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Starr County to hold plasma collection drive

An embattled south Texas county is receiving aid from the state in facing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starr County will hold a plasma donation drive next week in the county’s sole hospital.

“We do understand the significant needs there are in the Valley for plasma to treat patients with every possible resource we have so Starr County wants to help participate in these efforts,” Dr. Jose Vasquez, Starr county health authority said.

The plasma drive will be conducted at the lobby of the Starr County Memorial Hospital in Rio Grande City Saturday, Aug. 15 from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m.

Vasquez is the president of the board of directors for the hospital. 

The blood drive is in collaboration with Doctors Hospital at Renaissance which has held several similar drives throughout the Valley. This will be the first drive of its kind in Starr County and will be open to the general public.

“It’s a tool to fight the disease, a therapeutic treatment that can save lives and avoid intubations,” Vasquez said of the treatment, which involves donated plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 given to patients battling the disease. “It’s important to be able to give patients what is necessary to fight the virus. A plasma donation event will be of significant need in the Valley.”

To be eligible for plasma donation, people must be at least 18 years of age, recovered from COVID-19 for at least two weeks and have antibodies detected in your system.

Starr County currently has 2,226 known cases of the virus as of Wednesday morning with 1,495 of those cases marked as active and 745 recovered patients. Vasquez said he hopes the amount of recovered patients will be enough to draw a significant number of people to donate.

“We were originally going to have the drive last week but delayed it because so many of our cases came in the last month,” Vasquez said. “We’re hoping with the delay in the drive a significant amount of recoveries will have been made by then.”

The drive is one of the many ways the county is battling the COVID-19 pandemic after a surge in new cases started popping up in the county, Vasquez said.

Last spring, the county made national headlines for being one of the counties with the lowest amount of positive cases in the state, Vasquez said. He attributed the low amount of cases due to the county’s strict curfew, stay at home order and mask wearing mandate.

Since state Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order to reopen the state went into effect last May, superseding all local orders, several areas in the state have seen a surge in COVID-19 cases with Starr County seeing one of the highest rates of infection in the state, Vasquez said. 

“We are seeing a continual increase of people turning positive in our community,” Vasquez said. “People still aren’t following recommendations of avoiding large gatherings, even with immediate members of a family household turning up positive and people not following the curfew.”

The county hospital has reached capacity, Vasquez said. Critically ill patients had to be transferred to hospitals in Hidalgo County last June before Hidalgo county hospitals ran out of space, forcing Starr County to transfer patients via helicopter as far as the state of New York.

A total of 183 patients were transferred to hospitals outside the county in the months of June and July, Vasquez said.

Relief however arrived within the last two weeks. Last week the county announced they would begin to transfer patients to the Audie L. Murphy VA hospital in San Antonio.

“It’s a state-of-the-art facility with all of the medical specialties needed to care for these patients,” Vasquez said. “It’s a significant relief to our communities, now we know that we have the option of sending patients who require more attention than what we can provide here. It’s a game changer for our community.”

This week the McAllen Convention Center was converted into a healthcare facility to transfer up to 250 recovering COVID-19 patients. Vasquez said Starr County plans to take advantage of that space due to a lack of large venues in the county to be used for a similar facility.

“Capacity here is back at 27 patients with four of those patients being intubated,” Vasquez said of the space at Starr County Memorial Hospital. “Even though we received help we are still seeing a significant number of COVID-19 patients coming through our emergency room, and unfortunately, many of those require a hospital admission.”

The county has received from the state more medical staff and after Gov. Greg Abbott’s visit to the area last week, the hospital received more ventilators, oxygen concentrators, IV pumps and are waiting for a request for cardiac monitors to be fulfilled, Vasquez said.


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