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Tampa Bay community works to help India

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Posted at 5:35 AM, May 12, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — While India is in the grips of a surge in COVID-19 cases, people in Tampa Bay are feeling the impact and working to help.

Sai Lata De is a USF College of Public Health Global Health and Infectious Diseases research post-doctoral fellow. This spring, her mother was able to come visit her from India. But with time running out on her visitor’s VISA, they made the choice for her to return last week.

“I was completely feeling lost but then I started to rationalize my thoughts and started to think from a scientific point of view,” De said. “I decided I would wait for the period she was fully vaccinated, I would get her double masked and make sure she was able to practice social distancing to some extent.”

Instead of focusing on fear, she said she’s focusing on hope and what she can control.

“It’s very important at this point in time to come together as a community and not have too much fear. We have to work from a little bit of hope but not too much hope too that you don’t wear mask and social distance. So it’s that balance we need to have hope and work towards getting people vaccinated and they’re well informed about how to maintain protocols while getting vaccinated and until they’re fully vaccinated,” she said.

Her and her mother said a tough part of the trip was the flight out of Florida. They described people not wearing masks or social distancing. Now, Sai Lata’s mother is back in India and staying home. Meanwhile, Sai Lata is spreading the word about how people can help.

“I think it is very important to get into these public forums on Facebook and other platforms where people are actually sharing their stories and asking for help and so we can practically and rationally help them with groceries or medication or paperwork,” she said.

Some in the Tampa Bay community are using social media and their connections with friends and family in both countries to get help to families in need.

“It’s not only money it’s like you know the right resource to reach out for the needy families and get the infrastructure done,” said Jyoti Sarkar, a New Tampa resident.

He described the need for oxygen cylinders and logistical help.

“We, based on our contacts, are reaching out to the right resources, getting the thing done,” he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci described the immediate problems with hospital beds, oxygen and PPE to ABC News’ "This Week."

“Then there’s the problem looking forward of how are you going to shut this down, how are you going to turn it around, how are you gonna break the chain of transmission. Vaccines is one of them. But there are other ways too like shutting down the government,” Fauci said.

The World Health Organization designated a variant first reported there, B1617, a variant of concern. In the U.S., the CDC said it’s a variant of interest.

“What we do need to know in the U.S. though is there’s not very much of it here. We have plenty of problems with this B117 variant that we’re dealing with. But if, in fact, that variant comes over the antibodies that are induced by the vaccine seem to be pretty good, there’s a little bit of a drop-off, a slight drop off, in the ability of the antibodies to neutralize it but less than some of the other variants of concern,” said Michael Teng, Ph.D., an associate professor of medicine at USF Health.

He noted there is not enough genomic surveillance to say whether cases are due to one variant or another.

The WHO recently launched the "Together for India" appeal to raise funds for its work in the country.