The reality of COVID-19 with researcher Sameerah Wahab

Neuroscience Researcher Sameerah Wahab
Cellular Biology and Neuroscience Researcher Sameerah Wahab

Practicing holistic medicine within communities during COVID-19

Voices in Solidarity Part 5

People are nervous. The fear induced by shifts of concern from overall health and safety to the reopening of the economy has become a hazy whirlwind for the American people. As a result of this fear, it is necessary to question if we are ready to take such a leap when we as a country have not yet stabilized the spread of COVID-19.

Sameerah Wahab works and lives in San Diego. Wahab is trained in Cellular Biology and Neuroscience research, and is now working within Pediatric Neuro-Oncology laboratory and clinical research. At this time, Wahab’s studies involve creating patient-derived xenografts (cellular mice models of patient tumors). The research is used to study subtyping and test drug responses. Passionate about both community building and quality medical care accessibility across social stratifications, Wahab works toward practicing holistic medicine in the future and within communities where she is needed most.

Working from home due to COVID-19, the lab’s researchers have stepped up to be where they are well needed in this time—prioritizing experiments and needs. The cellular biology and neuroscience researcher said the lab has thankfully gone into maintenance mode with essential research including COVID-19 on the same floor she would framework treatment for children with brain cancer.

Although our world is paused, the disparities between social and economic classes continue to widen

With a large homeless population in San Diego, Wahab said that with COVID-19 typical channels of care have changed. The homeless population is in danger as PPE—Protective Personal Equipment—and general sanitation means are less accessible, and/or overpriced. There is the question of an end to COVID-19 too. Once the economy opens up people will struggle more than ever to keep up with our nation’s cost of living. If the economy is a singular focus then stimulating isolating capitalistic consequence: rendering less focus on the livelihood of folks suffering and more focus on the country making money.

“More than half of the people that I know here have specifically lost their jobs or have been furloughed—leading to many fearful for what their future will look like when things start to return to a state of normalcy. Without savings, what does this new emerging situation come into?” Questioned Wahab, “Although our world is paused, the disparities between social and economic classes continue to widen.”

The sooner the country reopens, the sooner the aftermath settles for those left jobless. There is no back-up plan for this consequence that will continue to divide inadequate disparity for folks left behind in the thicket of the pandemic.

Wahab has lost both of her grandparents to COVID-19. Her family lives in Georgia where Governor Kemp has reopened nonessential businesses as COVID-19 numbers are on the rise. “The suddenness of loss was unnerving. I felt quite helpless. With this being said, I found solidarity in knowing many are grieving loss around me. So I attempted to reconstruct the loss into something productive. I am lucky that I have been able to secure essential needs, and I can say the same for my family.”

Wahab’s immediate family remains safe. Although businesses are permitted by the state government to open, companies are neither necessarily reopening in Georgia nor expecting their employees to return to work. However, this leaves the people of Georgia with a difficult choice to make. A choice Wahab emphasizes as one of either prosperity or safety. Left speechless by the divide this pandemic leaves, Wahab feels as if she is in a film as she navigates just how it is public health has become a political debate.

Daniel Oliveira DMD
Daniel Oliveira DMD

With a background in Virology and Cellular Biology, Wahab finds herself at odds with the conflicting messages from our governmental organizations and scientific networks across the globe. Wahab stands firm in the belief that our lives must come first, before economics referencing the re-opening of businesses throughout the country.

“I believe what people must keep in mind is how easy it is for the virus to spread—and that masks—although decreasing the probability of contracting the virus are not in of themselves principally effective. RNA viruses (what the Coronavirus is) are increasingly unstable and prone to mutations,” said Wahab. What this means is that the virus, as known with RNA viruses, are prone to change and may have variances.

“For example, cardboard has been shown to hold viable viruses for 24 hours, plastics for longer than 72 hours, glass for about 96 hours, cloth for about 24 hours. I think what we must do as a whole is to think of what this means beyond the statistics.”

From grocery shopping, to reckless social distancing, COVID-19 is knocking on doors every step of the way. If there is more opportunity for the virus to spread then there is more opportunity for it to mutate. This is especially important if the country is reopening in haste. We need more stability of testing, more treatment, and a vaccine.

Wahab also points out the fragility of face coverings. Although a face mask may act as a net and keep out larger respiratory droplets, the masks are permeable and don’t at all blockade the virus from entering. “In simple terms, if you have touched something with the virus and then touch the front of your mask with your hands, you might as well not be wearing a mask,” said Wahab.

While it is easy to translate information as fear, Wahab has taken to educating the public. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wahab found a local organization, MonsterAid that has since made it their mission to deliver masks to those in need at affordable and fair prices. “I stepped in and began to volunteer my time as their Public Health Educator in this role, and have been assisting to provide a scientific framework and principle justification for control and protective measures,” said Wahab.

Wahab lives her days in hope. Although she believes we are approaching a new state of normalcy for the next year, she believes the people will recover with a new sense of compassion and passion for life. “I hope we will emerge full of life and love. Many of us will reemerge in vastly different states, and I believe the inequity among our population will be evident. I am hoping that we will emerge willing to assist those around us. This is to be determined, but I will continue to remain an optimist.”

Lana Leonard
Lana Leonard (they/them) is a graduate from The College of New Jersey with a degree in journalism and professional writing. They work at the GLAAD Media institute and freelance for publications like LGBTQ Nation while working on their journalistic theory of change project: Late Nights with Lana, a talk show based out of 10PRL film studios in Long Branch, NJ. Lana's mission, in all their work, is to focus on people, their collective truths and how those truths form a community of knowledge towards change.