Doctor Comforts Distraught Coronavirus Patient on Thanksgiving Day in Heartbreaking Photo

A photo of a doctor in full personal protective equipment, hugging an elderly patient suffering from the novel coronavirus, serves as a reminder of the human toll and impact of the virus during the holiday season.

The photo, taken on Thanksgiving, shows Dr. Joseph Varon cradling a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit of Houston's United Memorial Medical Center.

Thursday marked Varon's 252nd straight day of working in the hospital, according to an interview he gave CNN's New Day Wednesday.

"For the last few days, we've had a steady increase in the number of cases," Varon said in the interview. "There is no question that patients are coming in … sicker, because they are waiting longer to go to the hospital."

"Unfortunately, my concern for the next six-to-twelve weeks is that if we don't do things right, America is going to see the darkest days in modern American medical history," he continued.

Varon added that his hospital was already at capacity: "My hospital is full. I just opened two new wings so that I can accommodate for the next few days because I know that a lot of people are going to get sick after Thanksgiving."

Though the CDC warned against traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday, millions of Americans were screened at airports in the days prior.

As case spikes across the country, the CDC also advised against indoor gatherings of large groups.

Cases are likely to continue to rise in the coming weeks, as they have following previous holidays during the global pandemic, such as Memorial Day and July 4th.

Calling the continued cycle of patients a "never-ending story," Varon said the pandemic had taken a tremendous toll on health care workers.

"My nurses in the middle of the day, they will start crying … When they finish finally getting a patient in, they get a phone call from the ER that there is another patient that is being admitted," Varon said. "How have I done it? I don't know. I'm running out of fumes."

Health care professionals have issued desperate pleas for the public to take the virus seriously in recent weeks, with some calling on the government to enact more restrictions to slow the spread.

Others have taken to social media to share stories of sick patients and express frustration at those who flaunt safety guidelines.

Recently, one ICU doctor, Dr. Kenneth Remy, even simulated a COVID-19 patient's final moments in a chilling video made after he saw a "pretty high mortality in people dying" from the virus, he recently told PEOPLE.

As of Friday, there have been more than 13 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States and at least 263,939 deaths from coronavirus-related illnesses, according to a New York Times database.

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 CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here. 

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