Calls to encourage more people to socially distance and wear face masks are mounting as the number of Covid patients in Kent's hospitals has more than doubled in a month.
A senior NHS leader says "sensible precautions" are needed to reduce the strain on the health service as the virus continues to wreak havoc.
In Kent, there are currently 456 hospital patients with Covid - up from 218 at the start of March, and the highest number since February last year.
The majority are not being treated because of the virus, but the logistics of keeping infected patients away from those without the virus is piling the pressure on overworked hospital teams.
Many trusts are also being hit hard by staff absences, with 1,269 hospital workers in Kent off sick on April 6 - almost 40% of them with Covid.
At the same time, one in three patients attending the county's A&E departments are waiting more than four hours to be seen.
In March alone, 461 endured waits of more than 12 hours to be admitted - many of them in hospital corridors.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, says at its latest board meeting 20 experienced hospital trust bosses agreed this was "the longest and most sustained period of NHS pressure they had seen in their careers".
He is urging the government to open a discussion with the public about measures they can take to ease the demands on hospitals.
“There is concern across the NHS that the government doesn’t seem to want to talk about coronavirus any more,” he said.
“But we think we need a proper grown-up national debate about what living with Covid actually means.”
Mr Hopson says pretending the virus “doesn’t exist any more and that nobody needs to take any precautions” is one of the reasons for the current prevalence of infection.
In the week up to April 9 there were 8,208 new cases in Kent and Medway.
All legal Covid restrictions in England were ended in February, with Boris Johnson saying: "Let us learn to live with this virus and continue protecting ourselves and others without restrictions on our freedoms.”
But Mr Hopson says a debate should be opened up once more to discuss what can be done to cut infection rates.
“Nobody is arguing we should go back to draconian lockdown restrictions, but this is not all or nothing," he explained.
“There’s an intermediary point which is where most other European nations are, which is their political leaders are explaining what the level of risk is, and they’re basically saying therefore you need to think carefully about: do you want to wear a mask in a public place? Do you want to ensure that if you’re inside with people you don’t normally mix with, there’s proper ventilation? Do you want to maximise the amount of time that you spend outdoors meeting people rather than indoors?”
Mr Hopson added that the NHS is facing the levels of pressure normally experienced in the “very depths of winter”.