Around Thanksgiving this year, a photo of Dr Joseph Varon – the chief of staff at United Memorial (a small hospital in a low-income north Houston neighborhood), went viral. In the photo, he was seen hugging an elderly COVID-19 patient, in a ‘candid moment of empathy’.

When AFP reportedly visited Varon on his shift on Friday, it was his 260th straight day of work.

He sleeps, he reportedly says, no more than one or two hours a night, adding that he still isn’t aware how he is hanging on. 

“My staff is very tired. My nurses, they will start crying in the middle of the day. They will break down because they are so overwhelmed with the number of cases we’re getting that they are truly exhausted,” he says, as per AFP reports. “Whatever they bring (even if they are just donuts) is what I will eat because you don’t know when you’re going to eat again.”

The health workers’ faces can barely be seen through the layers of protective gear, even as some, including Varon, wear large photographs of themselves around their necks. The COVID-19 ward at the hospital is full, with another wing being added in anticipation of the tough winter months.

Varon firmly believes that if social distancing measures were adhered to and masks were worn properly, “health care workers like me could hopefully rest”. 

In the state of Texas, a one-month lockdown had been ordered back in April. However, the Texas Governer George Abbott, reportedly has no plans of reinstating it. 

The wearing of masks only became compulsory in July, as the state emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot. 

“People are out there in bars, restaurants, malls,” Varon had reportedly told CNN when he was interviewed about the viral photo. “It is crazy. People don’t listen and then they end up in my ICU.”