China to close borders to most foreigners. Global cases top 500,000. Trump preparing new social distancing guidelines.

Nicola Sgarbi 
Nicola Sgarbi 

While the world collectively shelters in place to protect against coronavirus, medical professionals flock to the front lines to work long hours tending to a burgeoning number of infected people.

One of them is Dr. Nicola Sgarbi, 35, who unknowingly became part of a growing photo trend of health workers coping with this exponential rise in sick patients.

Sgarbi is a doctor in training who works in the ICU of the civil hospital of Baggiovara in Modena, Italy.

Almost everything about Sgarbi’s shift on March 13 was part of his new normal since the outbreak: working 12 hours to treat Covid-19 patients while wearing protective equipment. But at about 8 p.m. that day, he stripped off his face mask and snapped a quick selfie, something he rarely does.

“I mainly took the photo for two reasons. Firstly, to send it to my partner, to tell her that I had finished my shift at work and that I was on my way home, slightly bruised,” Sgarbi told CNN over email. “Secondly, to show it to my 1-year-old daughter when she will have grown up. I will be telling her about this moment.”

Sgarbi’s photo was posted on Facebook and Reddit, where it was shared more than 75,000 times and voted on at least 119,000 times, respectively. The photo drew worldwide praise and comparisons to “Batman and Superman rolled into one,” among other things.

Since then, numerous photos and stories of health workers in and out of protective gear have been posted around the internet. Each one captures the physical and emotional toll this pandemic is taking.

See people around the world celebrating health care workers: