Viral photos show health care workers on plane, en route to New York to help in coronavirus fight

It’s a photo worth a thousand words: Southwest Airlines on Sunday posted an image of a group of health care workers ready to go to battle in New York, which has fast become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.

Dozens of health care workers from Atlanta boarded a flight on the evening of March 27 to answer the call for help in hard-hit New York City, which as of Monday has had more than 36,000 confirmed cases and 790 deaths, according to figures collected by Johns Hopkins University. By contrast, all of California has had some 6,500 confirmed cases and 135 deaths so far.

“… no one knows what is happening quite like our medical professionals,” Southwest Airlines said in its post on Instagram. "These brave souls soldier on in the midst of tremendous risk and exposure, constantly putting the needs of others above their own.”

The photo was taken by a crew member before the aircraft pushed back from the gate in Atlanta on its way to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. 

The 29 healthcare workers, all smiling widely, sat among members of the flight crew and curled their hands in the shape of a heart for the photo.

Since the post was shared on Instagram on Sunday, it's received more than 27K likes, with many people thanking the workers, calling them "warriors," "amazing," and "selfless."

Southwest Airline spokesman Derek Hubbard told KTVU that crew members reported the workers were "in good spirits and wanted to do their part to help those in need.”

In its post, the air carrier noted that those in need included "our family, our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors.”

The crew expressed its deep gratitude to the workers and said they represented the sacrifice and courage of all of the exceptional and dedicated men and women on the frontlines of this fight against the pandemic. 

"This photo embodies it all: bravery, courage, and sacrifice. If it were easy, everyone would do it, but we know that is not the case. Thankfully, this group and countless others do it each day,” the airline said, adding, "So to all the first responders, medical professionals, healthcare workers, and anyone else on the front lines today and every day to keep us safe, thank you." 

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.