As a paramedic who sees the daily carnage of COVID-19, Kate Bergen worries about the severity and speed of the disease.

What also scares her: the calls from the public to return to normal, undermining the seriousness of the pandemic.

As a 38-year-old mother, she fears she will bring home the virus to her 20-month-old, Maverick, and Jase, 3.

The workers dealing with the virus head on can see people go from being asymptomatic to dead in a matter of days, Bergen said. Many of those workers are women, some are her friends and all are working tirelessly.

Inspired by her peers, Bergen, of Absecon, painted portraits of them as part of a “We Can Do It” series that recognizes those on the front lines of the pandemic.

“The first one I started was a paramedic in a p100 air filtration mask, and it started from a photo I took of myself,” Bergen said. “With this whole pandemic, I wanted to bring to light all the other essential workers out there.”

Tricia Carey, 52, of Little Egg Harbor Township, purchased the print of the paramedic in the mask. The EMS provider of 27 years was thrilled to see a strong woman portrayed in a field that is typically dominated by men.

“I loved how it represented women,” Carey said. “I believe it (the stay-at-home message) is the best way for us to quell the spread of the virus.”

Bergen’s second painting was of a Chinese nurse. Bergen chose that subject because the nurse has experienced discrimination because of her ethnicity and the fact that some people have referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.”

“She’s a great nurse, very kind and compassionate,” Bergen said. “She’s a single mom, so she’s struggling to take care of her kids during this time, and then they have to deal with this on top of it.”

Alexa Yabut-Corso, 28, of Barnegat Township, who bought the print of the nurse, is a Filipino nurse at an acute care hospital. She said she and her husband, who is also a nurse and is half Filipino, half Italian, have experienced discrimination since the start of the pandemic in the U.S.

“Before COVID-19 hit the United States, many of my patients who heard the news about what was going on in China had stated snarky remarks about Asians, Chinese in general,” Yabut-Corso said. “The amount of times I was asked if I was Chinese, knew about COVID or if I ate bats or unusual animals was starting to get rather uncomfortable.”

That is why Bergen’s painting resonated so deeply with her. She said the painting highlighted the Asian communities that are facing discrimination, especially those working in health care.

Bergen, a South Jersey paramedic for nine years, said her work follows in the footsteps of the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter, a World War II marketing image used to draw women to the assembly lines as part of the war effort.

There is a connection between that moment and what is happening now. Roughly one in three jobs deemed essential during the pandemic is held by a woman, including grocery store cashiers (72%) and nurses (91%).

There’s also evidence that the emotional and psychological stress on frontline workers is affecting more women. In research published in the Journal of American Medical Association, health care workers in Wuhan, China, particularly women, reported emotional and psychological stress from being on the front lines of the pandemic.

So far, Bergen has made four paintings, but she plans on completing 15. Bergen said she wants to depict a truck driver, a mail carrier, an environmental scientist, a custodian, a construction worker, a Wawa employee, as well as those in other medicine-related professions. The goal is to highlight all the people who are working through the COVID-19 pandemic and recognize the workers both in and outside the medical field.

Another goal of her art: Motivate the public to do their part and follow social distancing guidelines.

“Painting and art have always been my outlets. We are dealing with a lot of stress right now, and I wanted to convey the stay-at-home regulation to the public,” Bergen said.

Bergen regularly shares updates on her business Facebook page. The most recent print she has done is of a truck driver to shine light onto the workers who are keeping stores supplied with essential groceries. Prints sell for $35, and 10% of every sale goes to a COVID-19 charity of the buyer’s choice.

Anyone interested in purchasing one of Bergen’s prints can contact her at jbergenstudios.com or message her on Facebook at facebook.com/bergenstudios.

609-272-7238

wkeough@pressofac.com

@buzzkeough

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