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As WHO Reports Record One-Day Rise in Global Coronavirus Cases, Devotee Doctor Gives Guidance on Health and Safety

By: for ISKCON News on Oct. 9, 2020

Dr. Neeraj Verma (Nila Madhava Das)

With the coronavirus death toll now exceeding one million people worldwide, the World Health Organization reported a record one-day rise in global coronavirus cases on Thursday October 8th,saying the total rose by 338,779 in 24 hours. 

In this environment more ISKCON devotees are also falling ill with COVID-19 around the world. Most recently, senior Russian sannyasi Nitai Chaitanya Goswami was admitted to the ICU with severe symptoms. Yadunandana Swami, president of New Vrajamandala, Spain, has recovered. And Guru and GBC Chaitanya Chandra Charan Das and his wife Gouracandrika Devi Dasi were discharged after a hospital stay and are on the road to recovery. 

Devotees worldwide have offered sincere and heartfelt prayers for them all, hoping for their speedy and full recovery. 

Meanwhile ISKCON communities and members internationally are continuing to be careful, with the GBC SPT Strategic Planning Support Unit releasing Safe Re-opening Guidelines containing safe practices for devotees in the temple, work, and grocery store:

With a second wave expected in the fall and winter, Nila Madhava Das (Dr. Neeraj Verma), a practicing anesthesiologist who was part of the COVID-19 team at Sinai Hospital and Northwest Hospital in Maryland, USA, has also weighed in on how the coronavirus works, what to do if you get it, and how to mitigate your risk and stay safe. 

Initially, Nila Madhava says, the coronavirus acts like a flu virus. However, it can then activate  the body’s immune system against its own cells, in severe cases destroying the lungs, causing massive clotting, overwhelming the power of the heart to function, and causing cardiac arrest leading to death. Coronavirus is especially lethal in older people or those with lower immunity and a known susceptibility to infection such as cancer survivors and people with diabetes.

According to Dr. Nila Madhava, anyone who begins to experience common coronavirus symptoms such as fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches etc should get tested; and if positive for COVID-19 should seek treatment right away, especially those at high risk.

“We now understand that if you take steroids early, they can suppress serious sequelae (conditions that are a consequence of coronavirus), and really diminish your symptoms,” he says. “So one should seek treatment right away.”

Healthy younger people in their thirties or forties with mild symptoms who test positive can simply quarantine themselves, and do breathing exercises. “Breathing exercises are the most important part, because the more expansion of the lungs you do, the better your lungs can handle coronavirus,” Nila Madhava explains. 

He also advises devotees in this situation to purchase a fingertip pulse oximeter, available on for only $15 to $30. “If you feel short of breath, keep checking your oxygen saturation – it should be above 95%,” he says. “If it starts decreasing to 91% or 92%, that means your lungs are getting infected, and you should go to the hospital and get treated immediately.” 

Nila Madhava also wants to clear up the misconception that once the coronavirus leaves the body, one’s health always returns back to normal immediately. Some survivors of acute bouts of COVID-19 experience a range of medical issues that can last three to four months, including extreme exhaustion, shortness of breath, trouble thinking or remembering, muscle pain and headaches. Even some healthier people with mild symptoms can experience fatigue for some time afterwards, because the coronavirus depletes one’s body and energy resources.

“People will think ‘I don’t know what’s wrong,’ but those are all sequelae to the coronavirus,” Nila Madhava explains. He advises not to ignore such symptoms but to continue improving one’s immune response with good sleep, nutritious, balanced food, and vitamins.

As far as safety precautions to avoid getting COVID-19, Dr. Nila Madhava, who is also the temple president at ISKCON Baltimore in the U.S., recommends the guidelines he has put in place at his temple, which are also laid out in the SPT SPSU Safe Re-Opening Guidelines.

The top three are social distancing (temples should have marks every six feet for people to stand on, thus also limiting capacity), sanitizing hands, and especially wearing masks.

Proper good-quality face masks, Nila Madhava says, are the most important element. His top recommendation is 3-ply disposable masks, which can be purchased on Amazon and should be thrown away after each use. 

Those who prefer cloth masks should wear a 2-ply or 3-ply mask, as the added layers provide better protection. “You should also have three or four cloth masks,” Nila Madhava advises. “Each day, use a fresh mask and keep the one you just wore unused for two days so that the virus becomes inactive. Otherwise, if you use the same mask every day, when people who have the virus breathe, particles will stick to the outside of the cloth, and when you touch it to take it off, you can contaminate your hands and then your nose and mouth with the virus.”

Masks with valves should not be used, Nila Madhava says, because while they prevent the wearer from getting infected, they do not protect others if the wearer is infected. 

He also reminds devotees to make sure to cover their nose and not just their mouth. “There’s actually a higher chance of infection through the nose than the mouth,” he explains.

During kirtans or lectures in the temple, Nila Madhava advises, masks should be worn at all times by both leaders and speakers and other devotees; using the vocal chords at a high volume expels more respiratory particles further into the air and has a particularly high chance of virus transmission.

Even outside while doing kirtan, Nila Madhava recommends masks. If the lead chanter or someone else has difficulty due to asthma, for example, he says that they can be without a mask if outside and keeping a distance of ten feet (more than the minimum six) from others.

Dr. Nila Madhava also cautions devotees who have already had COVID-19 to remain careful, explaining that antibodies may only last about three months, and that there have been “stories of reinfection with coronavirus.” “So my request is that devotees should continue to be careful after getting the virus one time – that does not mean they cannot get it a second time.”

Now, with a second wave expected during fall and winter, Nila Madhava warns devotees to take extra care during flu season. 

“If you get flu, it will compromise the lungs, and if you get coronavirus on top of that, it can really play catastrophic problems with even a healthy devotee,” he says. “So my request to all devotees is please follow the rules, and please get a flu shot – there is a vaccine called Flublok (for adults 18+) that is completely egg-free.”

There is some hope in the future. According to the BBC, “Scientists are optimistic that, if trials are successful, then a small number of people - such as healthcare workers - may be vaccinated before the end of this year.” The BBC also reports that “Most experts think a vaccine is likely to become widely available by mid-2021.” In late September Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S.A’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Congress that the U.S. could have enough coronavirus vaccine doses for every American by April.

In the meantime, Nila Madhava says, “Don’t let your guard down. Don’t let your masks down.”

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