"Some moments I feel happy and hopeful and some moments I feel sad and scared," Tara Rappleyea tells PEOPLE
Tara Rappleyea
Tara Rappleyea
| Credit: Courtesy Tara Rappleyea

New York Knicks fans are used to seeing Tara Rappleyea on centercourt, but now she's wearing a different kind of uniform.

The 27-year-old is a dancer for the Knicks City Dancers — and a nurse at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in the intensive care unit in New Jersey. She's now on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis.

"Some moments I feel happy and hopeful and some moments I feel sad and scared," Rappleyea says. "I think it really hits me when I hear nurses that have been working for 20-plus years say they have never seen or worked with anything like this."

She continues, "Despite all this, I feel motivated and empowered to take care of these patients. It has also been helpful to have such a strong group of coworkers that now feel like family to help navigate through these challenging times."

Tara Rappleyea
Tara Rappleyea
| Credit: Courtesy Tara Rappleyea

Rappleyea first got interested in medicine while working as a scribe in the emergency room at a local hospital. She eventually went to nursing school at Rutgers University in their accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program and graduated in May 2018.

Two years prior, Rappleyea joined the Knicks City Dancers. She balances both demanding occupations with "time management, a strong support system — at home, at KCD, and at work — and lots of coffee!"

Now, Rappleyea is isolating away from her family while working to stop the coronavirus spread and help patients already affected.

"Working so closely with this disease it is especially important for me to isolate myself from my family and loved ones to keep them safe," says the nurse. "I think in terms of work, the most difficult part is going to be in the future when I fully reflect on my experience in dealing with Covid-19."

At her hospital, Rappleyea said morale is "very positive" as she and her colleagues keep "focusing on the good things that are happening and the patients getting discharged."

"The hospital now plays 'Here Comes the Sun' whenever a patient is discharged to remind the entire hospital that people are getting better and going home thanks to the work we are doing," she tells PEOPLE. "Meanwhile on my unit, I know everyone is dealing with their own struggles and anxieties but now more than ever we realize the importance of leaning on one another for a good laugh —or cry — or dance party, my personal favorite."

She advises others to continue to stay home to stop the spread. "Don’t be naive just because you are not directly affected," advises Rappleyea. "This disease does not discriminate against age, gender or race and it so easily spreads."

"I know it can be hard to grasp the importance of this if you aren’t seeing this firsthand. However, as a frontline worker, I see what this disease is capable of and I cannot stress enough how important it is to protect yourself and your community."

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDCWHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.