As local hospitals continue to manage an ongoing surge of COVID-19 patients, area physicians are urging those who have recovered from COVID-19 infection to participate in a program that can benefit those who are struggling to beat the virus.
The effort, called the “Expanded Access to Convalescent Plasma for the Treatke ment of Patients with COVID-19” program, uses plasma donated by certain individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to help treat those who are hospitalized with severe symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
Dr. Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist and physician adviser for Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen, explained the science behind the long-used treatment, which is finding new use to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Plasma is the liquid part of our blood that contains special proteins called antibodies. These antibodies are able to help fight infection by neutralizing the virus, and help the body get rid of the infection. When someone has recovered from COVID-19, their blood still contains these special antibodies which can help fight off an infection when given to someone else who is still suffering from severe disease,” he said. “This technology is actually very old and has been used successfully in the past to treat everything from Diphtheria to Ebola. The Mayo Clinic is leading a nationwide trial to determine how effective the use of convalescent plasma is in the treatment of COVID-19. Many of the hospitals in our region are part of this historical trial.”
For local residents who have recovered from COVID-19 infection and are interested in helping those who are struggling with the virus, there are specific guidelines that must be met to be a candidate for plasma donation, including:
- Prior diagnosis of COVID-19, documented by a laboratory test or a positive test result for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies
- Complete resolution of symptoms for at least 14 days (somehospitals require more time)
- A current negative test result for COVID-19
- All other donor eligibility for an automated plasma donation
Dr. Beverly Zavaleta, physician adviser for Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville and director of the hospital’s convalescent plasma program, outlined the first steps local residents who have recovered from COVID-19 can help others struggling with the virus.
“People who have recovered from COVID-19 are encouraged to call the Plasma Donor Line at (956) 215-3166 to speak with someone about donating,” she said. “You will be screened first, and then directed to one of several donation sites if your plasma can be used.”
For more information on how you can donate plasma to the convalescent plasma program, Rio Grande Valley residents can also visit www.vitalant.org/COVIDfree.
The urgent need for plasma donations from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 comes as area hospitals work to combat the ongoing surge of COVID-19 infections in the Valley.
Manny Vela, CEO for Valley Baptist Health System and Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen, recently described the region’s situation related to COVID-19 as critical.
“One of our biggest concerns during this entire pandemic has been to ensure that our hospitals remained well positioned with personal protective equipment, staff and capacity to care for our community. Over the past four months, our teams have done an incredible job managing in this new environment. However, we are now starting to feel the extreme surge of confirmed and/or suspected COVID-19 positive patients requiring hospitalization throughout the Rio Grande Valley and particularly at our three hospitals in Brownsville, Harlingen and Weslaco,” said Manny Vela, CEO for Valley Baptist Health System and Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen. “Valley Baptist is at a critical capacity level just like every other hospital across our region. Both Valley Baptist-Harlingen and Valley Baptist-Brownsville are now either at or exceeding our maximum occupancy for both COVID-19 related and non COVID-19 related patients.”
Romero said that the hospitals continue to see numerous patients admitted on a daily basis with severe disease.
“Many of these patients are now younger than before, and often without many of the severe underlying health problems that we previously associated with severe disease. We have unfortunately seen many people pass away from COVID-19, even young individuals,” he said. “These days I cannot in good conscience say that young people or healthy individuals don’t have to worry about this disease.”
Leslie Bingham, CEO for Valley Baptist-Brownsville said physicians and hospital staff are working tirelessly to continue to care for their community, but that they require assistance to alleviate the exhausting strain of the ongoing situation.
“Everything is being done to ensure the best possible coordination and care for our patients; however, we need our community to help us help them,” she said.“We need our community to takeimmediate action to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the continued surge in our hospitals.”
While early efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19 – such as shelter in place orders and minimizing travel – were successful, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed as local residents became lax in following protective measures against the virus.
“When people wear a face mask in public, maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from others, and practice frequent hand hygiene, it reduces the spread of the virus,” Bingham said.“We’re imploring the people of the Rio Grande Valley – our friends, our neighbors, our families – to do these three simple things to help us save lives.”
Vela said that despite the critical situation, he is confident in the local residents doing what they must to help local healthcare providers continue to provide appropriate care to the community.
“What we need most right now is for our community to please hear us. This pandemic is real. It is in our community and it’s on the rise. If this surge continues as it has over the past week, we will have a very real need to open some type of alternative care site in our community so that additional care can be provided for those that will inevitably require hospitalization,” he said.“We beg our community to continue to take all necessary precautions, please avoid large gatherings, please wear your mask, and please continuously wash your hands.”
- As recommended by the CDC and local health officials, individuals should wear a cloth face covering if they need to leave their home for essential travel.
- Stay home if you have a cold to prevent the spread of infection.
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Keep six feet away from others while in public.
- Contact your physician and seek medical care if you are having trouble breathing, confusion, or high fever.
- If you will be seeking medical care for symptoms that you think may be from COVID-19, please call ahead to notify your physician so that they may be ready for your arrival.
- For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website (CDC.gov), as well as the Cameron County Public Health Department website (www.cameroncounty.us/publichealth/).