SEVERE WX : Air Stagnation Advisory View Alerts

After 256 days working nonstop, doctor pleads with public to help halt Covid-19

CNN's John Berman speaks with Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, about a heartbreaking photo that captures him consoling an elderly patient on Thanksgiving.

Posted: Dec 1, 2020 2:02 AM
Updated: Dec 1, 2020 5:00 AM


The Texas doctor captured in a photo cradling a distraught Covid-19 patient on Thanksgiving has spoken of the sad isolation of his elderly patients and pleaded with people to 'do the basic things' to avoid infection and stay out of hospital.

Hospitalizations from Covid-19 reached another record high across the US Monday, with officials across several states expressing concern that health care facilities would be overwhelmed.

Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, told CNN's New Day on Monday that he had worked for 256 days nonstop in the pandemic so far and was frustrated by the increasing numbers of people being hospitalized.

Varon described the desperation of Covid-19 patients on his wards, who he said were battling isolation as well as the virus. The man he had been consoling in the photo just wanted his family, the doctor said.

'As I'm going inside my Covid unit I see that this elderly patient is out of his bed and trying to get out of the room and he's crying. So, I get close to him and I tell him 'why are you crying' and the man says, 'I want to be with my wife',' Varon said. 'So, I just grab him, I hold him, I did not know that I was being photographed at that time.'

Varon said eventually the man felt better and stopped crying. But he said the patient would not be able to see his wife until he tested negative on his swabs and could be discharged.

'You feel isolated'

'It's very difficult. You can imagine. You are inside a room where people come in in 'spacesuits' and you have no communication with anybody else, only by phone if you're lucky. I mean it's very difficult and when you are an elderly individual it's even more difficult because you feel that you are alone. You feel isolated.'

Varon said as he held the man, he recollected all the other patients that he'd had to similarly console.

'I will go into their rooms; I will sit on their bed and chat with them because they truly need somebody to give them a hand. And my staff is very good at doing this, but we have so many patients that sometimes we cannot hold every patient or grab the hand of a patient or at least try to be a little more human,' the doctor said. 'Some of them cry, some of them try to escape -- we actually had somebody that tried to escape through a window the other day.'

The man in the photo may be able to see his wife soon, Varon said. His condition had improved, and staff hoped that he might be discharged by the end of the week.

The doctor's battle, however, continues.

'I don't know what keeps me going, I don't know how I haven't broken down,' he said. 'My nurses have broken down. My nurses cry in the middle of the day because they get so sad, sometimes for situations like this. Just seeing a patient that's crying because he wants to see his family.'

'Keep your social distance; wear your mask; wash your hands'

Varon said he was frustrated by people not doing the right thing as coronavirus patients continue to fill his hospital beds.

'I do this day in and day out and people are out there doing the wrong thing. People are out there in bars, restaurants, malls -- it is crazy -- it's like we work, work, work, work, work and people don't listen and then they end up in my ICU,' he said.

'What people need to know is that -- I don't want to have to be hugging them. They need to do the basic things: keep your social distance; wear your mask; wash your hands and avoid going to places where there are a lot of people. Very simple. If people can do that health care workers like me will be able to -- hopefully rest.'

Varon said he was trying to be transparent to the media so that the public could see the reality of the situation in his hospital and had given Getty photographer Go Nakamura access to his Covid-19 ward, which is how the image of him had been captured.

READ: This doctor just endured the deadliest week of his career

Worsening crisis

Nakamura posted the photo on his Facebook account with the caption: 'Nov. 26. Dr. Joseph Varon comforts a patient with coronavirus disease. I am grateful to witness a wonderful moment and I thank all the medical staffs for their hard work even during the holiday season. Photographed for @gettyimages #covidera #photojournalism'

Other photos from the hospital posted on Nakamura's feed show masked medical workers treating patients or resting, seemingly exhausted.

Varon also spoke to CNN's New Day on November 25, warning that the crisis was worsening.

'For the last few days, we've had a steady increase in the number of cases. There's no question that patients are coming into the hospital -- they are coming in sicker. And they are coming in sicker because they are waiting longer to come to the hospital. They are tired of corona; they have what I call the 'Corona Fatigue Syndrome.' Everybody's tired of Corona, so they wait, they wait longer,' he said then.

'Unfortunately, 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 day in modern American medical history.'

Varon said his hospital had opened two new wings to prepare for an expected influx of patients after Thanksgiving as the pandemic's relentless cycle continued.

'This is taking a huge toll. Not only on me but on my health care people that work with me. My nurses, in the middle of the day they will start crying because you know 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 that is being admitted,' he said.

Some 96,039 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized across the US as of Monday evening, according to the Covid Tracking Project and the virus's toll continues to climb. Johns Hopkins University reported 157,901 new cases and 1,172 deaths Monday, taking the US totals to more than 13,500,000 cases and at least 268,045 lives lost from Covid-19.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 387485

Reported Deaths: 5116
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah59768836
Washington41571393
Marion39592504
Clackamas32426376
Lane29856354
Jackson24672350
Deschutes23182185
Umatilla15087180
Linn14488178
Douglas13236286
Josephine10057240
Yamhill9665142
Klamath8979145
Polk813698
Benton605137
Malheur591586
Coos5573106
Columbia423855
Jefferson416865
Lincoln357252
Union336854
Crook330156
Wasco314846
Clatsop258335
Baker217531
Tillamook214345
Hood River211337
Morrow197025
Curry190136
Harney119332
Grant108314
Lake104016
Wallowa74713
Sherman1903
Gilliam1844
Wheeler1141
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 5061240

Reported Deaths: 74159
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles152548627128
San Diego4047084319
Riverside3849455306
San Bernardino3718825944
Orange3329505675
Sacramento1674002423
Kern1565171781
Fresno1558992246
Santa Clara1511691922
Alameda1246581504
San Joaquin1070001833
Ventura1036461188
Contra Costa1032921045
Stanislaus912991413
Tulare856141082
San Francisco56614669
San Mateo56058629
Monterey52340625
Solano47422356
Santa Barbara47035548
Merced44807664
Sonoma42912412
Placer41881468
Imperial38128769
Kings35038358
San Luis Obispo31294358
Madera26005311
Shasta25917440
Butte25295309
Santa Cruz22028222
Yolo21451257
Marin18342248
El Dorado18166161
Sutter14494181
Napa13372104
Yuba1070088
Tehama10230129
Humboldt10043117
Nevada9914103
Mendocino848894
Lassen792355
San Benito775977
Tuolumne767790
Lake6990110
Amador573766
Siskiyou470954
Glenn455136
Calaveras435685
Del Norte371242
Colusa323519
Inyo254345
Plumas19127
Mono18294
Mariposa156718
Trinity98817
Modoc7475
Unassigned2430
Sierra2170
Alpine1060
Out of CA00
Medford
Mostly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 46°
Brookings
Partly Cloudy
44° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 44°
Crater Lake
Mostly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 46°
Grants Pass
Partly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 46°
Klamath Falls
Cloudy
29° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 29°
Fog and stagnant air in the valleys, dry and mild weather continues into Monday
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events

Latest Video

Image

Monday, November 29 morning weather

Image

Sunday, November 28th Weather

Image

Sunday, November 28th Weather

Image

Ducks survive late Beaver surge, win 125th rivalry game

Image

Saturday, November 27th Weather

Image

SOU Men out shoot Antelope Valley, Women win 4th-straight

Image

Friday, November 26th Evening Weather

Image

Friday, November 26 weather

Image

Thursday, November 25th Evening Weather

Image

Pet of the Week: Bat, Hunk & Keith