Tag Archives: UCLA

Falling Through the COVID19 Cracks

When COVID19 snared President Trump in early October, he promptly received a dose of Regeneron and an airlift to Walter Reed Army Hospital;  physicians dispensed a course of therapeutics – Remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone, and  supplemental oxygen as needed. That extraordinary spell of cutting edge treatment soon put the president back on the campaign trail almost within the week.

The price tag for the president’s helicopter ride and specialized, experimental treatment cost roughly about $1 million say experts, and was free, and funded by taxpayer dollars.

“I would not be surprised if it were to exceed $1m,” said Dr Bruce Y Lee, a healthcare researcher at the City University of New York.

The five star treatment afforded to Trump, however, is beyond the reach of average Americans, even those with insurance. With private insurance to cushion the cost, an average American would have to pony up $520 a vial  or $3120 for a course of anti-viral treatment.

At the other end of the healthcare spectrum are the uninsured – people who cannot afford even a single dose of Remdesivir, let alone an entire course of treatment, said Dr. David Hayes-Bautista Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, UCLA Health, at an October 23 Ethnic Media Services briefing.

His study of how the coronavirus impacts populations of color found that low-paid and uninsured workers in underserved communities rarely have health insurance to pay for treatment.

Without any protection, said Bautista, COVID19 finds gaps in care in the social services umbrella and the healthcare maze that marginalized communities have to navigate, and “the coronavirus falls upon them like rain.”

For uninsured workers who forage for healthcare access or have none, treatment is simply out of the question.

Quoting a UC Davis study, Bautista explained that $3120 for farmworkers in California is the equivalent of two month’s salary. What that means for farmworkers – many of whom are at high risk of exposure to COVID19 within the industry that employs them –  paying for treatment if they get infected means having to forgo food, rent, and other necessities that two months of income covers.

Disadvantaged populations have far higher case rates and mortality rates than non-Hispanic whites, said Dr. Bautista

When the virus hit, California shut down. People ‘grabbed their laptops’ and went home to work, but essential workers could not. Doctors, nurses and healthcare workers had to make sure they had PPE and equipment to treat COVID19 patients.

Other essential workers said Bautista, included meat packers, truck drivers, shelf stockers, grocery store workers, “folks working to make sure the rest of us can eat”, and check-out clerks who were far more exposed to the virus because “about 300 people pass within an arms-length.”

Those that tend to work in these occupations are mostly people of color, explained Bautista and the industries that expose them to the pandemic offer less access to care, treatment and follow up. As a result, California has high rates of exposure and mortality. The state now has a total of 922,005 positive cases. and a total of 17,626 deaths reports the California Department of Public Health.

In California, farm workers have been especially hard hit by COVID19. During the pandemic, migrant farmworkers continue to work shoulder to shoulder in ‘cuadrillas,’ and packing houses, or ride in crowded buses, putting their lives on the line to put food on our tables.

Vulnerable farmworkers (largely Latino, almost 100% immigrant, and 60-80% undocumented), are left out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because of their temporary status and cannot afford private health insurance. And yet, the county gave them letters confirming their essential status to travel, so they could go to work when the pandemic broke out. Workers were urged to see a doctor if they had symptoms, but without health insurance, “how would they pay to see a doctor, asked Bautista. “Some do not even know any doctors!” Their situation was further complicated by a requirement in the first few months of the pandemic, for sick people to get a doctor’s recommendation just to get a test – one they could barely afford.

“You could wind up paying $100 to almost $2000 for one test!” said Bautista. “In a farm worker family that quickly adds up.”

Even if a vaccine becomes available, said Denise Octavia Smith, Exec Director, National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHWA), it may be refused. Among Black and indigenous communities who have endured hundreds of years of medical testing and research on enslaved populations against their will, there exists a longstanding fear of vaccines, “We won’t be used as a guinea pig for white people.’’

Smith, who is tracking the disproportionate impact of Covid19 on under-resourced health systems, suggests supporting more community health workers familiar with barriers to care and wellbeing that marginalized populations experience, as trusted messengers to build bridges within these communities. This way, people who believe in efficacy of vaccine can get it when it becomes available

That moment could come sooner that they think. In a move that could transform life in COVID19  times for marginalized communities, the CDC is considering recommendations by ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices ) to “remove unjust and barriers to good health and well-being” in some racial/ethnic minority groups that bear the disproportionate burden of the COVID19 disease.

The recommendations ask the CDC to “commit to fair stewardship in the distribution of a scarce resource.” Under review are outreach strategies that will  overcome barriers to access, and reduce health disparities in each phase of vaccine distribution.

The interventions must ensure that all affected groups, populations, and communities are treated fairly and have equal opportunity to access the vaccine and treatment, not just the privileged few.

The coronavirus doesn’t discriminate. Even the President got infected. What’s different is he had access to treatment well beyond the reach of essential workers who work to put food on our table. They are the ones “we forgot about,” said Bautista, and who will fall between the cracks of our healthcare jigsaw puzzle without a safety net.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Image: WorldBank, migrant worker in strawberry farm

Will My Culture Survive the Pandemic?

Trying to create a space in the United States, Indian Americans rely heavily on the Arts to remain connected to their roots. Instead of soccer practice and baseball lessons, the minivan drives kids to Kathak (Indian Classical Dance) class or Tabla (Indian percussion/drums) lessons. What our parents understood, that took me till my adult years to grasp, was that culture was identity. And we would only be comfortable in our skin, in alien territory, if we could see the beauty of who we inherently were. 

As a young brown girl, I found a sense of camaraderie and belonging with my peers through the Classical Arts. Some learned Bharatanatyam dance and some took Kathak. Some learned to play the Tabla and some, the Sitar. Some took Carnatic Classical Music and some took Hindustani Classical Music. But all of these Arts drove one point home – no matter the geographic location or style of the Art, we were deeply connected to our culture. At times when I was ostracized for that same thing – being too Indian – I took solace in what I knew to be true. I am who I am and there was no reason to resent something so pure- so unifying. I continue to cherish it. 

A lifelong Kathak dancer and student, I saw the strain the Arts went through when my classes at the Chitresh Das Institute went online due to the shelter in place orders. Many students dropped off, our teachers struggled to teach online, and our performances were canceled. I felt myself become uninspired. 

But Art cannot be stopped. Art keeps pushing along like the little engine that could, to give meaning to that which is inexplicable. One Bharatanatyam teacher found purpose in embracing the messiness of online teaching and musicians like Sunny Jain began putting their music on Youtube. IndianRaga and Kalanidhi Dance collaborated during the pandemic to rejuvenate classical arts through their Why I Dance campaign. However, an artist’s career comes to a halt when spaces to perform are limited and they are faced with the reality of a declining income.

The artistic community, many working as freelancers and independent contractors, requires life support. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on September 11, 2020, LA Based Actor, Kristina Wong told us of the moment that her livelihood came into question. Her one-woman satire, Kristina Wong for Public Office, that she had spent three years researching and running a real election in preparation for, was running on the college/university circuit when the pandemic hit. Colleges and university campuses made the decision to go fully online, as to mitigate the pandemic, and Wong was stuck scrambling to find alternatives to cancelation. 

I’m witnessing a lot of artists just leave Los Angeles. Some are working for the census. Some are just scrambling,
” she noted, emphasizing that her ability to adapt to the online format was a unique luxury and that she still wouldn’t be able to recoup the losses of canceled performances. 

Kristin Sakoda, Actor and Executive Director of the LA Arts Commission witnessed the impact of COVID on the Arts. It was one of the first sectors to close and will be one of the last to reopen. 2.7 million jobs have been lost resulting in a $150 billion impact on the creative industry. As a grant distributor, Sakoda mentioned $20 million in losses for the nonprofits sustaining local arts.

Appreciation of the arts is crucial in inconsistent, unclear times. Art gives context, an escape, a safe space to feel uncertain, and to empathize with others.

Minority arts are quickly disappearing. Jose Luis Valenzuela, a UCLA and community college theater professor, met with artistic directors who cater to communities of color and were worried about the survival of their companies. They are the few sources for access to the arts for minority populations. Representation matters and when that diminishes, so do the voices. Graphic designer and Muralist, Roberto Pozos of Imperial Valley resonates with this message. Living in a space that has been a hotspot for COVID related death, Pozos wants to commemorate the suffering and lift the spirits of those around him. None of this can happen without funding. 

We must push for federal grant funding! Email, call, snail mail your Congresspeople. The last time federal tax dollars were put towards the arts was during the Great Depression and the time has come again to make our mark on democracy and preserve culture. 

I think about what I would do without Kathak. Kathak is not just a form of Indian Classical Dance. Kathak is the best parts of me. Kathak accepts me and grounds me to the reality I am in. Kathak reminds me to forgive myself and others. Kathak is a guiding force, teaching morality and mythology. Kathak is music. Kathak is discipline and learned knowledge. Kathak is Indian history. Kathak is me. 


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

This post has been updated.

Harvesting Rain: Indian Americans Prepare for Drought

California’s immigrant communities have long been among the leading proponents of state and local measures to protect and safeguard the environment. But in the South Asian community, many residents have also begun to take matters into their own hands.

From the rural farmlands of the Central Valley to the high-tech heart of suburban Silicon Valley, Indian Americans have begun to embrace conservation strategies that can help better prepare them and the watersheds they depend on for the expected challenges of climate change.

At the height of the last drought, Yuba County farmer Sarbdeep Atwal switched irrigation methods, adopting more efficient techniques to water his 1,200 acres of fruit and nut trees. But as the drought’s impact on the state’s groundwater supplies became more apparent, Atwal realized he may have to take additional action.

“During the drought we switched to … drip and micro jet irrigation to conserve water,” says Atwal, who owns Heer Atwal Orchards, located in Yuba County, about an hour north of Sacramento.

Sardeep Atwal with family

The shift was a costly but necessary move, he notes. Yet while the new irrigation methods were “more efficient for watering trees,” they did little to replenish dwindling aquifers.

Groundwater accounts for close to 40 percent of California water supplies in a given year, according to the California Department of Water Resources, and close to half of water supplies during periods of drought.

California farmers like Atwal came under intense scrutiny for drawing heavily on local aquifers to water their crops during the last drought. According to one report farmers “extracted twice as much water from the state’s aquifers as the total storage capacity of the state’s dams and man-made lakes.”

Atwal is a third generation farmer and member of the Yuba Sutter Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

Yuba is home to the largest Punjabi community outside of India. According to the Punjabi American Heritage Society, Punjabi farmers account for 95 percent of peach farming, 60 percent of prune farming, and 20 percent of almond and walnut farming in California. They also contribute 20 percent of grape cultivation in the San Joaquin valley.  

Farmers like Atwal are looking at flood irrigation, a method that researchers at the University of California Davis say could help sustain groundwater levels. Flood irrigation involves drenching fields with harvested rainwater during wet periods. Water over the flooded fields eventually permeates the soil and filters through to the underlying aquifers.

It’s an approach Atwal describes as “counter intuitive,” given the likelihood of future droughts. But according to researchers, harvesting rainwater in wet years to flood local fields holds the potential to help refill empty aquifers and prepare for expected dry years.

“In a wet year, we can have 15 million acre feet of flood flows in the winter season that are not used,” explains University of California Davis Professor Helen Dahlke in a video demonstrating how flood irrigation works. “They are just flowing out to the ocean. That could be designated for groundwater recharge.”

Dahlke is leading the research into flood irrigation, looking at its potential impact on groundwater supplies and any potential harm to crops, including any damage done by frozen roots in winter time. Her team is testing a variety of different crops, including many grown on Atwal’s farm.

University of California Davis Professor Helen Dahlke

Paul Basi 

Still, despite its advantages, Yuba farmer and Sutter county Planning Commissioner Paul Basi says a lot of farmers in the area are still using micro irrigation. “I have yet to find a farmer who is saving rainwater,” he adds.

Basi is adamant that more needs to be done. “We need to increase the number of reservoirs, and we need to add new methods of saving and recycling water,” he said. Capturing and storing rainwater, he notes, has to be part of the solution.

Harvesting Rain at Home

It isn’t only farmers who have had to adjust to California’s prolonged droughts.

“We laid our lawn in 2002. At that time we chose to go with California natives and rocks to minimize the amount of water we would use,” say Anita and Arjun Bhagat,  longtime residents of Los Altos, about an hour south of San Francisco in Silicon Valley. “Two years ago we went a step further. We enlarged our hardscape area and shrank our lawn area by 1500 sq. ft.”

They add, “Since the last drought the residents know that though this year we have had rain, they have to prepare for more drought.”

Anita & Arjun Bhagat’s backyard in Los Altos

The couple added that many of their friends and neighbors are making similar changes to their homes. “We all want to be more water efficient,” says Anita.

Max Gomberg is climate and conservation manager for the State Water Resources Control Board, which determines water allocation and quality needs around the state. He says the price of water has increased at six times the rate of inflation across the state. Cities such as Mountain View, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale increased their rates by 9.9 percent, 19 percent and 25 percent, respectively, with Mountain View’s average monthly water bill costing more than $100.

Noona and Mohan Giridharadas of Saratoga say they have worked on getting their water bill down by making changes to their yard space.

“We have synthetic grass in our front yard,” says Noona Giridharadas. “Now we have a realistic looking green grass lawn that needs no water. Our water bill has gone down by $50 a month.”

Growing Demand Among S. Asians

Babak Tondre is a designer with Dig Co-op, an Oakland-based, worker-owned design firm specializing green infrastructure for Bay Area homes.

“We’ve been getting a lot of requests from South Asian homeowners,” says Tondre. “Sometimes the price is out of their budget but there seems to be a great deal of desire to learn about rainwater harvesting. There is an upsurge in interest especially in the Peninsula.”

Tondre says greywater from a home’s showers, bathrooms, and laundry can direct 30,000 gallons of water annually from the house to the yard.

Image:Khalifeh & Associates, Los Angeles

In addition, a home with a 1,500-square-foot roof is capable of collecting 10,000 gallons of water in an area that gets 12 inches of rain a year. San Jose, for example, averages 15 inches of rain in a typical year, while Walnut Creek gets 23 inches. During a heavy storm, each downpour on a house can deliver 12 gallons of rainwater a minute to the sewer system. 

But Tondre says unlike solar installations, the state does not provide as many incentives for homeowners to install rain capture features.

A bill on the June ballot could change that however. Proposition 72 if passed would ensure that any rain capture installations put on homes after January 1st, 2019 would not be taxed as new construction.

The average spent on rainwater installations is around $20,000.

Still, despite the cost homeowners like Giridharadas say with climate change and the increased likelihood of more severe droughts, it’s a critical step.

“Frankly we had no choice but to go this route,” Noona says. “We are going to have another drought that is for sure. It is not as if we are going to have water forever.”

Ritu Marwah wrote this story as part of UCLA’s Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS) 2018 Watershed Fellowship.

Dealing with Rejection from your Top College Choice

You’ve opened the letter, read the email, visited the portal. The response is not what you were hoping for. You’re disappointed, and this is a very fair reaction.

Applying for colleges is a long and hard process, one that takes up a lot of your time both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, a lot students feel that not getting in to the top college of their choice is embarrassing or a reflection on them as a person. We want to make sure you know right away:

That is not the case.

The number of students applying to colleges is skyrocketing. UCLA had a 5.7% increase in freshman fall 2018 applications this year, and those numbers are similar across many college admissions departments. Colleges have a very tough job selecting students to join to their campus, and the hard truth is that they will have to send rejection letters to thousands of very deserving students.

Do you know what the great news is?

You will get into plenty of other schools. You probably already have! You will get to open acceptance letters to some other truly great colleges and decide which of those is the best fit for you. It is important to remember that you still have some big decisions to make, and that come time to start at your new college, you will still feel just as excited stepping foot on to the campus you get to call home for the next little while.

For now, take some time to feel disappointed. Dealing with rejection is an important part of life as we grow up, and it is natural to feel sad when things don’t go the way you wanted. Give yourself a few days to feel those emotions, but make sure to talk it out with someone you trust (parents, siblings, friends or your guidance counselor are all great options).

Most importantly, don’t dwell.

After a few days, it is important that you get back on track. You will be getting acceptance news, and when you do you will need to decide how you want to make your acceptance decisions. This will be a wonderful time and one that you have earned with all your hard work, so enjoy it and treasure the moment!