, and Social Inclusion Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development, finds it arrogant to make life and death decisions on the basis of benefits for humans.  “This is ironic since humans have defined a completely new geologic period called the Anthropocene, defined mainly because of the disasters we have wreaked!  THAT should have been a wake-up moment for us. But it hasn’t been.  The anthropocentric view of life will have to change.  Every policy is subservient to the demands of Homo sapiens.  We have to change the way we function if we want to stave off the next pandemic.”  Dr. Puri argues that people change behavior when you set up the incentives and the infrastructure to make change possible.  She recommends creating a common global standardized measure to know a corporate’s or government’s impact on the environment and on our climate. 

“Monoculture of the mind–as I have called it–is the inability to see how ecosystems work, the inability to see how diversity is vital…Without biodiversity we will have no health,” Dr. Vandana Shiva points out.  Championing small farmers who provide 80% of the food we eat globally, she says that if the small farmers are no more, India is not India.  Along with many scientists and researchers around the world, she asserts that GMO crops have brought more pesticide use and created new pests: “Genetic engineering is nothing more than genetic reductionism based on a very false assumption of genetic determinism.”

“These chemical companies cause a disaster, and then from the impacts of that disaster, they create a new market, and make a bigger disaster, and they create a new market.  So, every cost borne by the environment and by humans becomes a new market of opportunity for the same people who cause that problem.  Right now, the health damages caused by the chemicals and GMOs in our food are becoming the biggest market for a combination of Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Tech, and Big Money.  It’s one big cancerous slop on this planet.”  Dr. Shiva refuses to be subjugated to “digital agriculture and the financialization of nature”.  One of her books, Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom, discusses the new imperialism of food brought on by the likes of Bill Gates, who has been pushing monoculture GMO crops around the world.  She comments that “the digital farming without farmers that he is pushing so hard and so violently is the reason that farmers’ protests in India are being ignored.”

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Purdue University president Mitch Daniels offers a plea that we embrace GMOs in agriculture, saying that “avoiding GMOs isn’t just anti-science, it’s immoral.”  The ecological and health safety of GMOs has been questioned by research across the world that has busted these two assumptions: 1) That GMOs are indeed safe, and 2) that GMOs and industrial agriculture allow higher yields. GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen’s Guide to the Evidence on the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods has hundreds of citations of peer-reviewed articles that cannot be dismissed.  Since the GMOs are proprietary, and since most university agronomy departments receive massive funding from agritech companies, when a study does document harm, it and its authors are subjected to career-ending attacks. 

In spite of trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, lives, and immeasurable hours of learning lost for school children, isn’t it staggering to know that no public health agency has declared that we will be in pandemic after pandemic so long as the world is so hungry for meat?  Isn’t it criminal that the CDC, the USDA, our politicians, or public health officials never talk about closing the overcrowded and filthy factory farms? 

Yes, sadly, there are places in this world where people are so desperately hungry and live in such dire conditions that they will eat whatever they could lay their hands on.  That’s not the case with most in developed countries where there is an abundant supply of other foods.  In fact, 30% of all food produced globally is wasted, and in the United States alone, we waste upwards of 40% of our food.  

March Against Monsanto in Vancouver, Canada (Image by Rosalee Yagihara under Creative Commons License)
March Against Monsanto in Vancouver, Canada in 2013 (Image by Rosalee Yagihara under Creative Commons License)

When I hear that “We are all in this together,” or, “we all need to sacrifice and practice our shared commitment to take individual responsibility and civic accountability,” I want to cry out: “No, vegans and vegetarians have not brought this pandemic upon humanity!”  Yet, it is those who perform their civic duty toward their fellow humans and toward this planet–by choosing what they put on their plate for each meal–who are also being forced to sacrifice by locking themselves down and keeping their children from attending schools.  Why are meat-eaters commanding sacrifice from vegans and vegetarians?

Officials across the E.U. as well as in the U.S. have called upon citizens’ sense of duty and empathy, promoting messages of unity and communal sacrifice.  But, nobody is asking: “Sacrifice for whom and for what?”  Do we sacrifice for those who want these factory farms to keep butchering and producing meat for their dinner plates?  Do we sacrifice for those feeling complacent driving their Teslas and flaunting biodegradable disposables priding themselves that they are doing a huge favor to planet Earth – while completely ignoring that the most powerful choice one could make for the well-being of our planet is our food?  Do we sacrifice so that billions of taxpayer dollars continue to subsidize the factory farms and vaccines, while the Food and Drug Administration lets multibillion-dollar industries sell ultra-processed foods that keep our population sick and dependent on pharmaceuticals for a lifetime?

Do we sacrifice for the politicians and public health officials to order lockdowns while we never hear our government talk about pulling out all the junk foods, sodas, alcohol, vaping products, cigarettes, guns, disposable plastics, GMOs, and glyphosate from our stores?  Do we sacrifice for our government to subsidize Roundup Ready and LibertyLink crops which deplete our foods and hence our bodies of all the vital nutrients?  Why is there no discussion from our public health agencies about nutrition and lifestyle, guiding us on disease prevention?  

Why do 60% of Americans live with chronic health conditions?  Why are our politicians allowed to subsidize Big Ag that has only focused on herbicides, monocrops, and GMOs, to produce crops that grow faster and bigger but depleted of protein, vitamins, and minerals that the crops contained half a century ago?  How do the WHO, governments, and pharmaceuticals around the world get away with spending billions to invest in band-aids of vaccines after vaccines rather than address the root causes that bring about these pandemics?  Our students have been locked inside their homes because of the pandemic.  Why does producing cheap meat have priority over the well-being and health of our future generation?  Why should vegetarians and vegans bear the brunt of the irresponsibility and inhumanity of those who are not satisfied to consume the abundant plant foods that Mother Earth has to offer?  Is the U.S. the only country that has foods and drugs under the same administration?  Isn’t this counter-intuitive?  

“We need to be prepared for whatever COVID-24 is going to look like,” says Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.  In that case, shouldn’t President Biden prioritize banning factory farms, glyphosate, and LibertyLink, in order to prepare the U.S. for future pandemic threats?  Isn’t prevention always better than cure?  Isn’t it a global problem that we are killing 60 billion animals a year for human consumption?  As Dr. Shiva asks, are we going to have a world view of regeneration – with our role in regeneration – or a world view of conquest and war?  

Thanksgiving has always been a difficult time for me, even more so last year with COVID-19 raging.  Saying “Happy Thanksgiving” to anyone was harder than ever—it seemed more appropriate to mourn not only the Native Americans who lost their lives and land, and the millions of intelligent but helpless, butchered, and broiled turkeys, but also the staggering losses due to a pandemic.  What’s “happy,” after all, about this holiday knowing that every year humans brutalize and kill millions of animals in the name of celebrations?  Knowing that factory farms keep turkeys captive in filthy, merciless conditions?  And knowing that science has shown again and again that factory farms and slaughterhouses are breeding grounds for pandemics with their cruel and irresponsible “processing” of animals?

Industrial turkey barn (Jo-Anne McArthur from Djurrattsalliansen)
Industrial turkey barn (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from Djurrattsalliansen)

Organizations like Food and Water Watch have been calling upon citizens to ask Congress to ban factory farms as they “place our public health and food supply at risk, pollute the environment and our drinking water, and wreck rural communities–while increasing corporate control over our food.”  Activist organizations like Environmental Working Group that question agricultural practices, use of toxic chemicals, and provide information on environmental and water quality issues are being drowned by the continuous onslaught of corporate greed, while those who choose not to eat meat feel powerless about their tax dollars going toward subsidizing butchering of animals and egregious agricultural practices that are destroying our ecology.  

Mahatma Gandhi had said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” 

Dr. Michael Greger writes: “As long as there is poultry, there will be pandemics.  It may be us or them.” 

Or, as ecologist Rachel Carlson put it succinctly nearly sixty years ago, “Nature fights back.” 

In the afterward of Dr. Greger’s book, Dr. Kennedy Shortidge–who discovered H5N1–appeals: “We have reached a critical point.  Today’s COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest in an increasingly harrowing viral storm threatening each of us.  We must dramatically change the way we interact with animals for the sake of all animals.” 

For those who reach for any kind of meat or seafood, I implore you to ask yourself: Am I bringing our planet one step closer to enormous suffering from yet another pandemic–and one step closer to extinction–with my choice?

Go back to read Part 1 and Part 2!


Paulomi Shah hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food – so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods – and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.


 

CA Small Business Relief Applications Open April 28 2021

The sixth and final round of the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program opens April 28-May 4, 2021. The program is funded by the State of California and administered by the California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA) at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz).

The California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program (the “Program”) provides micro grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to eligible small manufacturers impacted by COVID-19.

The state has designated Lendistry, a CDFI and CDE small business lender, to act as the intermediary for the Program to disburse the grant funds. While application for previous rounds have closed, Round 6 is right around the corner.

The upcoming round of California’s small business COVID relief program is open to new applicants.

Eligible applicants include currently waitlisted small businesses and/or nonprofits not selected in Rounds 1, 2, 3, or 5 who will automatically move into Round 6. They do not need to re-apply.

New applicants that meet eligibility criteria can apply for grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. Businesses are eligible based on their annual revenue as documented in their most recent tax return. Owners of multiple businesses, franchises, locations, etc., will be considered for only one grant and are required to apply for the business with the highest revenue.

What criteria must a small business or small nonprofit satisfy to be eligible to receive a grant award?

To be eligible to receive a grant award, a small business or small nonprofit :

1. Must meet the definition of an “eligible small business”. An “eligible small business” means (i) a “small business” (sole proprietor, independent contractor, 1099 work, and or registered “for-profit” business entity (e.g., C-corporation, S-corporation, limited liability company, partnership) that has yearly gross revenue of $2.5 million or less (but at least $1,000 in yearly gross revenue) based on most recently filed tax return) or (ii) a “small nonprofit” (registered 501(c)(3), 501(c)(19), or 501(c)(6) nonprofit entity having yearly gross revenue of $2.5 million or less (but at least $1,000 in yearly gross revenue) based on most recently filed Form 990)

2. Active businesses or nonprofits operating since at least June 1, 2019

3. Businesses must currently be operating or have a clear plan to reopen once the State of California permits re-opening of the business

4. Business must be impacted by COVID-19 and the health and safety restrictions such as business interruptions or business closures incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

5. Business must be able to provide organizing documents including 2019 tax returns or Form 990s, copy of official filing with the California Secretary of State, if applicable, or local municipality for the business such as one of the following: Articles of Incorporation, Certificate of Organization, Fictitious Name of Registration or Government-Issued Business License

6. Business must be able to provide acceptable form of government-issued photo ID

7. Applicants with multiple business entities, franchises, locations, etc. are not eligible for multiple grants and are only allowed to apply once using their eligible small business with the highest revenue.

How will grant recipients be determined? 

Grants will be prioritized, to the extent permissible under state and federal equal protection laws, in accordance with the following criteria:

1. Geographic distribution based on COVID-19 health and safety restrictions following California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy and county status and the Regional Stay at Home Order.

2. Industry sectors most impacted by the pandemic, including, but not limited to, those identified as in the North American Industry Classification System codes beginning with:

61 – Educational Services

71 – Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation

72 – Accommodation and Food Services

315 – Apparel Manufacturing

448 – Clothing and Clothing Accessory Stores

451 – Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instrument, and Book Stores

485 – Transit and Ground Passenger Transportation

487 – Scenic and Sightseeing Transportation

512 – Motion Picture and Sound Recording Industries

812 – Personal and Laundry Services

5111 – Newspaper, Periodical, Book and Directory Publishers

 

3. Nonprofit mission services most impacted by the pandemic, including, but not limited to, emergency food provisions, emergency housing stability, childcare, and workforce development.

4. Disadvantaged communities tracked by socioeconomic indicators that may include, but are not limited to, low to moderate income, poverty rates, unemployment, educational attainment, and other disadvantageous factors that limit access to capital and other resources.

Grants to eligible nonprofit cultural institutions will be prioritized on documented percentage revenue declines based on a reporting period comparing Q2 and Q3 of 2020 versus Q2 and Q3 of 2019.

Who is ineligible to apply?

1. Businesses without a physical location in California

2. Nonprofit businesses not registered as either a 501(c)(3), 501(c)(19), or 501(c)(6)

3. Government entities (other than Native American tribes) or elected official offices

4. Businesses primarily engaged in political or lobbying activities (regardless of whether such entities qualify as a 501(c)(3), 501(c)(19), or 501(c)(6))

5. Passive businesses, investment companies and investors who file a Schedule E on their personal tax returns

6. Churches and other religious institutions (regardless of whether such entities qualify as a 501(c)(3), 501(c)(19), or 501(c)(6))

7. Financial businesses primarily engaged in the business of lending, such as banks, finance companies and factoring companies

8. Businesses engaged in any activity that is illegal under federal, state or local law

9. Businesses of a prurient sexual nature, including businesses which present live performances of a prurient sexual nature and businesses which derive directly or indirectly more than de minimis gross revenue through the sale of products or services, or the presentation of any depictions or displays, of a prurient sexual nature

10. Businesses engaged in any socially undesirable activity or activity that may be considered predatory in nature such as rent-to-own businesses and check cashing businesses

11. Businesses that restrict patronage for any reason other than capacity

12. Speculative businesses

13. Businesses of which any owner of greater than 10% of the equity interest in it (i) has within the prior three-years been convicted of or had a civil judgment rendered against such owner, or has had commenced any form of parole or probation (including probation before judgment), for commission of fraud or a criminal offense in connection with obtaining, attempting to obtain, or performing a public (federal, state or local) transaction or contract under a public transaction; violation of federal or state antitrust or procurement statutes or commission of embezzlement, theft, forgery, bribery, falsification or destruction of records, making false statements, or receiving stolen property, or (ii) is presently indicted for or otherwise criminally or civilly charged by a government entity, (federal, state or local) with commission of any of the offenses enumerated in subparagraph (i) above

14. “Affiliated” companies (as such term is defined in 13 C.F.R. § 121.103)

 

Documentation needed includes: 

1.  Application Certification: Signed certification used to certify your business

2.  Business Financial Information: Most recent tax return filed (2019), Copy of official filing with the California Secretary of State.

3. Government Issued Photo ID such as a Driver’s License or Passport

Lendistry is the sole entity designated as the Intermediary of the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program (the “Program”). This site (careliefgrant.com) and the other websites available on or through this site (the “Designated Sites”) are the only approved websites designated for the administration of the Program. Any other website purporting to administer or otherwise act as an Intermediary in connection with the Program may be fraudulent. As such, you should exercise extreme caution and avoid providing any information (personal or otherwise) in connection with the Program on or through any website other than the Designated Sites. Further, neither Lendistry nor any of its partners will charge any fees to apply for a relief grant under the Program and we recommend that you avoid any third-parties purporting to charge fees for you to apply.

Questions? The program’s call center is open 7am-7pm. 1-888-612-4370

To learn more: https://careliefgrant.com/webinars/


Ritu Marwah is an award winning author whose story Jinnah’s Daughter, featured in the New York Times’s Express Tribune blog, exemplifies her deep interest and understanding of history and the place of people in it.

Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Local seeds and produce (Image by Drona Chetri from Navdanya)

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 2

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Go back to read Part 1 or move on to Part 3!

Dr. Vandana Shiva argues that the World Bank pushed the privatization of seeds in India in 1991, introducing a very distorted model of agriculture.  It created refugees out of Indian farmers who moved to the cities, became today’s migrant labor, and are now refugees from the cities because of the Corona crisis.  With the pandemic and sudden lockdown, the livelihood of half of India just evaporated.  This India that works for its bread also suddenly added to the ranks of the hungry.  Before the pandemic, nearly one million children under five were dying of hunger annually, and there were 190 million hungry people already.  COVID added many more millions.  The farmers who went the World Bank way to grow cash crops were unable to sell when all the long-distance supply chains collapsed due to COVID.  

“We were always told that industrial food is cheap and is feeding the world.  So I started to do full cost accounting and found that there are trillions and trillions of dollars of shadow in environmental destruction, biodiversity destruction, destruction of farmers, and destruction of our health.  When we add all that together, we will realize that we could not afford industrial food pushed by the old Poison Cartel and Big Oil,” Dr. Shiva explains.  She gives an example of biofuel–which is made to look very efficient–and big government subsidies to divert food to biofuel.  But, it takes more fossil fuel to produce biofuel than its substitutes.  “We measure nutrition per acre, we measure health per care, and our work with real farmers and true cost accounting is showing that small farms with biodiversity, without chemicals, can feed two times Indian population…They take pride in feeding 1.3 billion.  I can tell you the U.S. model can’t feed 1.3 billion.” 

Defending the world’s largest protests by farmers in India against the new agricultural laws that would allow private corporations to buy directly from farmers–which would leave them at the mercy of buyers–Dr. Shiva says that in the globalized system of monopolistic buying, the original farmer gets as little as 0.5 to 5%.  Global corporations break national boundaries, they break national sovereignty, and Indian farmers are fighting for food sovereignty.  She says that in spite of the global powers wanting to grab the land and turn India into a large farm desert like the midwest of the U.S., the small farmers are fighting because of their love for Mother Earth. 

John Robbins says that livestock provides just 18% of calories but takes up more than 80% of farmland.  “Right now, 81% of the world’s agricultural land is used to provide meat, eggs, and dairy products.  That’s an astounding amount of land on planet Earth.  But, plant foods, on the other hand, require far less land and far fewer resources, and can actually help sequester the carbon in the soil.  We could feed the entire world’s population, and free up so much land that could be used to grow more food for future generations…The scientific consensus is very clear that industrial meat production is responsible for a major portion of all our greenhouse emissions.”  Elaborating on the findings of Oxford Martin School researchers, he says that a global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains could save up to 8 million lives by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.

A calf straining against a chain from his veal crate. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)
A calf straining against a chain from his veal crate. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)

When Amazon rainforests were burning, French president Emanuel Macron wrote that the lungs which produce 20% oxygen for the planet were burning.  According to TIME, in 2018, Brazil exported some $6 billion worth of beef, more than any other country in history.  In Brazil, cattle account for 80% of deforested land.  Why are Brazilians cutting down their forests?  To make quick money by trying to meet an increasing demand for beef around the world. 

There are many doctors who have been shouting out loud, along with Dr. Michael Greger, that there is no human nutritional need for any animal protein.  In fact, according to the Harvard University School of Medicine, the healthiest sources of protein are “beans, nuts, grains and other vegetable sources of protein.”  One reason India was not considered a high-risk area for novel influenza strains is because a large portion of the population is vegetarian.  But, over the past 25 years, India’s diet has changed.  The middle classes of India have been pushed into admiring junk foods, taking pride in flocking for meat at McDonald’s and KFCs, and urban populations consider a Coke-and-Pepsi-diet a declaration of being progressive.  So, India is now the capital of diabetes in the world.  The risks from COVID escalate multifold with any chronic disease, including diabetes. 

Social psychologist Melanie Joy’s book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, offers an absorbing look at what she calls carnism, the belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals when we would never dream of eating others.  Dr. Joy says that eating animals without thinking about it makes this behavior invisible.  She calls this invisible belief system “carnism”.  There are Three Ns of justification–Dr. Joy argues–that consuming meat is normal, natural, and necessary.  She explains that “the belief that eating meat is necessary makes the system seem inevitable–if we cannot exist without meat, then abolishing carnism is akin to suicide.”  This myth of necessity has been promoted by the meat industry despite widespread and substantial evidence to the contrary.  She discusses many ways our system has made eating animals acceptable: Objectification, viewing animals as things rather than living, breathing, feeling beings;  Deindividualization, looking at animals as a group or a species rather than individuals with their own personalities and preferences;  Dichotomization, categorizing animals into edible or inedible, so that we can eat our steak while we pet our dog.

Lamb (Image by Paulomi Shah and Unsplash)
Lamb (Image by Paulomi Shah and Unsplash)

Renowned, multi-disciplinary Dr. Zach Bush proclaims that we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction on the planet and humanity is one of the countless species headed for extinction.  In 2019, Dr. Bush correctly predicted that Hubei, China would be the center of a pandemic due to its high levels of air pollution combined with the pollution from large factory farms.  “Animals around the world are largely being held in captivity, in extremely toxic and inhumane conditions.  If we see viruses coming out of that, that’s the microbiome’s check on the reality that we live in.  There are checks and balances in biology, certainly, that work better than the checks and balances in our government,”  Dr. Bush comments.

One molecule in our food and water system called glyphosatethe active ingredient in Roundup – is causing huge endocrine disruption in our bodies and poisoning our environment.  It poisons our genome and blocks the ability to make glutathione, which is our main antioxidant.  Dr. Bush says that by using antimicrobials like glyphosate, which act as an antibiotic for the earth, we have been destroying our soil and depleting nutrients from our food.  Glyphosate is only one of 260 chemicals in our food system.  “Glyphosate is at over 5 billion pounds of consumption worldwide and it is, unfortunately, a water-soluble toxin.  A water-soluble toxin is a bad idea on a planet that is 70% water not just by surface area, but for the air we breathe, for the clouds that rain it down upon us, for the plants that grow within that soil, and for the bodies that live off of those plants.” 

Our staple superfoods are contaminated because of the farming practices using so much glyphosate, and our foods are making us sick.  The third-largest crop we grow in the U.S., right behind corn and soybean, is our neighborhood lawns and it extends to our playing fields and golf courses sprayed with Roundup.  Glyphosate is destroying not just the proteins for human life but also for bacterial life.  It functions as a potent antibiotic, kills life in the soil, and also kills life in the gut.  So when we are eating, drinking, and breathing Roundup, we are destroying our gut microbiome which determines our health.  Simply put, when you harm the gut, you are harming the human.  As a result, we are experiencing an extinction of the diversity of microbes within our gut, which parallels the extinction that is gripping the planet.

Dr. Bush, who has devoted his time to soil science and regenerative agriculture, has been educating farmers on the dangers of chemical farming, making them aware that they are facing the highest levels of chronic disease in the world.  He speaks of the last 90 miles of the Mississippi river that collects about 80% of the Roundup in our environment and is now cancer alleys. 

“If you look at the graph of the growth of GMOs, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it’s literally a one-to-one correspondence.  You could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer’s…Monoculture farms and monoculture factory farms become hotbeds of disease,” comments Dr. Shiva, on the harm caused by this Bayer-Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with GMO crops.

Dr. Bush explains that with every introduction of glyphosate starting with its debut in 1976, spraying of wheat starting in 1992, and the Roundup Ready GMO crops in 1996, there has been an uptick in chronic and autoimmune diseases, inflammatory and neurologic degenerative conditions.  Glyphosate was originally used as an industrial pipe cleaner as it would leach out heavy metal buildup in older pipes.  Millions of acres of U.S. farmland are now covered with glyphosate-resistant superweeds. 

Bayer, a German company, cleverly got the GMO approval for LibertyLink a year before they bought Monsanto.  They are happy to pay billions of dollars in lawsuit settlements as they very slowly phase out glyphosate while the court systems slog along, sweeping in as a savior with their jackpot LibertyLink.  LibertyLink is another GMO approved by the E.U., the U.S., and Canada.  Instead of disrupting the glycine amino acid pathway which glyphosate does, LibertyLink crops–genetically modified to handle spraying of a chemical called glufosinate–disrupt amino acids that are critical for human reproduction.  LibertyLink, unfortunately, is already growing throughout the whole midwest.  “The sperm counts in all Western countries have dropped by 52-57% over the last few decades, and we are now seeing one in three males with a sperm count at infertility level and one in four women is struggling with infertility.  We are losing the capacity to procreate, we are losing the capacity for human life.  We are failing as a biological species because of the collapse of biology beneath our feet, beneath our gut, beneath the soils that dwell around us.” 

Talking about the “victory gardens” in World War II that provided some 40 percent of all produce consumed in the U.S., Dr. Bush says: “We stopped growing food in the United States.  If you think we have a serious crisis in our hospitals now, wait till our food system is disrupted…Our supply chains are tenuous…Kansas–our most agricultural state in the U.S. where 90% of the acreage is agriculturally managed– imports 90% of their food as a state and one in four children is going hungry in Kansas for lack of calories today.”  He laments the dramatic increase in chronic diseases we have seen so far, and notes how our children are aging fast, developing the diseases that we used to see in geriatrics. 

Dr. Bush predicts that if we just look forward to 16 years–four more American presidents–we will hit autism for one in three children, and adults with about 75% cancer rates.  “Our food system is 1.2 trillion dollars a year, our medical system is 3.7 trillion dollars a year.  We are three times outspending our food with just the cost of chronic disease care…We have a completely unsustainable model for agriculture and disease care in the U.S. which is going to drive us bankrupt as a nation…The farmer and the physician have been trained by the same chemical companies and so we have been indoctrinated into the same pharmaceutical codependence and world view, whether we be a farmer or a physician.”  

Discussing his work with his non-profit Farmer’s Footprint, he remarks: “My greatest hope is for this third generation of Roundup children.  Let’s reverse out of that epigenetic doom that we have set for them.  Let them find a pathway into a new epigenetic hope through their reconnection to real food, through a really healthy soil and water ecosystem.” 

Go back to read Part 1 or move on to Part 3!


Paulomi Shah hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food – so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods – and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.


 

Siri with her family (Image by Author)

Siri’s Journey With Autism During the Pandemic

This past year has been a series of ups and downs. My daughter Siri, who has Autism and requires routine, has had to adjust to the changing world around her. Every April during Autism Awareness Month, I share my experience as Siri’s mother and our challenges, so that other parents going through something similar can resonate with our stories and see progress.

Before the pandemic arrived, Siri was busy with many activities like functional fitness, boxing, ice-skating, horse riding, and her internship at Goodwill. She is the type of girl who loves to learn new skills and looks for opportunities to keep herself busy.

Siri boxing before the pandemic (Image by Author)

Naturally, when the pandemic began, we were very worried. We knew that if Siri was bored, she would turn to food as an unhealthy crutch.

To our astonishment, on the third or fourth day into the lockdown period, Siri completely stopped eating and only sought a couple of snacks a day. With both her younger brothers back home during the pandemic, Siri started enjoying their presence in the house. She happily watched them do their zoom classes and ate what they cooked and shared with her. Eventually, we started seeing her shirts and pants fall off her shoulder and hips – all her clothes were extremely loose. We checked with her physician and she said that as long as Siri looks happy, healthy, and is sleeping throughout the night, that we should not worry.

Siri with her mother, Swathi. (Image by Author)
Siri with her mother, Swathi. (Image by Author)

She was so independent that we felt like she had already moved out. The girl who would make her presence known by being loud or pacing when bored had suddenly changed. At one point, we were concerned because we wouldn’t see her often. And when we did see her coming out of her room, she would be happy and humming a tune. She even gave spontaneous hugs to me!

Since her anxiety was at a lower level, I began to teach Siri new skills. We began with some stitching using easy, simple, and small steps. I trained her to make masks and we donated 150 to Saddleback Church in Los Angeles. Siri was so happy to cut the fabric, thread in the needle, and stitch in the way I wanted her to. Her beautiful face glowed as she was packed the masks with a handwritten card inserted in each bag. She started showing interest in drawing and painting too. Later on, we introduced Siri to zoom classes where she was able to do some Bollywood dance, artwork, and also music. 

We, along with a few more like-minded families with special needs kids are working on a community in Sonoma County. We want her, and children like her, to live full, healthy lives without needing their parents for support. In pursuit of this, Clearwater Ranch is developing a program for adults like Siri. Siri, along with three more special-needs young women, will be moving into a house on the ranch by the end of this year. 

Since Siri’s ability to understand the language is affected greatly by her Autism, we are teaching her about her move by taking her to the ranch every other week. We do drive-thru tours for potential families interested in joining us. We explain the process by showing the homes and talking about the future plans for the ranch. 

Our plans for Siri do not stop once she transitions to a new place. Fortunately, this beautiful piece of property sits on an 84acres of land where we plan to develop programs to provide skills to the special-needs residents. We plan to teach them weaving, candle and soap making, painting, farming, pottery, while continuing to focus on their fitness and recreation activities too.   

Siri’s future is bright and promising! 

Join us by following her journey via her Social Media:

FB – https://bit.ly/3deYJ59

IG – https://bit.ly/3g9gAvV 

LI – https://bit.ly/3degilK

YouTube – https://bit.ly/3uOjY3z

Siri’s online business: www.DesignsBySiri.com

Siri’s future home: www.CRanch.net


Swathi Chettipally is a devoted mother and an Autism advocate. Find more about her work with Siri on pinterestinstagram, and youtube.