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'Badass nurse' from NC becomes symbolic face of the coronavirus fight

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CHAPEL HILL (AP) — In blue scrubs and a floral fanny pack, UNC nurse Grace Cindric has become the hero we need right now.

On March 30, News & Observer photographer Robert Willett snapped a photo of Cindric screening visitors heading into the UNC Medical Center Emergency Department, separating those complaining of coronavirus-related symptoms and everyone else.

In the photo, there’s a swagger in Cindric’s stride, a steely resolve in her sunglasses and respirator mask. In a sleeve of tattoos, there’s a friendly-looking panda staring out from her arm.

“I woke up the next morning, and it was everywhere,” Cindric said. “I first heard from my friend who posted it on Reddit; they said, ‘Fair warning, this got bigger than I expected. ... You’re a meme now.’”

Since it was published, the photo has made the rounds on Reddit and Twitter, inspiring dozens of Photoshopped images depicting Cindric in heroic poses. In one a red cape billows behind her, in another she appears on the cover of a fictional video game called COVID-19.

“It was very strange at first. I was like ‘This is too much attention,’” Cindric said. “But I’ve accepted it, and I’m just rolling with it.”

A SYMBOL FOR OUR TIMES

She is the Badass Nurse. A meme, yes, but also a symbol, a face of the nurses and doctors fighting on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak. As coronavirus cases mount in North Carolina and across the nation, as citizens panic-buy groceries and avoid their neighbors, Cindric wears scrubs like body armor, with a walkie-talkie on her belt.

To many commenting on the photo online, Cindric represents the heroism of medical professionals putting themselves between the public and the pandemic.

“I think it represents something bigger,” Cindric said. “It’s good that people are starting to see doctors and nurses out here in the middle of everything, doing this work. It’s a fun picture, it’s not terribly serious, but it represents what we’re doing. We’re all putting ourselves in harm’s way to stop this.”

Battling a pandemic is not exactly what Cindric imagined nursing would be like. The UNC-Greensboro grad has been a nurse for four years, the last two spent in UNC’s emergency room. She said she got into nursing to help the community and jumped in the emergency room for its variety.

“As an emergency room nurse, you’ve signed up to do anything,” Cindric said. “The task changes all the time, you never know what you’re walking into. ... It’s a little bit of everything, and you have to kind of be a jack of all trades.”

‘COMMUNITY RALLYING BEHIND US’

Cindric said the coronavirus outbreak has escalated everything, that guidelines and roles are constantly changing, that the job she thought she knew feels like it changes by the hour. But she said she feels the community supporting their work, that people send meals and well wishes.

With the photo, Cindric said she’s feeling love and support flowing in from around the world.

“We feel the community rallying behind us,” Cindric said. “We knew the work we’re doing was important before, but we feel the respect from the community. They bring us food and send us messages. The outpouring really makes you appreciate the work you’re doing.”

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