GUWAHATI, April 26 - Residing in New Jersey in close proximity of New York City that has been hit very hard by the COVID-19 pandemic has been an experience that was never imagined to happen. The New York City and the entire tri-state region are now trapped in a seemingly unending nightmare of deathly grip of the novel coronavirus. It has been and continues to be a frightening reality.
The first COVID-19 death in the New York state was on March 3. As of April 24, the death toll in the New York state has ballooned into 16,162 in less than two months. New York has established itself to be the epicentre of the pandemic spread. With less than half the population of the New York state, New Jersey has logged 5,617 deaths as of April 24.
Death�s cruel grip has not ended yet and the future course is still unknown. Some see a glimmer of hope in the latest numbers of infection, death rate and hospitalisation due to COVID-19. Lockdowns continue and Presidential guidelines are still followed in the tri-state region. It has been found that people over the age 75 are most vulnerable. The average age of the victims has been computed to be 51 years. The virus, however, has not discriminated against age, race, religion or skin colour. It has been reported that the black population has been affected more by the virus for various reasons, including more prevalent underlying health conditions among this group.
As for us (me and my wife), we have been holed up within the perimeter of the house for the last six weeks to stave off the virus. The only time we go out of the house is to collect mails from the mailbox. I go to my mail box with a gear to cover me from head to neck and with gloves in hands, keep the mail in garage, spray disinfectant on it and let it stay in the garage for two days to let the virus, if any, die.
We have not been to the grocery store for the last more than a month and a half although they are open for business with thinly stocked shelves. We get them delivered through online order. Grocery is delivered at the front door and we don�t face the delivery man.
From the front door, we carry it to the garage and again wait two days before bringing into the kitchen after washing with baking soda and hot water.
On the healthcare front, in the early phase of emergence of the virus, the healthcare system in the city was strained to the extreme. Hospitals were overwhelmed. A US Navy Hospital Ship was called in to help accommodating overflow of patients. The ship was berthed on a pier on the Hudson river on west side of Manhattan. There was a shortage of masks, ventilators, PPE, etc.
It was a daunting task for the healthcare workers to serve. But they did this with utmost dedication. Eventually, relief came in terms of supply surge. There came a time when there were so many dead people that there was a shortage of morgue capacity. Temporary morgues had to be set up in refrigerated trucks parked in chosen places.
There are about 100 Assamese families in the tri-state region around New York City. I have not heard of any Assamese being infected with the virus. Almost all Assamese are professionals and they are working online from home. Schools are closed down. Children are learning in full swing online as well. It is doubtful whether the schools will reopen this academic year.
As part of the greater American society, there are examples galore of first and second generation Assamese American children and adults alike making social and professional contribution under the grim circumstances. As examples, Dr Prakash Bhuyan, vice president of clinical development at Inovio Pharmaceuticals, is directly involved in developing a COVID-19 vaccine on DNA medicine platform. Dr Bhuyan is an infectious disease specialist and an immunologist. Dr Bharati Deka from Guwahati, who is specialised in infectious disease, is rendering her services at various hospitals in New Jersey. Dr Aswini Choudhury of New York with roots in Chhaygaon, Assam has been busy in telemedicine isolating COVID-19 patients.
Many other doctors have given their professional services in various hospitals across the country in the midst of this dangerous COVID-19 environment. Dr Sakuntala Chowdhury, a statistician, is working as a data scientist with the COVID-19 US National Database working on artificial intelligence models for risk mitigation. Her daughter Namrata (Gargee), a physician from the NY Presbyterian Hospital, is performing her risky duty to respond to calls from emergency rooms of New York City hospitals. Niren Choudhury of New Jersey has been active in helping people in need of food. Probal Tahbildar is calling senior Assamese citizens around New Jersey for their grocery needs and volunteering to deliver grocery at their doorstep. My wife, Pronoti Tahbildar is sewing sorely needed masks for the community.
The younger generation is also equally active. For example, Anuj Dutta, son of Satyajit and Chayanika Dutta of New Jersey, is rendering his service in response to call for help in COVID-19 environment. In brief, a spirit of giving and helping is shining through among the entire community.
In the midst of the calamitous situation, the Assamese people here are keeping reasonably high spirits. Every year, this is the jolliest time to enjoy the beautiful spring weather and celebrate Rongali Bihu with great excitement and fervour. Although the ongoing pandemic has dampened the spirit to some extent, the enthusiasm has sustained. Many organisers like Shyam Deb Choudhury and Niraj Barbara have painstakingly organised the Bihu celebration on CISCO video conference platform with songs and dances and display of Assamese Bihu goodies like those spectacular ones of Tripti Bora and others.