After a really long time, I fell in love with my mirror. When I stood in front of it yesterday in my black top, I saw a radiant and gorgeous girl. Yes, a girl; a mixture of sweet and saucy, and not a woman. That’s how I would like to describe myself these days. But I guess my girlishness bloomed after the first lockdown was announced in March of last year.
Soon after its announcement, the guy living in the next-door flat fled to another place, leaving the entire balcony to me, prancing amidst my aloe vera plant growing out from a large pot in profusion. As my neighbors grew tired of being locked up in rooms, they slowly started coming out in balconies. Some of them waved, greeted, and smiled for the first time. Among these were a few that I had never set my eyes on before. Covid-19 was finally bringing the community together in an unexpected way.
I spotted a guy with a beard practicing arm exercises one late afternoon on the balcony, sometime in April, while I was watering my plants. His was the flat next to the one opposite mine; he waved and smiled. I waved back. A few days later more waving and more smiling followed and we tried to communicate using signs from our respective balconies.
After this, meetings took place regularly on the road running along the backside of my flat inside my Delhi colony. It is a beautiful spot for late afternoon walks in the summer, lined with tall trees on both sides. I had spent many moments on my own musing on its beauty and humming to myself “I walk a lonely road”. On this road, I walked listening to music on my phone while he paced up and down in his gym vest. At times, we would stop and exchange a few pleasantries.
I thanked my stars for sending me this new diversion during such a difficult time. I dreaded calling my mum for she always fretted and worried. On top of this, too much work burden made me morose at times.
One night after 10 pm, he suddenly called me and demanded to meet at the same spot. It was a silent and dark night with silence weighing heavily all around. The oppressive April heat made my face mask cling to my sweaty face. Not the best romantic situation, but still it couldn’t be helped. We started sauntering and he described his experiences at the hospital (he was a trainee doctor) and I remarked on his bravery. The guy, then, suddenly knelt down on the road and I kind of blushed. His next words were so ridiculous that I burst out laughing. “Will you accept my jujubes? I had kept them in the fridge and thought of gifting you today.”
Before I could say something, the night security guard came running and dispersed us, saying the new rule demands people should not come of their homes late at night in view of the pandemic. I did not accept the jujubes and we ran to our places with the guard at our heels.
Reflecting on the incident later, I felt that my vanity was hurt. He wanted me to accept his jujubes after all and not him. What an immature boy he must be, I decided, and sort of cooled off towards him. Phone calls and balcony meetings became less frequent.
Around this time, a writer entered my life via social media, and that’s pretty common these days, isn’t it? I have always been partial towards poets and writers, and to top it all, this man was super hot. The man-boy doctor soon faded away. Perhaps his biggest fault was he never once complimented me. On the other hand, the writer called me wild and sexy. Needless to say, I was blooming under his compliments.
Soon I discovered my naughty side. I started flooding his phone with my glam pictures wearing makeup and clicked in low light. The lockdown made me experimental and bolder with my clicks. Soon love talks followed, romantic chats filled up my FB messenger, and the doctor guy permanently exited from life. He called a few times but I kind of avoided talking. One fine day in November last year, I discovered the doctor was gone from the neighborhood. I also realized I hadn’t even saved his number. He was sweet and innocent and brought in his wake a taste of budding childhood romance. My girlish side misses him at times.
Ironically, I haven’t met the writer guy yet and don’t think a meeting is likely in the near future. He is too mature and aloof, but he brought out my wilder side. Come to think of it now, both were good short-time romances or whatever you call it and helped brighten up the stressful Covid-19 period. I am too much into myself these days to bother trying to put things into place anymore. I have put away my heart in a locker where it will remain, Covid-19 or no Covid-19.
Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.
Featured Image shot in Hyderabad by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi.
In welcome news and within a week of each other, pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna announced breakthrough vaccines to combat the deadly coronavirus.
Pfizer and its German collaborator BioNTech, say their vaccine may be 90% effective in preventing COVID19 in participants, while Massachusetts-based Moderna expects a vaccine efficacy of 94.5%.
It’s a promising sign in the yearlong battle against an out-of-control pandemic. But though the trends in clinical trials seem positive, don’t throw out your face masks just yet. Experts warn of a long wait before the general public gets access to these newly minted vaccines.
It may be spring 2021 before the vaccine is widely available, which means the coronavirus will continue unabated for a few months more. COVID19 positivity rates reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicate that every state is now a blood-red ‘hotspot.’
Despite warnings from experts, the federal coronavirus task force failed to deliver a comprehensive plan to counter the coronavirus threat. In fact, their strategy has been to “just let the infection run…which is not based on science,” remarked Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean, School of Public Health at Brown University, at a November 13th EMS briefing on the pandemic.
Without adequate federal funding or guidelines, each state has devised its own COVID19 response, but many did not heed the science on containing the spread.
That haphazard approach has had catastrophic consequences. Coronavirus cases are surging across the country. Since November 1, more than 1000 Americans have died of the coronavirus everyday and that number is steadily rising.
“This is not a surprise,” said Dr. Nirav Shah of Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center. “We predicted that in the fall, with people staying indoors and without broad protections ..such as masking, and not gathering in large groups, the numbers would continue to rise.”
Desperate to jumpstart their economies and reopen businesses and schools for a populace weary of quarantines, lockdowns and job losses, states made some bad choices by ignoring the science, said Dr.Jha. Several states (the Dakotas for example), raced to get back to normal by rolling back restrictions on large gatherings, travel and mask mandates. According to the AARP only 35 states mandated face coverings in public. In Boston for example, schools closed but casinos stayed open. “Those are the wrong tradeoffs,” added Dr. Jha.
The COVID Tracking Project currently (as of Nov. 15) has recorded a staggering 76,000 hospitalizations and over 155,000 confirmed cases a day. Experts at the briefing say that figure is much higher.
“Hospitals are being overwhelmed,” warned Dr. Tung Ngyuen (Professor of Medicine, UCSF), as they face bed shortages and burnout from healthcare workers who have “been doing this close to seven or eight months now.”
“We are in the worst moment in the pandemic” said Dr. Jha. He admitted he is baffled by the disconnect between how bad things are and how little attention the country is paying to it. “Right now we have about 150 thousand new cases being identified every day. But the truth is that the true number of infections occurring in the US right now, is between 300 and 400 thousand a day, maybe even closer to 500 thousand. We’re missing them because our testing is inadequate. All those people who are not being identified are of course out there spreading it to others. We are in a moment of exponential growth. We will get to two thousand deaths a day by mid-December.”
Calling it ‘unconscionable,’ Dr. Jha estimates that a 100 thousand more people will die between now and Inauguration Day (January 20th).
However, the advent of two promising vaccines may be a start in the right direction, even though the world has a long wait before it’s rescued from the virus.
“The reality is that it’s just 10 to 20 million doses maximum by the end of the year,” said Dr. Shah. “But it’s going to be some time before we get the kind of widespread availability of multiple vaccines, with secure supply chains to get everyone the two doses they need to actually start to achieve even partial herd immunity.”
It’s unlikely the ‘mRNA vaccines’, created from brand new technology and currently awaiting FDA approval, will arrive before the year end warn experts. Initially, limited supplies of the vaccine will likely be rationed and given to frontline healthcare workers, the vulnerable and the elderly. It could be spring before most of America gets the vaccine.
Though the clinical trials have produced strong results, enough data is not yet available to determine the longevity of the vaccine’s effects, or even its side effects. No one knows what level of protection it will offer younger vs older people, or whether we will need regular vaccinations like the flu shot.
The logistics of storing and distributing the vaccine are equally difficult. The vaccine has to be stored at extremely low temperatures which will make its distribution to remote and rural areas challenging and especially so among communities of color, where “skepticism is high and strong.”
“We are entering the hardest days of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jha on Twitter. “The next two months will see a lot of infections and deaths. But he added, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Today, that light got a bit brighter.”
The disregard for advice from health experts and a lack of trust in science have precipitated some of the worst outbreaks so far, so it’s time say experts, for leaders and the general public to “rebuild the trust” and to stop politicizing the science.
Getting back to normal in the short term will mean that people have to take precautions to avoid transmissions until they can roll up their sleeves to be immunized.
Testing has to ramp up. But in the meanwhile, said Dr. Jha, “Wearing masks are a good thing to do for yourself, you family and community.”
Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents
The answer is NO if “normal” means “status quo ante” or going back to what we were before. The answer is neither disappointing nor a surprise. It is absurd to expect something to stay standstill in an endlessly rotating planet called Earth which is somersaulting in an immeasurably vast universe. Our impatience, however, in waiting for the dreadful pandemic to end is indisputably natural. Sure enough, It will end because nothing lasts forever.
So what will post-pandemic pictures unfold to our weary eyes?
We have to watch what follows with cautious optimism. Jumping off the hell is not synonymous with plunging in heaven. The spectrum of the post-pandemic period will be interspersed with new challenges testing our prophetic prudence. Have we mastered our learned lessons or will our fickle memory sequester it in oblivion? If we are intelligent enough, it will prepare us for the future. For the sake of brevity and expediency, let us settle our hopes and fears in two classes.
WHAT WE HOPE FOR:
We hope to have surmised that we are truly mortals who have learned that death does not always visit us in small and scattered incidents. It may as well raid us in a sweeping, devastating way and compel us to feel like helpless prey. As we dreadfully watched the steep rise in brutal mortality caused by the pandemic, science also told us that such catastrophes are not unprecedented.
We have been frequented by episodes of smallpox, polio, plague, cholera, Hong Kong and Spanish flu, and such disasters of diseases propounded by microbes. We feel like running deers chased by a terrifying tiger close behind. The pandemic we are facing is neither the first one nor the last one. A second pandemic could well be preparing itself, waiting for its opportune time. They may be unpredictable but chronologically sequenced with the passage of time.
We hopefully are better prepared each time, cautiously cognizant for the world. We have to communicate faster than the velocity of the worms and combat by a joint endeavor. This is the only way to curtail our mortality imminent upon a visit by unanticipated invaders. Pointing accusatory fingers at who started this microbial massacre will only amputate our aiding arms. United we stand, Divided we fall.
“Let us hang in together, or indeed each one of us will hang separately,” as most prophetically pronounced by Benjamin Franklin.
A bacterial war will be won only by sound teamwork unifying the whole world as a single team. By not learning this lesson this time, we made a serious mistake of creating Divided Countries of the World and paid an exorbitant price for it. History has a pattern of repeating itself unless we are vigilantly watching with a discerning eye.
What we hope not:
We hope not that this pernicious pandemic leaves any sequelae behind. Sequela is a medical term used for complications that emerge long after the disease disappears. This infection is new to us and therefore, we are not completely knowledgeable about the course it may run. We will have to combat all complications as they come.
Not only the physical but also the psychological damage that the pandemic can leave behind may need to be faced factually. Our particular concern should be centered around our children who have painfully grown through a period of sustained trauma and deprivations.
I met a young man who passed his childhood in a war zone. Years later, he wakes up screaming at night when hearing an ambulance pass by. Children, in general, may be equipped with greater immunity against the disease but they are also more prone to retain a sustained memory of a mental trauma that they were exposed to. No math can predict the extent of the aftermath. It is essential to remember this aspect because children of today will be the deciding fate of tomorrow.
I am also concerned that too many stream sessions and loss of interpersonal interactions may lead us to subordinate the value of human touch and direct encounters. To deal with peoples’ images rather than people themselves can push us downstream fostering a phobia for live human interactions. Our emotional and physical closeness to each other is the very bulwark on which we sustain. Let us not be unmindful that we need each other to survive and thrive.
“Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing, “ said T.S. Elliot.
The social, economic, and emotional impact of this catastrophe should not be underestimated either. Depression, suicidal tendencies, self-effacing and destructive patterns of behavior, and horrors of hooliganism may surface much to our dismay.
Finally, we hope this tragedy does not drive us away from God. God may not protect our Temples and Churches but the secret of our love and happiness lies in God hidden in our hearts. We keep on hoping because Hope is nothing but the constancy of faith. Most faiths have accepted and established a parent-child relationship with God. The more we are disappointed, the more we turn to Him until we are hale and healed. The course of our actions will let us see who we are and who we are not. Our deepest compassion for the bereaved families should never fade.
Peace! Peace!! Peace!
Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This pandemic is the most collective experience we have been through as a generation. And yet, it is also one of the most uniquely individual experiences. Its effect on certain people, families, or businesses, and even countries is so particular to their circumstances, responsibilities, responses, and coping mechanisms. In spite of the stimulation of endless input from technology, this time has caused people to look within, into deeper places where they have not been before. A feat that was unthinkable in the old normal where we had no time to breathe, let alone reflect.
And if we have listened, within these deeper places we humans have found a playground of emotions and revelations. For me, the biggest observation has been of my own fears.
Fear is one of the most private emotions. Unlike sadness, anger, and grief it is not a very visible one. We rarely see a physical display of this deep-rooted emotion. But during this time, we have seen fear on a large and collective scale. With its seed in the fear of the virus, this mass unfolding of fear became a mirror for my own garnered fears that were unrelated to the pandemic. Shocked at this discovery and its parallels with the current world situation, I realized that if I did not address them in a healthy way, I would be paralyzed from moving forward just as the world currently is. And worse than outer lockdown is inner lockdown! In the case of my own latent fears, there is no medical research or promised cures, I had to find my own solution. Propelling me to realize that solutions even if supported by external forces, must come from within.
I have always looked at the wisdom of Indian philosophy to provide answers. As a Vedanta student of many years, when in doubt one turns to the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita or the Divine Song is known to be a text that can answer any questions. The Gita is a sermon of courage to the despondent, a manual of duty and dharma through which one can get to the goal without incurring any bondage. The Gita takes place on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra where the cousin armies of the Pandavas and Kauravas face each other in the battle to claim the throne of Hastinapur. The Pandavas have Krishna, while the Kauravas have the royal armies and all the skilled and respectable teachers. On seeing his kith and kin: uncles, brothers, and teachers, the illustrious warrior Arjuna sees the battle as pointless, he starts to think in the moment that it would be better to live on alms than to murder those that are his own. He drops his weapons and says that he will not fight. To his utter surprise, his Lord and friend Krishna says, “Yield not to this unmanliness, O Partha, it does not befit you. Casting off this mean weakness of heart, arise O Parantapa.” (Chapter 2, Verse 3, Bhagavad Gita, translated by A. Parthasarthy)
The profound message of the Gita is not to freeze, not to be paralyzed by the circumstances but to stride through them with courage, fortitude, and a sense of duty. Duty is higher than the envisioned concepts of right and wrong, likes, and dislikes. This would of course mean different things to different people according to their dharma in life. This time as I read the Gita, once again it did not fail to pick me up from the shambles and inspire me to arise against my inner obstacles.
In the same thread, I was reminded of Swami Vivekananda’s messages on courage and fearlessness. Swami Vivekananda was the first ambassador of Vedanta in the West and he became known for the bold messages that evoked a sense that we are full and complete because we are part of Atman, therefore all is well and we have nothing to fear. He said, “Freedom can never be reached by the weak. Throw away all weakness. Tell your body that it is strong, tell your mind that it is strong, and have unbounded faith and hope in yourself.”
If it were not for the pandemic, I could not have dwelled deep in my fears and allow myself to be inspired by the great leaders of my culture and faith. While we all continue to stride through the storm, may we remember that how we face this in our own lives is a choice. While being informed and precautious, may we approach our unknown New Normal with courage, acceptance of what we cannot change, and most importantly, without fear.
Just like everyone else, I remember where I was when the COVID-19 lockdown was announced. It struck as the school year was growing to a close in India. Thanks to it, the school where I worked closed down prematurely, and boy, was I happy about it. Fate laughed in my face just a few days later when just about everything locked down, and I understood a weird thing about myself.
I had been wanting some days to myself, where I could stay home, and forget about work. It happened. I wanted to stay in and not go out, vegetate at home completely. That happened. I wanted to concentrate on my home and my family. That happened too.
An ideal situation, yes, but just one caveat – it was not on my terms. Fate was forcing me to have a holiday. Every person I talked to said the same thing. Most of us being average salaried employees with a little money in the bank to fall back upon, we finally had some time to rest up and have family time. But to a man and woman, we resented it. To us, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’.
By the end of Lockdown 3, I’d truly had it. I got exactly what I asked for, but because it was imposed on me, I was PO-ed. As a family, we had maintained a kind of guarded peace at home, but we all knew that we were nearing the end of our tethers.
I had wild dreams about what I’d do the instant lockdown lifted. Not exactly floating on pastel-colored clouds, laughing for no reason and blowing bubbles, but something of the kind that was more suited to an obese 50-year-old. Visiting the library, going out with like-minded friends to chat over coffee and pakodas, catching a movie with family, going clothes shopping, that kind of thing. You know, all the normal things people like to do that won’t break the bank.
Fate gave me the break I wanted. But the tab, when it came, was huge. Coming out of lockdown, nothing was normal, and I just didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go out, but go out where and do what?
Meeting friends was out – nobody wanted to come to my house and nobody wanted me at theirs. I could shop for essentials, but where was the fun in buying atta and chili powder? Therapeutic shopping, where you buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have and suffer guilt pangs for days, was out because the malls weren’t open yet. Eating out was out … unless you wanted to picnic on the sidewalk – restaurants were only doing takeout. You couldn’t travel … heck, you couldn’t leave town because the city limits were closed.
I could go for a walk, but that would be just lame – like chewing on a carrot stick when you’ve got major cheesecake cravings.
And then there was the psychological component. Fear was an overwhelming factor. I’d heard stories from my father about how, during the plague, they would vacate their house if they saw a dead rat. In the case of Corona, there wasn’t any overt sign at all. Any desire to meet anyone was overridden by the trepidation – were they symptomless carriers? Even if they were clean, who had they met?
Those were the insidious things about COVID – suspicion and misgiving. What if the person I’m talking to was carrying the virus? S/he just sniffed – was s/he sick? Was that a Corona sniff or generic? Why? You might give people heart attacks by just sneezing.
Ever since my childhood, I’ve always loved to ride in auto rickshaws. When we moved back to India, I had got back in my auto habit without missing a beat. Since I was too chicken to drive, I took autos everywhere to the extent that I became the patron saint of the ‘auto men’ at our street corner. But now with Corona dominating the landscape inside and out, it became an effort to commit to an auto ride. Yes, things that I’d taken for granted became painful decisions.
When it came to food, it got weirder. The cooks, the deliverymen … and even the food – all were suspect. And, why was I paying the big bucks when I had all the ingredients at home and all the time in the world to cook it? It just felt wrong. Dang, I was becoming my mother!
So, where I had thought I couldn’t wait to get out, I was now afraid to leave the house. I wasn’t winning this game, I wasn’t even breaking even. Aargh, what was I to do?
That was when I got an invite … for a puja at a friend’s place! It was just perfect! I had a legitimate excuse to get out. I could actually meet people other than family. Also, though I’m not very religious, I believe in hedging my bets. It might not be a bad idea to work myself into His good books. Or Hers. And finally, I’d be eating someone else’s cooking – you just can’t refuse prasad, don’t you know?
Now came the preparations to step out. In India, by some association, silk and gold are related to prayer and religious observances in India and it is practically law that you must wear a silk sari to a religious ceremony. Who was I to question this hoary tradition … especially since I had a new silk sari with a newly stitched matching blouse that actually fit me?
Dressing to go out took forever. I had always been quite at home in saris as I’d worn them since I was 18, but the two months of dressing down in pajama bottoms and tank tops had taken its toll. Draping the sari took 10 minutes longer than normal and it felt horribly uncomfortable. Wearing bangles or bracelets had been a pre-COVID habit too. I snapped on my watch and put on a bunch of gaily-colored bangles – and instantly felt like I was manacled. I put on a gold chain (remember the unwritten law?) and felt like a middle-aged street dog forced into a collar for the first time. As for when I put on some lipstick, I felt like a painted woman. It felt all wrong.
However, being made out of strong stuff, I sailed across the threshold all manacled and chained … only to have my husband call me back.
“Haven’t you forgotten something?” he asked. I had my purse, I had my handkerchief, I had some Tupperware in case of leftover prasad … what else did I need?
He held out a black cotton mask. I stared at it, full realization hitting me. Putting it on, I realized bitterly that I might as well have been wearing an old nightie. At least, I’d have been more comfortable.
A drive in an auto restored some of my mood. When I got there, however, I was greeted not by the usual tray with haldi, kumkum, and flowers, but by the lady of the house holding out hand sanitizer. The penetrating smell of the chemical didn’t vibe with the look and feel of puja. The place looked like a masquerade ball or a massive hold-up with everyone wearing masks. I couldn’t recognize most faces and blundered around until the puja began.
To me, pujas have always been a time for my mind to wander. After the first suklam baradaram vishnum, my mind took off as usual. It is hard to focus during a puja when there isn’t anything specific to focus on. Priests can say just about any shloka they want and get away with it as long as they are careful to insert some well-known ones in between. It may be pouring for hours, leaving everyone blaming global warming, while it is only the priest next door reciting the Varuna Japa shlokas for a Ganapathi puja.
Then it was time for the unmasking … the eating, that is. The fare was simple, but delicious. As I tucked into the uppittu with coconut chutney and kesari baath, I finally felt at home. That was when I realized that it is the smallest things that make up normality – things like family and friends gathering for a meal, trading little jokes, laughing together. Meeting, catching up with each other. Taking selfies and pictures of unsuspecting people tucking into food. Laughing at silly things and sharing sad news.
I came away, reassured. No matter what, Corona can never take that away from us.
Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.
Though separated by a malfunctioning Zoom dashboard, I could see the passion radiating from youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak when I met the team for the first time. “How can we contribute to our society? How do we make a difference?”, asked Sky Yang, founder and Chief Executive Officer of the group. “It is our responsibility as members of the community to stop the COVID-19 outbreak from spreading and endangering more people.”
More than fifteen teenagers from across the country were constituents of this virtual board meeting, where the team discussed their recent impact on the community, sources of funding, and plans for the future. I found myself nodding with silent pride for my generation. Despite the onslaught of Advanced Placement testing, final exams, and pre-college drudgery, so many students have dedicated their time and tears towards addressing the outbreak — an effort that was thoroughly refreshing to watch. Over the past three months, a handful of teenagers established ten chapters across three states, received thousands of dollars in donations, and collectively distributed more than five hundred masks to local communities. Impressed and slightly intimidated by this nonprofit’s meteoric rise, I decided to chat with the teenagers who made it happen.
Sky Yang, Founder and CEO of Break the Outbreak
How did Break The Outbreak begin? Were there any obstacles you faced during the initial stages of founding the organization?
In the beginning, I realized that people don’t have a centralized platform to post about COVID-19 necessities and assistance. Instead, I found hundreds of posts on platforms like Facebook, NextDoor, Reddit, and Instagram. Inspired, I spent three straight days and nights to construct our website — https://breaktheoutbreak.org/.
This was just the beginning. At the time, I still had a few months of school left and managed to recruit four like-minded students from the city. Once I formed a small team, we were on the move — buying supplies, editing the website, and trying to figure out what places needed our help. Eventually, we decided to direct our attention to different stages of the food industry, from farmer’s markets to grocery stores to restaurants.
In April, we partnered with a local Rigatoni’s, and Break the Outbreak took off from there. It was difficult at first. Our operations were small at the time, and we had to finance them on our own. Without a relationship with local establishments, we faced initial rejections from many restaurants. But we persevered and forged a student network with San Ramon. After gaining traction among local farmers’ markets, we expanded in cities like Fremont, Pleasanton, Roseville, Salt Lake City, Chillicothe, Los Angeles, and San Jose.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your cause, could you describe what “Break The Outbreak” does?
Break The Outbreak is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to donating masks, face shields, and money to local businesses in order to keep them afloat during the current times of global pandemic as well as when the pandemic is eradicated. The meaning behind the title “Break The Outbreak” simply means: breaking out of the current outbreak of pandemic and rising from the rubble it has created.
Lizzie Davies, Director of Livermore Chapter
Tell us a little more about your group’s experience in making masks? What kind of technology is required? How do you maintain safety and sanitary standards?
Making masks was actually quite difficult at first. We had many problems with the quality of the masks not being good enough and having to get rid of them. It took us a while to get a small subsection of individuals that would do a good job and produce high-quality masks. We had to learn how to use a sewing machine as well as be meticulous with our work. We couldn’t settle for something mediocre, so often times masks had to be redone to ensure that they were safe enough. Face shields on the other hand were quite easy to make. To maintain sanitary standards, all of the materials are cleaned beforehand — the cloth is thoroughly washed and all shield materials are wiped down with disinfectant. All materials are then cleaned a second time once it has been assembled.
Adithya Krishnaraj, Director of San Ramon Chapter
Here’s a simple tutorial documenting how Break the Outbreak makes their face shields!
Over the course of your time with “Break the Outbreak”, have there been any notable stories about students you’ve worked with or projects you’ve initiated that you would like to share?
I remember the first time we ever donated and it was at Rigatoni’s in Dublin. I remember that we were pretty nervous in that donation because none of us had done anything like this before and we really didn’t know how to approach it. We just went in and talked to the staff and they gratefully accepted our donations. It was a great feeling being able to donate to people in need and knowing that these donations will help save lives. It was a great day and kicked off our operation as Break the Outbreak. I think the most positive response we’ve experienced has been from Banana Garden in Dublin. When I talked to the owners Luis and Aldo over the phone, they were very encouraging of our operation and were delighted to see us when we arrived to donate. Though we were social distancing and all wearing masks, I could see the happiness on Aldo’s face when we handed him the box of PPE and he got the whole staff to try our face shields on then and there. Luis was very grateful and offered us tokens of their appreciation as well. It was a nice gesture and an enjoyable experience which made us all happy to be part of Break the Outbreak.
Ansh Tripathi, Associate Founder
5) There are millions of adults working ‘round the clock to promote safety and awareness. Why do you think it’s important for young people to contribute to these efforts as well?
I’ve seen people die due to the virus. I’ve seen people lose jobs due to the virus. I’ve seen companies shut down due to the virus. I want the world to return to normalcy when people aren’t skeptical of each other, when we can sit in classrooms for school, and when everyone isn’t afraid of a global pandemic. Since most young people are quarantined at home doing nothing during these hard times, I think it is important to contribute to society. We can do our part and help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Sam Zhou, Director of Roseville Chapter
What advice can you give other young teenagers who want to make a difference during these nebulous circumstances?
When people try to tell you that your plan isn’t going to work, you’re too young to make a difference, or your voice is unimportant in a world full of powerful adults, you cannot let their words stop you from moving forward. There will always be people that will try to tell you that you’re either not good enough or you won’t succeed, but if you believe that you will succeed, then you will. Letting people’s harsh words pollute your conscious won’t allow progress to be made.
Lizzie Davies, Director of Livermore Chapter
Break the Outbreak is a powerful reminder of how initiative sprouts from adversity. It’s the kind of sprawling endeavor that requires a medley of both courage and compassion from its members. It’s evidence that young people want to make a difference, and will.
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I turned sixteen a week ago. I spent my birthday in the sweltering yet comforting solitude of my bedroom trying to prevent my English teacher from finding out and avoiding awkward attempts by her to acknowledge it by making our class sing to me. I also tried a Zoom peer review with a friend.
It’s finals season for me. So no matter what, I will probably be doing homework through my birthday for the next couple of years, as it always falls right before finals.
It was a busy birthday. I was studying for the last trig test and the last chem quiz of the year, doing Spanish practice activities, and brainstorming less-than-dumb ways to actually finish my photography assignment.
But somehow this year, I felt more alone than ever. And I’m including the birthday when I cried in a bathroom at school because I was so embarrassed about a bad assignment (sixth-grade Kaavya was a weird kid!)
Two of my friends were sweet enough to drop by with gifts (a Tupperware of brownies and a bunch of snacks, bless their hearts), and I will love them forever for that. But I was still pretty much stuck at home all day.
Turning “sweet sixteen” in quarantine was not what I expected.
At the very least, I hoped that I could go out with friends, even if we didn’t go all-out. Ideally, that would be eating exorbitant amounts of ice cream with the monthly Baskin Robbins deal (a dollar per scoop is too much of a bargain to pass up) or drinking bubble tea in the late spring sunshine. We’d probably be pretending we weren’t stressed about finals either. That’s okay, though.
Admittedly, I shouldn’t complain. On my birthday, I was quarantined with my family of five, which helped alleviate the irritation of being stuck with one person for too long. And there was my favorite thing alive, Luna, my cousin’s dog, adorable, fluffy, and faster than any person I’ve met.
But it just doesn’t feel like your birthday without seeing your friends.
The night before I turned 16, I watched both Mamma Mia movies with friends and they sang me happy birthday at midnight, which I loved.
The thing is, my birthday has never been my favorite day. I don’t like the awkwardness of happy birthday greetings and teachers trying to get my classes to sing to me. I do appreciate family and friends buying me books and being able to choose the cake.
But I don’t like getting older. I would’ve gladly stayed six years old, when I could read all day and get complimented for it. Today, being productive means ACT prep, schoolwork, debate, summer courses, and something else I’m probably still forgetting.
Or, I’d much rather be in the last couple months of being fourteen last year when I was riding high off the end of debate season, good test scores, and good mental health.
Quarantine has worsened that regret of getting older. The last three months have not felt like actual months, but just lapses in time that may or may not have happened. My birthday was just the frosting on the cake (cue groans about how bad this pun is).
I’m sixteen though. Not much can change that. Unless I get in some odd Benjamin Button situation or the time travel mishaps in Avengers: Endgame.
Age is just a number, I guess. Sixteen is only significant for being four squared.
There’s always next year. And the year after.
Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.
Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.
It took three weeks, but Lawrence and Arlene Maze finally persuaded their younger son, Gregory, of Los Angeles, to get on a flight home to Austin.“He basically shut his business down to come here and has to restart his business when it’s safe,” his father said. “It was a very difficult decision.”
Alex Rose, a 33-year-old event producer and recording artist, didn’t need much persuasion. She spent a couple of weeks alone in her 500-square-foot Hollywood apartment, taking long walks to break up the days. In mid-March, her event bookings and performances began to disappear. Then a neighbor showed her video of an arsonist setting trash can fires on their street and she saw the melted cans next to her building.
“All of a sudden I didn’t feel safe anymore,” she said. “I didn’t feel safe, and frankly, I felt totally alone.”
The next morning, she and her cat, Eloise, flew home to Austin to her mother and stepdad.
As COVID-19 has ripped through densely populated communities, millennials have fled their own cramped quarters for less congested cities with more room in their parents’ homes. They are near family should someone get sick. The familiarity is comforting in an uncertain time. Overwhelmingly, parents and their adult children view the arrangement as temporary. Of course, no one knows how long “temporary” might last.
Lawrence Maze said the thinking was that Gregory could help him or his wife if they got sick, and they could help him if he did. Also, they believed Austin’s health care system would be less stressed than L.A.’s.“He’s lived on his own now for a very long time,” Lawrence said. “It’s not like he moved back into his old house. He knows he’s living in a guest bedroom.”
It’s a major disruption for young adults who have established their lives thousands of miles from home: They keep paying rent on empty places. They have left behind their routines and social lives. Some have lost their work. Others can work remotely alongside parents who are doing the same.
The magnitude of the outbreak has, for a time, reordered American lives. It’s fostering unexpected togetherness.
Rose’s mother, Elizabeth Christian, said her daughter hasn’t visited Austin this long since she was in college, and now “nobody is rushing off to do anything.”
“We’re having meals together. And we’re watching movies at night,” she said.
Christian and her husband, Bruce Todd, a former Austin mayor, wanted to make sure Rose got back before California wouldn’t allow her to leave or Texas wouldn’t let her in.
Sarah and Ken Frankenfeld had barely moved into their downsized townhome when the coronavirus pandemic brought their 31-year-old son and his girlfriend from New York City to quarantine with them.
“I was nervous about how this was going to work,” Sarah Frankenfeld said of their lack of furniture and readiness for houseguests. They’d met his girlfriend for one evening a few months earlier. “He hasn’t lived here in a while. But it’s worked and it’s been lovely.”
Kevin Frankenfeld, who works in digital, social strategy and marketing, has lived in New York almost nine years. He and his girlfriend, Maddie Haller, wanted to quarantine together.
“In Manhattan or Brooklyn, people are just on top of one another,” he said. “So we wanted to get out of town.”
This shared feeling of lockdown with so much unknown can cause stress and make us feel lonely and anxious, even with others around, said Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general from 2014 to 2017.
“In this moment, we have no idea when the pandemic will end,” he said. “We don’t know when our lives will go back to normal.”
Well before the stay-at-home orders, Murthy recognized Americans’ increased loneliness, prompting his new book, “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.” Now that many are isolated by themselves, he urges us to “step back and take stock of our lives.”
“The silver lining of COVID-19 is that it’s given us the opportunity to reset our social lives and remember how essential relationships are to our well-being,” he said.
Rose is doing her own reset. She’s among California’s estimated 2 million self-employed. But because of the pandemic, she’s applying for full-time jobs around the country in digital media and project management.
“When I left L.A., I never expected that I would not go back to that apartment,” she said. With her lease up in June, she asked a friend to pack up her place and move everything into storage.
Rose and her mother returned late Sunday from a quick turnaround to California to retrieve Rose’s tiny 2016 Fiat 500 that was stranded six weeks in long-term airport parking.
Gregory Maze, 33, is a private chef, event caterer and part-owner of a coffee truck business. He moved to L.A. five years ago.
“I’m fortunate to have a situation like this, but leaving L.A. was not on my terms,” he said. “It’s out of my hands. I really don’t know what the landscape is going to look like at the end of this.”
While some younger adults mock baby boomers with the “OK boomer” meme, the pandemic seems to have shifted the tone — at least where parents are concerned.
Suzanne and Stuart Newberg’s older son, Jared, 27, and his girlfriend, Melissa Asensio, both of Manhattan, arrived March 21 to quarantine together.
“They bought one-way plane tickets and we said, ‘You’re welcome as long as you need to be here,’” Suzanne Newberg said.
Jared and Melissa, who both worked full time in their New York City offices, now work remotely from Austin. His three roommates left for their hometowns about a week before Jared and Melissa. Her two roommates left New York around the same time.
“It was a lot safer and more comfortable to come here,” Jared said. “We’re super-lucky and super-fortunate.”
Back in New York, one of Kevin Frankenfeld’s roommates remains in their three-bedroom apartment. The other went home to Boston. Maddie lives in the same neighborhood. Her apartment is empty now. Both Kevin and Maddie work full time remotely and are glad they’re not in the city.
“We didn’t want to be stuck in a small apartment to isolate in a hotbed,” Kevin said. “Here we’ve got a green area, dishwasher and laundry.”
Drone photographs of a parking lot outside a San Antonio food bank last week showed a staggering 10,000 cars awaiting delivery of food aid packages. Though media coverage is awash with statistics on unemployment rates and job losses caused by the pandemic, nothing captured the desperation of millions of Americans unable to put food on the table, like the image of the parking lot packed with cars of people in need of food.
“”I panicked. I’ve never seen a line that long,” food bank CEO Eric Cooper told NPR, as more than 4000 families, in addition to the 6000 who had registered, showed up tor free food.
Hunger and food insecurity is surging in the US as poor and unemployed households in a crippled economy struggle to make choices between rent, food or transportation.
Thousands of children who rely on low cost or free lunches provided by the National School Lunch Program are severely impacted by the food crisis. The program feeds almost 30 million school children every day. But as school closures forced by COVID-19 shutdowns disrupt access to nutritious meals, officials across the country are scrambling to find ways to make sure vulnerable children don’t go hungry.
And, while countries like the US try to avert coronavirus-related food crises for their people, COVID-19 is on the verge of creating a devastating hunger pandemic in the developing world.
“This means they were already on the extreme end of the hunger spectrum-weak, and less well-equipped to fend off the virus. A crisis within a crisis could emerge.”
COVID-19 could have catastrophic consequences in countries where vulnerable populations are already besieged by malnutrition, food scarcity, inadequate healthcare systems and lost livelihoods. David M. Beasley executive director of the U.N. World Food Program warns that the pandemic has the potential to push millions “to the brink of starvation” and detonate a hunger pandemic that may “sow the seeds of famine in its wake.”
This view was shared by several experts at a telebriefing organized by Ethnic Media Services (May 8), to understand the mounting health and hunger challenges that COVID-19 is imposing on the developing world.
Dulce Gamboa, a senior associate at Bread for the World, shared evidence from the World Food Program that the number of people facing food crises would soar to 265 million by the end of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The world has never seen an ‘unprecedented’ hunger emergency like this,” she said, where millions of people facing a hunger crisis around the world don’t even know where their next meal is coming from.
People living in poverty and poorer economic nations face the prospect of starvation because lockdowns and social distancing measures during the pandemic undermine their ability to work and earn an income, while disrupting agricultural production and supply routes.
Almost 94 million people from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Central America and the Middle East will require humanitarian food assistance, stated Gamboa. A USAID Famine Early Warning System reported that the macroeconomic devastation, driven by a multitude of factors – protracted conflict, droughts, displacement and sudden loss of income and livelihood – was compounded by the hunger pandemic.
Though there are no changes in food prices, said Gamboa, “the food security situation for people living in poverty is likely to deteriorate significantly worldwide,” especially in countries like Sudan that were struggling even before the outbreak. The hunger crisis is also being monitored in Zimbabwe, Southern Africa, DRC and the Horn of Africa.
Poorer households in the informal economies of Latin American countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have been impacted by declining remittances from the US, while in Venezuela, where nearly nine million were already suffering from malnutrition, people are under siege both from a collapsed economy and the fallout from the pandemic.
In Latin America, where an estimated 130 million live in low income barrios and villages, people are worried about being able to feed their families. They fear that hunger will kill them before the coronavirus does, said Gamboa.
How will poorer nations fight the virus “as the economic and health crisis becomes a global hunger crisis?
“A rise in malnutrition is inevitable,” said Gamboa, as COVID-19 exacerbates conditions for vulnerable populations at risk of poor nutrition. Reduced dietary quality will impact immune systems, increase underlying health conditions, and threaten the healthcare of mothers and children. Newborns have a 100 day window to establish a strong immune system, says Gamboa. “A young, malnourished child will be stunted for life”
As COVID-19 churns through communities, upending the course of daily life as it chokes off access to food, healthcare and money, the FAO has launched a $110 million appeal for humanitarian aid to protect the food security of vulnerable populations.
Gamboa is urging the US to lead a strong global response to protect the food security of and ensure $12 billion in funding for global food, health and humanitarian assistance.
“There are red flags,” said Gamboa, which indicate that famine could be likely in the absence of humanitarian aid.
Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.
Ruma Sikka, a realtor in Washington D.C., is using Zoom and Facetime to show her homes virtually on Open House days, ever since COVID-19 shuttered her city in March.
“Surprisingly,” she says, “I’m busier than I’ve been before. Since real estate has been declared an essential business, we are open – we just can’t show houses the traditional way.”
Doing things the traditional way is fast becoming a thing of the past as the coronavirus changes how society goes about the daily business of life.
Past pandemics left the societies they visited transformed forever. As we cope with Covid-19, the invisible microscopic monster circling our cities and homes in real-time like its 13th and 20th-century cousins, major social changes are already being seeded.
The Black Death that raged through 13th century Europe and Asia took a human toll but also sparked enormous social unrest. Historians trace a direct trajectory between the impact of the plague and the destruction of feudalism in Europe, leading to the Age of Enlightenment and the Renaissance. The Spanish Flu of the early 20tht century crippled economic activity, leading historians to speculate that the economic misery in its wake paved the way for fascism and authoritarian dictators like Hitler and Mussolini.
Today, in the first quarter of the 21st century, a global pandemic is visiting mankind again. It’s been identified and sourced and we even have a DNA profile and snapshot of the perpetrator. The world is at its mercy, practicing social distancing and shelter-in-place while fending off infection with masks, gloves, and ventilators.
In this new dystopian reality that has become our lives, Ruma represents the resourcefulness with which many professions are adapting to the needs of the moment.
As the COVID quarantine encircles daily lives and workplaces, regular folk are adopting new norms – many of which could become permanent social transformations as we battle the beast together.
For Deepa Chakrapani at the World Bank in Washington D.C., teleworking is proving to be a phenomenon that is a lot more productive and viable than expected.
“There are no scheduling conflicts. Everyone is in quarantine so no excuses! We are a lot more focused and…. we are beginning to realize how much we can get done without meeting in person.
She predicts that telework which has been undervalued for years (being reserved for illness or pregnancy), will be reassessed as an alternative to costly travel. It’s a view echoed by strategy consultant Natasha Marwaha, who finds working from her home office more efficient, collaborative, and productive. “I think, going forward, telework will not be scorned as working-lite!”
A real boon is the hours saved on her commute adds Deepa. “Apart from more time at home with my teenagers (who are captive audiences now), it’s given me an opportunity to volunteer as block captain in my neighborhood. I check up on neighbors, especially elderly ones, and make sure they are doing alright.”
“I feel we are living through a social experiment,” says Deepa, “and its product will be a greater sense of community—I think there will be more awareness of the contribution of everyone, in whatever profession or situation, to society’s well being.”
Perhaps this awareness is nature’s antidote to the ‘social pollution’ affecting society. Consultant Rahul Prakash coined the term to describe “…the rise in competitiveness and a constant outward focus towards more” that has accompanied the rise in prosperity in the last decade. The explosion of social media”, he says, “has created a FOMO mode for our lives – more wealth, more travel, more friends, more visibility.”
Rahul, who has worked in Private Equity for 25 years and advises companies in the Mergers and Acquisitions space, says his particular business has stalled due to the economic uncertainty. But the pandemic has pushed a pause button. “We are being forced to disengage from all that extra noise and activity that comes with social excess, and concentrate on essentials, on the essence of life and family.” There is a benefit to the isolation and down time everyone is experiencing.
“It’s hard to predict the economic fallout from this pandemic,” he muses. “Though, I doubt it’ll be a V- shaped recovery.” But one of the more significant economic effects of this pandemic will be how recovery money is distributed, he feels. “The social and economic are all very intertwined in our current economic shutdown.”
Recovery from the pandemic however, will take more than contributions from the federal stimulus package or government handouts. Ordinary citizens are stepping up to help and make a difference, volunteering with food deliveries, sewing masks and donating supplies.
Jason, a medical resident on the front line of the crisis treating COVID patients every day, is Natasha Marwaha ‘s son. His mother worries about him all the time.
“I haven’t seen him in weeks. He’s staying away because he doesn’t want to expose us,” says Natasha. “Everyone is working diligently in his hospital.”
Along with her family, Natasha has started a D.C. based charity to collect personal protective equipment like masks, for essential workers. “Early on in the pandemic, the shortage of PPE worried us, and we wanted to contribute, especially since my son is in the frontline.”
To date, they’ve raised more than their goal amount.
The pandemic is demanding the most of medical professionals like Jason, while changing how they manage their regular patient load.
“Dealing with COVID is like flying a plane while reading the manual,” says Dr. Narain Rajan, a cardiologist who practices in Washington D.C. “You simply don’t know when something you’re doing is going to be wrong, and disaster will hit.”
The crush is peaking at the hospital where he performs procedures in ICU’s filled with COVID patients. “I think we learnt from New York’s bitter lesson and created extra hospital capacity on time, so there’s no overwhelming of resources,” says Rajan, but he worries about going home every day and exposing his wife and children to COVID.
He shrugs off his frontline hero status. “I come home in my scrubs and then proceed to scrub myself thoroughly – we have to live with this risk, there’s no other option.”
It’s an option filled with “a sense of mission and urgency which makes every day rewarding, even while it’s heartbreaking,” says Vandna Kishore, a pharmacist at the FDA. “A couple of weeks ago I was on rotation for emergency authorizations for specific medicines which are needed to enroll patients in trials right away. I was struck by the influx of applications for teens, pregnant women, and young adults who need to be intubated and given these medicines. The applications for pregnant women are particularly hard, emotionally.”
“We are terribly busy at the Agency,” says Vandna. Response teams that include FDA employees have set up screening procedures and testing centers nationally, at critical locations, – some are even in parking lots. “We’ve also speeded up the process of the emergency authorization of the use of certain trial medicines for extremely sick patients, (medicines like hydroxychloroquine and remisdivir) and are fast tracking the process of reviewing how effective they are.”
Healthcare practitioners like her are juggling an enormous workload as they cope with the COVID crisis and its constantly changing landscape.
Vandna and her husband are teleworking as much as possible from home as does Dr. Rajan, who minimizes face-to-face contact with patients for non-emergencies, through online consultations via Zoom or WebX. “I’m shifting to a lot more telemedicine with my patients to limit physical contact. It’s working pretty well, so far, he says. “The new patient-centered approach requires patients to take some of their own vital signs which he monitors, and provides pre-emptive care to keep patients away from the hospital. “I used to have 15-20 patients in the office a day, and now we only see 1-2 of the serious cases.”
Dr. Rajan believes that telemedicine will begin to play a much bigger role in future patient care, since statistics will prove how effective it could be.
But unlike professionals in other fields who feel teleworking has opened new possibilities in the workplace, architect Madhur Khanna finds it cramps the creativity required in the architectural design world. “There’s something about face-to-face consultation when a design is being worked on, which is irreplaceable,” Khanna, who is part owner of her own consulting company still completing projects because construction is an ‘essential’ service.
There is a silver lining to her quarantined life, however. Khanna now takes a walk every afternoon, something which was unthinkable in the hectic schedule of her former life.
“I’ve started thinking a lot more about how we are ruining our planet and how we should go forward from this catastrophe to build sustainable environments in which viruses like COVID have no chance of entry. And I know many others are thinking along the same lines. That is the good I see, coming out of this nightmare.”
Building a sustainable practice is how Ruma Sikka views her future as a realtor, ever since the pandemic put an end to live showings.
At each viewing, she walks through the house with her phone and laptop, showing clients all the features on Zoom or Facetime. “We can even host walk-through groups on Twitch, with new interactive software.”
Ruma is brushing up on relevant technology and networking with other realtors.
The real estate community has rallied vigorously around this slump with webinars on virtual marketing and using technology to augment sales. “We are also trying to figure out guidelines for how we are eventually going to show homes, safely, to clients,” says Ruma.
“All our virtual marketing groundwork will bear fruit once the lockdown restrictions ease,” she declares. She remains extremely optimistic about the prospects of an early bounce back in the real estate market.
“There are many reasons to be hopeful,” she says. “We’ll get through this dark tunnel eventually, to the other side. But life will never be the same again.”
Jyoti Minocha is a DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and is working on a novel about the Partition.
Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.