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You Can Thank These Three Latina Scientists Called ‘Las Tres Mosqueteras’ For Covid Progress

The pandemic has resulted in significant health implications. Particularly for communities of color. Given the historical impact on these communities in the past, the issue of this has raised even greater concern in these communities.

Fortunately, three Latina scientists on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic have these groups in mind.

Monica Mann, 34; Elizabeth Zelaya, 36; and Connie Maza, 33, are part of a small team in Washington D.C. that has worked to track the spread of the virus.

The three scientists and medical technologists are part of the Washington, D.C., Department of Forensic Sciences’ Public Health Laboratory Division. Together, the three women worked with their team in a lab to test and report Washington’s first positive coronavirus cases.

“You know what used to be the medical field, the science field, laboratory field being run by white males? Now, it has turned into this beautiful rainbow of colors,” Mann explained in a recent interview with NBC.

According to NBC, Zelaya, Mann and Maza (who have been working together at the start of the pandemic) say that they call themselves “las tres mosqueteras,” or “the three musketeers” in Spanish.

“It’s just unbelievable, the pressure we had. We were under a microscope at that point,” Maza explained of the early months of the pandemic. “I’m normally pretty calm when I do testing, and I mean, my manual dexterity skills are pretty good. But at that moment when I was testing Covid, I have to admit it was nerve-wracking… It was scary at first. I was very nervous.”

A year after, which has included the new coronavirus variants spread, the three women and their colleagues continue to identify and analyze the Covid-19 mutations.

“There’s little to no room for error, so that makes the job that much more stressful,” Zelaya explained before underlining the low numbers of Latinas in STEM. “But we take pride in the service that we provide and the results that we give to the public because we know that there’s a human on the other side of that specimen… I do get that sometimes when people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a scientist and they’re like, ‘Really? What?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, sure am. I can tell you about some DNA if you want to learn!”

The three Latinas are an anomaly in a field where women make up only about 30 percent of the STEM work field.

This number is dwarfed in Latino communities. In fact as NBC reports “Hispanics make up over 18 percent of the U.S. population but only about 8 percent of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce. In 2016, only about 2 percent of all STEM degrees went to Latina women.”

Of course, being in a group with Latinas is welcomed by the the three scientists.

“I didn’t expect a lot of women in the science field,” said Maza, who grew up in Texas. “I probably just didn’t think that that was an option…. Growing up in Uruguay in a low-income family, my mom wanted to be a nurse. That was her dream… Unfortunately, life didn’t give her that chance. She married at 18, got her first child at 19 and four more after that.”

Maza went onto share that her mother, who is from Mexico and never gave up her dreams for her daughter, focused on raising the scientist and her siblings instead of her career. “She wanted to finish school here in the U.S. but wasn’t able to,” Maza explained. “So she dedicated all those years to us for us to have a better life.”

Zelaya went onto share that in fact, her mother pursued STEM. “My mom does have a bachelor’s in biology, so she did grow up loving the sciences and having a passion for the sciences,” she explained, “but she never got to fulfill a career in the sciences… I didn’t want to be a housewife. I wanted to get out and get a career and work full time and be a professional.”

The lab is a ‘home away from home’

In today’s COVID era, “las tres mosqueteras” are inspired by the support and accomplishments each has achieved and credit their affinity for each other for getting them through the pandemic.

“We’re all hard workers here, so we go in, we stay late to finish the job,” Zelaya explained. “And we’re all the same. We have that same kind of work ethic.”

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