How the US can avoid the COVID-19 outbreak happening in India

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)- India is counting 400,000 new cases and 4,000 deaths from COVID-19 a day.

Public health experts believe it’s an under counting of the real number.

The surge in cases there could have impacts across the globe.

“A pandemic anywhere is a pandemic everywhere,” said Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, a professor of global health at Duke University.

Looking at vaccination numbers, India isn’t very far behind the U.S. but their population is much bigger.

Their total number of vaccinations accounts for fewer than 10-percent of their population is vaccinated driving their cases up.

Cases of COVID-19 don’t stay within country borders. The U.S.’s top variant originated in the United Kingdom. It now accounts for more than half of all variant cases.

“Our health in North Carolina will not be fully protected, our economic recovery will not be as strong unless we are leading the way to a better global response,” said Udayakumar.

In India, hospital beds and oxygen tanks are in short supply. The U.S. has shipped loads of supplies via plane into the country. Udayakumar said the help may be too little too late.

At the current rates of infection, cases are expected to remain high for several weeks.

“We shouldn’t have to see on television thousands of people dying for lack of oxygen and lack of basic supplies before we start to mobilize,” Udayakumar said.

Avoiding a similar outbreak

He says we are good enough at tracking cases to predict surges before they get out of hand especially after seeing similar patterns in the US, Italy and Brazil in the past.

Manoj Mohanan is health economist at Duke.

He said a combination of variants along with a lack of public health measures played a big role in this outbreak.

The variant is not present in the U.S. yet. Unlike the U.S., India did not institute a mask mandate or have clear messaging on mass gatherings.

It also has not had a quick enough vaccination effort.

“When government introduces policies, guidelines that conflict with the science, that’s where the challenge starts. You need to have the willingness to trust scientists,” Mohanan said.

Vaccines may be able to help us avoid this in North Carolina.

“If we see that current vaccines are able to give us some protection against these variants, I hope it won’t be nearly as bad,” said Mohanan.

Restricting travel

The U.S. placed a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for travel to India. Level 4 is a do not travel notice.

The virus has been known to cross borders. While this restriction is in place now, Dr. David Montefiori, a vaccine expert at Duke said it may not guard the U.S. against the Indian variants.

“If you have fewer people coming into the country carrying that particular variant, you can assume that there would be fewer cases with that variant. I suppose any measure to limit the number of additional cases is going to be helpful, but in the end, how helpful isn’t really clear.,” he said.

Montefiori noted there were 760 cases of the Indian variant in the U.K.

“It is spreading. It already has spread to many other countries. We’re keeping a close eye on it.”

Raleigh-Durham International Airport has made it easier for travelers to be aware of current restrictions across the country and globe.

Click on the image to interact with the map.

A new map feature on their website allows you to view travel restriction information regarding required quarantines, testing, and vaccinations. It will also tell you whether travelers from the U.S. are currently banned.

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