Dr. Joseph Varon hugs and comforts a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center on November 26, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Go Nakamura / S / Getty Images.

A photo of Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, cradling a COVID-19 patient in his ICU in full PPE is going viral this Thanksgiving. 

He has worked for 251 days straight battling the onslaught of daily COVID-19 cases. 

His story and image represents the work of many medical workers on the front lines of the pandemic as cases surge in the US this holiday season. 

“My concerns for the next six to 12 weeks is that if we don’t do things right, America is going to see the darkest days in modern American medical history,” Varon told CNN. 

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On the eve of Thanksgiving, Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, told CNN “America is going to see the darkest days in modern American medical history” over Christmas if we don’t change course fast.

He has worked for the past 251 days straight taking care of COVID-19 patients. His hospital, like many across the country, has reached capacity and expanded a number of times to make room for the sick. Texas alone has recorded over 1,220,000 cases and 21,500 deaths in the last week. 

It will only get worse, Varon warned, as data emerged showing many Americans still planned to travel for Thanksgiving, and two-thirds would be spending the holiday with different households.

For healthy people, there are steps they can take to help, by postponing all intimate gatherings until we have a vaccine, and physically distancing themselves from others. 

Varon, however, doesn’t have that luxury. He has given himself over to treating patients, both medically and emotionally.

As emotions ran high among desperate staff and patients in the COVID-19 ward on Thanksgiving Day, Varon did what might seem unimaginable: He hugged an elderly patient in the intensive-care unit. 

Photographer Go Nakamura captured the moment of human compassion, which will resonate with all healthcare workers across the world. There are few effective treatments for people with COVID-19, and doctors desperately treating patients and figure out how exactly COVID-19 attacks the body. 

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It came just hours after Varon told CNN: “My nurses in the middle of the day, they will start crying, because they are getting so many patients, and it’s a never-ending story. When they finish finally getting a patient in, they get a phone call from the ER that there is another patient getting admitted.”

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