Like millions of others in the US, Alyson McClaran, a Denver-based freelance photographer, is out of work during the lockdown.
So she decided to go to the state Capitol on Sunday to photograph hundreds of people who had gathered there to protest Colorado's stay-at-home order.
"I wanted to document history," McClaran told BuzzFeed News on Monday.
The protest, dubbed Operation Gridlock, is part of a wave of similar demonstrations across the country by right-wing groups and conservatives who are calling for an end to lockdown measures implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
But McClaran soon decided to leave because many protesters at the demonstration didn't have masks on and weren't practicing social distancing.
"I didn't feel very safe, healthwise," McClaran said.
While walking toward her home from the Capitol, McClaran saw two people in scrubs and N95 masks standing in the middle of the street to block anti-lockdown protesters from going to the Capitol.
"This is it. This is what I needed," McClaran said, recalling the moment she witnessed the striking scene.
McClaran's photos of the scene perfectly captured the ongoing tension in the US amid the coronavirus pandemic: Conservative demonstrators, supported by President Donald Trump, are fighting against stay-at-home orders and demanding states be reopened, while health care workers are risking their lives fighting against the deadly pandemic that has taken more than 40,000 lives in the country.
McClaran said people in the cars were continually honking at the man and the woman in scrubs, but they both stood their ground even as the light turned green.
One woman in a car, holding a "Land of the Free" poster, leaned out of her window and repeatedly yelled at the male counterprotester to "go to China" and other "hateful" things, McClaran said.
McClaran's boyfriend, Marc Zenn, took a video of the woman screaming at the man who stood quietly through her tirade.
"Go to China if you want communism," the woman yelled at him. "Go to China!"
"You go to work. Why can’t I go to work?” the woman continued. “I’ve saved people’s lives too!"
"The nurses just stood their ground," McClaran said. "They were very peaceful, and I didn't hear a single word come out of the guy's mouth."
Are you one of the counterprotesters wearing scrubs in the pictures? Email this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The driver of another vehicle even bumped the front of his car against the man in the scrubs and began yelling at him, McClaran said.
"He was just really angry," she said.
After the light turned green, police officers asked the two counterprotesters to move out of the roadway and they complied, a spokesperson for the Denver Police Department told BuzzFeed News. They were not cited.
McClaran said that the police officers were "nice enough" to let the counterprotesters peacefully protest in the middle of the road during the red light.
After McClaran's photos, which were first shared on her Facebook page, went viral, some questioned if the images were staged or if the counterprotesters were actual health care professionals.
Responding to accusations that she had personally staged the photos, McClaran said, "Absolutely, I did not."
She said she did not know if the two counterprotesters were actually health care workers. BuzzFeed News has been unable to independently verify if they were employed at any local hospitals.
"I believe that they are, but regardless of who they are, it's more about the message they were sending," McClaran said.
"It's more about these two roads colliding: The nurses are trying to be peaceful and say, 'Go home please,' and the other side is stressed and angry and scared and they want to reopen," she said.
"No one's in agreement. It's kind of telling this entire story of what's happening right now in one image," she said.
McClaran believes the photos went viral because "nurses are on the front line and everyone is so supportive of them and thankful."
Westword reporter Chase Woodruff, who was at the scene, spoke to the two counterprotesters who declined to provide their names or their place of employment.
"It's really tough," the woman, who only identified herself as Jo and as a physician assistant, told Westword. "If they get sick, we're the ones that are going to take care of them."
"I work every night," she said. "I work tonight, and I take care of patients inside the hospital, with and without COVID. It's catastrophic, and it's devastating."
The woman said that while some people came up to her and thanked her, "mostly people have been very aggressive."
"It's been overall pretty negative from people in the cars, but very nice from people in the street," she told Westword.
McClaran said other people on the street defended the two counterprotesters and were their "voices" during the confrontation with the anti-lockdown protesters.
"Honestly, I was just really sad to see all this anger," McClaran said. "Everyone was just very stressed out, and I was afraid for my safety and for others."