With Thanksgiving days away, the COVID-19 pandemic enters a new phase in America. The number of new cases is skyrocketing past records set just last week. A quarter of a million Americans and 1,300 Kansans have lost their lives to this virus.


Across our state, we are witnessing uncontrolled spread in rural and urban communities just as the weather turns colder, bringing many of us inside for the coming winter months. For all of us, this turn raises our anxiety and daily burden.


But for front line health care workers and other essential workers, this flood of new cases is pushing them to the brink.


After more than eight months of nonstop work battling this virus, our brave doctors, nurses, corrections officers and other vital health care workers face fatigue, exhaustion and desperation, just when we need them the most.


They are on the front lines in one of the most challenging and critical battles of our lifetime. We all owe them our gratitude and appreciation. But more than that, we owe them our commitment to live safely and protect our communities from this virus.


During my career, I’ve been a doctor and served in the United States Air Force and Kansas National Guard. I was deployed overseas and stationed on the front lines during foreign conflicts. It was demanding and grueling in every way possible — mentally, emotionally and physically.


What our health care workers are experiencing right now is a different kind of war and very demanding. The casualties are just as staggering in this pandemic, similar to wars past. The battlefield may be different, but the toll that is being exacted on these workers is no less devastating.


The long hours and crushing stress of their jobs, coupled with the concerns they have in their own daily and family life, is pushing many health workers to their breaking point. We need to support them, encourage them and do all we can to slow the spread of the virus to alleviate the growing pressure on our hospitals.


The good news is that with two new vaccines close to being approved, we are getting closer to turning the corner in this pandemic. Until these vaccines are widely available, though, we must recommit to the principles we embraced in the spring when we successfully slowed the spread of the virus.


Whether you live in a small town, a big city or on a farm in a rural community — every Kansan must be diligent and follow safe and healthy practices. This is how we demonstrate our commitment to our communities and to each other.


This is how we show our nurses, doctors and all our health care workers that we value the sacrifices they make every day to care for our loved ones and be with our family members in their times of need.


We all want to return to normal and see our friends and family. But we are in a battle for our health and our lives. Right now, the most important act of patriotism is simply staying home, distancing from others and wearing a mask every time you leave home.


By doing these very simple things, we can lessen the stress on our hospitals, medical system and the brave people who work there.


To those who work on the front lines of this battle, I salute you.


Lee Norman is the Kansas secretary of Health and Environment, state health officer and state surgeon of the Kansas Army National Guard.