San Diego's Indian Community Rallies Together as Nation Grapples with Explosive COVID-19 Surge

India reached a grim milestone Tuesday -- 20 million COVID-19 infections with nearly 400,000 in the past 24 hours

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Disconnected and helpless -- that’s how several members of San Diego’s Indian community describe their feelings when watching the horrific scenes playing out in India right now.

The nightmare scenario Americans once feared here is happening there: jammed ICUs, a ventilator shortage, deaths faster than bodies can be buried and vaccines not distributed quickly enough – and as nearly 400,000 new COVID-19 cases a day threaten the country’s healthcare system to collapse, thousands of San Diego residents from India and of Indian descent are banding together to help.

Dinesh Korat was born and raised in India but now lives in San Diego. He told NBC 7 six of his family members in India contracted COVID-19 last month.

His 100-year-old father was the only one who couldn’t beat it, dying in a hospital near Bombay on April 12.

Korat told NBC 7 he’s thankful his father could even make it to a hospital in his final days, as thousands are turned away from overcrowded hospitals daily.

“I was very close to my father,” Korat said. “A couple of days before I got the opportunity to talk to him on video calls…he told me, ‘Dinesh, I’m leaving, I want to go to God, I’m happy and I’m blessing all my family.’”

Korat told NBC 7 his story is the story of so many in the U.S. with family and friends in India.

He said he was feeling helpless watching from thousands of miles away until he heard about “Project Motherland,” a donation effort by the non-profit, The Saurashtra Patel Cultural Samaj, or SPCS, to send supplies to remote parts of India.

The organization has raised over $530,000 of its $750,000 goal and is planning to donate at least one thousand oxygen concentrator machines, among other supplies -- the machines becoming a precious resource over the past few weeks as shortages plague communities across India.

“As a community here we definitely want to help them because we’ve got good lives here,” Korat said. “We have good treatments, we have vaccines…everybody wants to help in this situation.”

Dr. Haresh Thumar, a doctor in India, sees the tragic scenes playing out every day and worries the situation could worsen as case and death rates continue to spike and concerns grow over a highly transmissible variant.

He told NBC 7 low vaccination rates, virus spread in multi-generational homes and a delayed public response could explain why the second wave is much worse than last years.

“One more thing I’m imagining and it’s a scary situation -- all healthcare workers, doctors and nursing staff are overloaded right now and if they are affected, it’ll be the worst-case scenario…Even if we have beds, hospitals, oxygen, medicines -- if you don’t have the manpower, the situation will be worse…this cannot happen at any cost,” Thumar said. “As a doctor or healthcare worker, we feel helpless.”

India reached a grim milestone Tuesday -- 20 million COVID-19 infections with nearly 400,000 in the past 24 hours. India’s government announced new plans to tackle the surge Monday.

As horrifying as the numbers are right now, Thumar told NBC 7 the figures are almost certainly a significant undercount, as many COVID-19 patients are unable to get to hospitals and many have been dying at home without ever being tested for the virus.

While the country is one of the world’s top vaccine manufacturers, less than 5% of its 1.4 billion people have been fully vaccinated -- manufacturers now facing severe shortages of materials needed to produce vaccine doses.

By comparison, nearly 30% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated.

After a call with Indian Prime Minister Modi last week, President Biden announced plans for the U.S. to send PPE, testing kits, millions of vaccine doses and, perhaps most importantly, oxygen supplies.

Tuesday marked the first day most travelers from India were barred from entering the U.S., a restriction announced by the Biden administration last week.

The White House said travel from India will be restricted starting May 4, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases in India.

Korat told NBC 7 he is hopeful conditions will improve with the new aid and said in the meantime, he will continue his work in the community to help friends and family overseas.

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