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India's battle with COVID-19 hits close to home for St. Johns County man

Hemant Petal has family members in India. One is in the hospital. His cousin has COVID symptoms. "Luckily we were able to find a bed in the hospital."

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Devastating. That’s how some people describe the rapid and deadly spread of COVID in India.

Tuesday, the world’s second most populated country surpassed 20 million COVID-19 cases.

While that’s happening on the other side of the world, it is hitting close to home for some on the First Coast who are from India.

"We thought 2020 was the bad year," Hemant Patel told First Coast News. "But 2021 has been really bad, worse than 2021 for me and my family."

Patel is a physical therapist with offices all over the First Coast. However, his homeland of India fills his thoughts. 

The country is struggling with a second, fast-spreading wave of COVID. Patel’s cousin is in the hospital in India with COVID symptoms.

"His COVID test was negative. However his CT scan for his lungs were showing 40% infection in his lungs," Patel explained. "Luckily we were able to find a bed in the hospital."

Hospital beds and oxygen are in short supply in India, while tens of thousands of people there test positive each day.

Patel’s parents are on lockdown in India. Other family members there have had or have COVID-19.

'So It’s getting pretty bad over there," Patel said. 

First Coast News asked Chad Nielson, the Infection Prevention Director at UF Health in Jacksonville if the virus' spread in India could happen in the U.S. 

"The short answer: No," Nielson said. "The long answer: It depends on how this variant continues to move."

That variant in India is a fast mover there.  

"More than likely, we will see that India variant here in the U.S. if we haven’t already," Neilson said.

However, he said the U.S. has a smaller population and a higher percentage of vaccinations, which could slow the spread.

Patel’s family here in the U.S. even struggled with COVID-19. His uncle in New Jersey died this year from it. 

Patel is left feeling a bit helpless, whether here or with family on the other side of the world.

"Yes you do feel helpless because you can’t really do anything about it," he said. "I can’t even think of going over there right now, even if I was allowed because of putting myself at the risk. I have a family here and I am a healthcare practitioner."