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This Quebec Health Official Has Become A Sensation With His Coronavirus Tips

A month ago, Dr. Horacio Arruda was a relatively unknown bureaucrat in the Canadian province of Quebec.

Now, you can find his face on T-shirts, a bread loaf and memes and videos all over social media.

In this age of the coronavirus, Quebec's latest celebrity is a senior health official, who delivers down-to-earth advice in French and English in widely watched daily briefings.

Arruda, a 59-year-old doctor, is the province's director of public health, and his conversational style has charmed Quebecers.

"He's like the dad who's telling you not to panic," says Valérie Morency, a children's book illustrator in Montreal. "He seems very human, very approachable and he explain[s] very well the situation."

Morency made drawings of Arruda to color in that have been widely shared online.

Catherine Malboeuf-Hurtubise, a psychology professor at Quebec's Bishop's University, explains that Arruda's popularity makes him effective.

"Quebecers are finding him very relatable," she says, "and tend to listen to what he's actually telling us to do."

In addition to giving hygiene advice, Arruda has suggested activities to cope with self-isolation.

"It could be yoga," he suggested in March. "It could be music. It could be dancing. It could be dancing online with FaceTime, with somebody else. Be innovative."

When Arruda, whose parents immigrated to Canada from Portugal, shared that he would be making Portuguese tarts, Quebecers started exchanging recipes and baking, too. They posted tart memes to the Facebook page "Horacio, Our Hero."

The page's creator, Laurent Deslauriers, says posts have reached more than 2 million people in a province of 8.5 million, and the most-shared items aren't just funny, but also contain useful information.

"We also spread memes that say to wash your hands, to stay home," he says.

These messages reach young people who may not watch an entire news conference.

"My friends talk about him all the time," 18-year-old Nicolas Schelechow said of Arruda. "We can have fun, but also it's really crucial information that we need to hear, but it's not said in a tone that everyone gets depressed about."

Deslauriers says Arruda also represents many public and front-line workers people feel gratitude toward.

"We needed a face. We needed a person," he says. "But we do it for all those working in essential services."

The psychologist, Malboeuf-Hurtubise, honored Arruda in a different way. Her family recently adopted a cat to lift their spirits in self-isolation. They named her ... "Horacio."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 8, 2020 at 11:00 PM CDT
In a previous version of this story, we misstated that a bread loaf featuring the face of a health official was at a Montreal bakery. The bakery is outside Quebec City.