Father Liju Augustine has been among the pastoral staff at the Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria for more than a decade.
Originally from India, much of his immediate family is still there, and he said they have been on his mind constantly for the past two months.
“When I hear, when I see through the news media the reality of what they are facing, it is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking. How can I help them? I’m just staying here as a priest. All that I am doing is praying,” Augustine said.
India is in the midst of one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, there are roughly 1 million new cases reported every three days.
On Wednesday, there were 362,757 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in India, a new global record, which pushed the country's total past 17.9 million cases, second only to the U.S.
India’s population is estimated to exceed 1.3 billion and the U.S. Census Bureau has put the U.S. population at about 331 million.
“You have to remember the population. [There’s] too much people in each area,” said Father Augustine.
Augustine added that in speaking to his mother, sisters and brother about the situation, he believes that the situation there has taken many people by surprise.
He told NY1 that the parallels between what India is going through now and how hard the virus hit New York City last spring is uncanny.
"They did not foresee, neither from the government neither from the people’s part, how can we handle it when there are so much of it happening," Augustine said.
Wednesday, India’s official death toll also hit 200,000, but the unofficial number is believed to be much higher.
The deaths from COVID-19 in India have nearly tripled in the past three weeks.
People there report that hospitals are scrambling for oxygen tanks, ventilators, beds and ambulances.
The situation there is not lost on two of New York City’s most prominent heath officials.
Dr. David Chokshi, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, and Dr. Jay Varma, a senior adviser of public health to the NYC Mayor's Office, both have ties to the region.
Both Chokshi and Varma took part in a forum about COVID-19 in the south Asian community on Wednesday night.
"This is a tragedy of the highest order. We have to recognize this as a humanitarian emergency that is happening to our brothers and sisters in India," Chokshi said during the forum.
Varma said that he’s been arranging a way to send masks to India but added that people in NYC can help in other ways.
"Raise your voice," Varma said. "We don't speak with the power or political voice that other groups do, and what is going to shake the foundation of this is a recognition that the U.S. got vaccinations first, but it doesn’t have a God-given right to this."
In the United States, nearly 30% of the population is fully vaccinated. In India, less than 2% of the population is fully vaccinated.
This past Sunday, President Joe Biden committed to helping India with its crisis.