Arizona coronavirus unit nurse faces off with anti-lockdown protesters in shocking new photos

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An Arizona nurse on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis stood face-to-face with demonstrators in Phoenix on Monday amid a massive protest calling for Gov. Doug Ducey to end lockdown measures.

Lauren Leander, a nurse at Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix, and a small group of her colleagues formed a counter-protest in front of the Capitol building, standing silently with their arms crossed with while wearing their medical scrubs and N95 masks.

One photograph showed a protester waving an American flag close to Leander’s face. Other demonstrators without masks appeared to approach the group of nurses, coming within close proximity of both the health care workers and each other, ignoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart.

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Caregivers stand in front of protesters at the main entrance to the Arizona Capitol at a rally to 're-open' Arizona against the governor's stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus Monday, April 20, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Caregivers stand in front of protesters at the main entrance to the Arizona Capitol at a rally to 're-open' Arizona against the governor's stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus Monday, April 20, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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“A few of us nurses heard about the rally about 45 minutes before the rally started and we decided that we wanted to have a presence there,” Leander told Fox 10 Phoenix. “We know that in this community of people who are rallying there are still people who believe this virus is not real, they believe it is fake, they thought I was a fake nurse, so I was there in solidarity to tell people this virus is real and it’s still something we need to be sticking together on as a country.”

About 500 protesters gathered in a “Patriot Rally” outside the state Capitol building, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety. DPS Sgt. Kameron Lee said that figure was an estimate, as people filled the streets before also getting into their cars, trucks, and SUVs to protest, making an exact count more difficult, AZ Family reported.

“They were saying a lot of mean and cruel things that I think came from a place of fear,” Leander said, describing the protesters. “Probably the biggest one that I heard over and over again that they thought I was a fake nurse. They thought I was planted there by the government, that I was being paid, that I was an actor, they didn’t think I was real at all.”

A protester, right, in support of ending the stay-at-home orders drives past the Arizona Capitol as he yells at a counter-protesting caregiver, left, at a rally at the capitol to 're-open' Arizona against the governor's stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus Monday, April 20, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A protester, right, in support of ending the stay-at-home orders drives past the Arizona Capitol as he yells at a counter-protesting caregiver, left, at a rally at the capitol to 're-open' Arizona against the governor's stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus Monday, April 20, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

AZ Family verified that Leander is a registered nurse and is in good standing.

A statewide stay-at-home order has been in effect since March 31. Ducey, a Republican, said Wednesday he will wait until next week before deciding whether to extend the mandate now scheduled to expire on April 30, but cleared the way for hospitals to resume elective surgeries, KTAR-FM reported.

“We need to be listening to the experts who haven’t given us the green light to go back to normal yet, and, again I wanted to be a voice for my patients. That’s what I do as a nurse. I see the people in my specific COVID-19 unit and our ICU that are scared and alone and dying,” Leander continued. “I am just here to speak for them because I know if they could have been out on the street with me, they would have and they would have said ‘Guys, stay home. It’s not time yet. It’s not time yet. Please do this for me.’”

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Responding to a question about those who lost their jobs, Leander said she has compassion for those suffering and doesn’t want her message to insight fear but rather remind people that coming out of lockdown needs to be done gradually.

As a nurse, Leander said she is not the one studying the disease or tracking the patterns, and therefore, can only speak to what she is seeing in hospitals, which is that patients want the public to continue following the current advice by staying home.

Arizona recorded at least 5,251 confirmed coronavirus cases, with at least 208 deaths, as of Thursday.