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Saudia Shuler’s COVID-19 diagnosis might be a much-needed wake-up call for some | Jenice Armstrong

If certain people in this city listen to anyone, it’s Saud as people call her.

Saudia Shuler, of Country Cookin', speaks about the reopening of ShopRite along Fox Street in June. Now she's battling the coronavirus.
Saudia Shuler, of Country Cookin', speaks about the reopening of ShopRite along Fox Street in June. Now she's battling the coronavirus.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

If you’re the praying kind, please send some up for Saudia Shuler of Country Cookin’.

She announced Friday that she has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is in need of prayers. Videos posted on Instagram show her moaning in pain and coughing. But even in the midst of her suffering, Shuler warns her more than 350,000 followers to protect themselves.

"They say I got COVID,” she says on one video. “Y’all better put those masks … on. I’m so miserable. I wouldn’t wish this on nobody.”

The North Philly-based entrepreneur, known for her philanthropy and for the time she rented a camel for her son’s prom, is going to save some lives. If certain people in this city listen to anyone, it’s Saud as people call her.

She’s a social media celebrity who’s also deeply rooted in her community. It’s why the city last spring hired her and other social media influencers to spread awareness about slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

As I wrote back then, it’s one thing to hear various council members reminding you to stay at home to avoid contracting COVID-19. But it’s a whole other thing if the message comes from someone as wildly popular as Shuler. Her influence is huge.

She’s a character who speaks openly about the serious health problems she has endured, which include a stroke at 40 and thyroid cancer.

The first time I interviewed her back in 2017, she cited her health challenges as the motivation for hosting her son’s lavish prom send-off that featured not only that camel, but three luxury cars and three outfit changes. Since then, she’s hosted dozens more elaborate send-offs, massive grocery and schoolbook bag giveaways, and other charitable events. Shuler has had her share of legal troubles, too, for Social Security fraud. But she got through that and went on to sell some of her products at select Brown’s ShopRite stores and publish her first book.

Most recently, Shuler had been working on a cookbook. I have watched as she cooked her signature eggaroni recipe — macaroni and cheese with way too many eggs — and other dishes she serves at her soul-food takeout on North 22nd Street. When she said she wasn’t feeling well, I sent her a feel-better-soon message and didn’t think any more about it. But then, she started shooting videos from her bed and complaining about feeling bad. Thousands of her followers sent well-wishes and suggestions to try and heal.

On Friday, she announced that even though she hadn’t been to her store in months, she had temporarily closed Country Cookin' so employees could get tested.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia reported 1,158 additional cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 52,043 since March. City officials anticipate announcing new restrictions on Monday, Mayor Jim Kenney’s office said in a news release Friday. There are no details yet as to what they may be. Already, Philadelphia School District officials have announced that schools will remain virtual indefinitely. A health expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab urged other schools to follow suit.

We need to prepare ourselves for those dark days ahead that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious-disease expert, has warned about.

Instead of making plans to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday like we usually do, we should be hunkering down and staying home as much as possible.

Experts say many new infections are happening during casual gatherings at home. People get it at work, too. The Washington Post reported on Friday that 130 Secret Service members are either infected or quarantining at home following presidential campaign travel.

America shouldn’t be in this position. I don’t blame President Donald Trump for initiating the pandemic, but he certainly bungled the handling of it. More than 230,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and Fauci says many more deaths are expected. It’s all very alarming. I’m worried about Shuler and others who contract this nasty disease. So, if you’re so inclined, pray for Saud and other victims.