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Featured: Manish Singh, MD, FSCS, Chief Executive Officer, DHR Health System, and Member, Board of Directors, DHR Health Institute for Research and Development, during the 2020 Employee Milestone Celebration held in the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Friday, February 7, 2020.

Featured: Manish Singh, MD, FSCS, Chief Executive Officer, DHR Health System, and Member, Board of Directors, DHR Health Institute for Research and Development, during the 2020 Employee Milestone Celebration held in the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Friday, February 7, 2020.

Photograph Courtesy DHR HEALTH

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DHR Health System announces plan underway to collect convalescent plasma that may be used to treat patients who are critically-ill from COVID-19

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

A plan is underway by DHR Health System to collect convalescent plasma – specifically antibody-rich blood products that are taken from blood donated from people who have recovered from the COVID-19 virus – that could shorten the length, or lessen the severity of the contagious and dangerous illness.

Antibody, also called immunoglobulin, is a protective protein produced by the immune system in response to the presence of a foreign substance, called an antigen. Antibodies recognize and latch onto antigens in order to remove them from the body. A wide range of substances are regarded by the body as antigens, including disease-causing organisms and toxic materials such as insect venom.

(https://www.britannica.com/science/antibody)

“Currently there are pattens with severe and life-threatening COVID-19 infections who are fighting for the lives at hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley,” hospital system officials announced Thursday, April 16, 2020 on the DHR Health Facebook page. “This is a unique opportunity for individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 infections to help patients who are suffering from severe or life-threatening COVID-19. Please contact us immediately if you feel you qualify as a potential donor. Your donation would make a big difference in someone’s life.”

Individuals who believe they could be donor are asked to call 956/215-3166 or 956/342-4896 or email at [email protected] for more information.

Also according to the DHR Health Facebook:

• DRH Health and DHR Health Institute for Research and Development have partnered with other hospitals in the region to establish a novel protocol to treat severe and immediately life-threatening COVID-19 patients by using plasma from donors who have received from COVID-19 infection. It has been previously documented that plasma from donors who have recovered from COVID-19 infection contains antibodies that may help fight the disease,” the hospital system stated on its Facebook on Thursday, April 16, 2020; 

• Using FDA approved guidelines, plasma from selected donors will be collected using plasmapheresis at identified blood donation centers in the Rio Grande Valley. (Plasmapheresis a method of removing blood plasma from the body by withdrawing blood, separating it into plasma and cells, and transfusing the cells back into the bloodstream. It is performed especially to remove antibodies in treating autoimmune conditions – Oxford Dictionaries). 

• To accomplish this goal, DHR Health and other hospitals in the region have partnered with Vitalant, an FDA-approved blood donation center with facilities in McAllen and Harlingen, to collect plasma from identified donors. This protocol has also been reviewed and approved by the DHR Health Institute for Research and Development Institutional Review Board to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations involving human research subjects; and

• Globally, more than 2 million people are currently infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus (the cause for the COVID-19 infection) and more than 600,000 people in the U.S. are suffering from this disease. Of greater concern is the fact that the number of patients infected with COVID-19 virus continues to rise both nationally and in the State of Texas. In the absence of an effective treatment strategy, many innovative approaches are being tested with the hope of finding a protocol that would help prevent, mitigate and/or treat patients infected with the virus causing COVID-19.

Anchored in southwest Edinburg, with a growing presence in neighboring McAllen, DHR Health offers some of the most comprehensive medical care on the U.S. southern border, with more than 1,400 nurses and 600+ physicians providing care in 70+ specialties and sub-specialties.

DHR Health is the flagship teaching hospital for the UTRGV School of Medicine and encompasses a general acute hospital with the only dedicated women’s hospital South of San Antonio, a rehabilitation hospital, a behavioral hospital, more than 60 clinics Valley-wide, advanced cancer services, the only transplant program in the Rio Grande Valley – and the only functioning 24/7 Level 1 Trauma Center south of San Antonio.

DHR Health is headquartered on a 130-acre site, with most of the facilities in southwest Edinburg but with a growing South Campus immediately across Owassa Road in northwest McAllen.

According to the DHR Health Institute for Research and Development:

Clinical Research is as yet another name for Advanced Clinical Care. When everything else fails, we rely on clinical research to find new cures and to develop innovative strategies to treat a refractory disease. That is precisely the goal of the DHR Health Institute for Research & Development, which also has as one of its goals the necessity to increase participation of patients with Hispanic heritage whose involvement nationally in clinical trials is <1%.

DHR Health Institute for Research & Development was established as a nonprofit 501(c)3 entity organized under the Texas Nonprofit Corporation Act. The primary objective of DHR Health Institute for Research & Development is to serve as an independent research institute with a focus on enhancing translational and clinical research in critical areas of need through collaboration with investigators at DHR Health and other affiliated academic and non-academic partners.

As part of its mission, DHR Health Institute for Research & Development is also committed to providing access to innovative and advanced clinical care models for physicians for the treatment of patients and to facilitate development of “personalized” clinical care models for Hispanic population in the Valley. It is envisioned that this will also minimize the disruption in personal lives of our patients who have to travel to another center to gain access to a clinical trial, which could be offered here in the Valley.

(https://dhrresearch.org)

People who’ve recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies to the disease in their blood. Doctors call this convalescent plasma. Researchers hope that convalescent plasma can be given to people with severe COVID-19 to boost their ability to fight the virus.

(https://www.mayoclinic.org/coronavirus-covid-19)

People who recover from COVID-19 do so, at least in part, because their blood contains substances called antibodies, which are capable of fighting the virus that causes the illness. It turns out that for some other diseases caused by viruses, giving people the liquid portion of blood (plasma), obtained from those who have recovered from the virus, leads to more rapid improvement of the disease. Patients with COVID-19 may improve faster if they receive plasma from those who have recovered from COVID-19, because it may have the ability to fight the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the MAYO Clinic, which is based in Minnesota.

(https://www.mayoclinic.org/coronavirus-covid-19)

The Mount Sinai Health System in New York State reports that the antibodies from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 are transferred into critically ill patients with the disease, with the expectation that the antibodies will neutralize it. The process of using antibody-rich plasma from COVID-19 patients to help others was used successfully in China, according to a state-owned organization, which reported that some patients improved within 24 hours, with reduced inflammation and viral loads, and better oxygen levels in the blood.

(https://health.mountsinai.org/blog/mount-sinai-to-begin-the-transfer-of-covid-19-antibodies-into-critically-ill-patients/)

Also according to the MAYO Clinic:

Initial data available from studies using COVID-19 convalescent plasma for the treatment of individuals with severe or life-threatening disease indicate that a single dose of 200 mL showed benefit for some patients, leading to improvement.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York State, plasma is the often forgotten part of blood. White blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets are important to body function. But plasma also plays a key role. This fluid carries the blood components throughout the body. These include antibodies, clotting factors, and the proteins albumin and fibrinogen. The proteins and antibodies in plasma are also used in therapies for rare chronic conditions. These include autoimmune disorders and hemophilia.

Plasma is a critical part of the treatment for many serious health problems. This is why there are blood drives asking people to donate blood plasma.

(https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=160&ContentID=37)

ATTORNEY GENERAL PAXTON ISSUES OPINION ON LOCAL REGULATION OF FIREARM SALES DURING DECLARED EMERGENCY

Cities and counties may not use emergency declarations to regulate or restrict the sale of firearms, according to a recent nonbinding opinion issued by the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the House Research Organization reported on Thursday, April 16, 2020.

The House Research Organization is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives. It provides to state lawmakers and to the public daily reports on each major piece of legislation, with detailed background on the history and intent of those bills, and who supports and opposes those measures.

The chair of the Texas House Committee on Ways and Means on March 24, 2020, requested the opinion after many city and county officials declared local states of disaster and issued stay-at-home orders, as authorized under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The local orders require all nonessential businesses to close, while allowing essential businesses to remain open. The opinion request noted that the stay-at-home orders issued at the time of the request did not designate firearms manufacturers or retailers or shooting ranges as “essential businesses.” Some local orders were revised prior to the attorney general’s opinion to designate firearm businesses as essential.

The March 27, 2020 attorney general opinion concluded that while local officials have some power under state law to address disaster situations, that authority is not without limitation. The opinion points to a state firearms preemption statute enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature in 2019. 

House Bill (HB 3231) by Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, added the possession of, carrying of, or commerce in firearms, air guns, knives, ammunition, or firearm or air gun supplies and accessories to the list of activities a city or county is prohibited from regulating under Local Government Code sec. 229.001(a) or sec. 236.002(a). Cities or counties also may not regulate the transfer, ownership, storage, transportation, or licensing of those items or the discharge of a firearm or air gun at a sport shooting range.

Under the law effective on Sunday, September 1, 2019, an ordinance, resolution, rule, or policy adopted or enforced by a city or county or an official action, including in any legislative, police power, or proprietary capacity, taken by a city or county in violation of Local Government Code sec. 229.001(a) or sec. 236.002(a) is void. 

The recently issued attorney general opinion says that because of this provision, local officials may not use their emergency powers under Government Code sec. 418.108 to regulate the sale of firearms. The attorney general opinion notes that cities do have some authority under Local Government Code sec. 229.001(b)(4) to “regulate the use of firearms, . . . in the case of an insurrection, riot, or natural disaster if the municipality finds the regulations necessary to protect public health and safety” but that this provision does not grant authority to regulate the transfer, possession, ownership, or sale of firearms.

When House Bill 3231 was enacted in 2019, supporters said that by updating existing state firearms preemption statutes, the bill would ensure more uniform treatment of firearms and ammunition across the state and would protect the rights of lawful gun owners and firearms retailers. They said it would not affect a city’s or county’s legitimate authority to regulate the discharge of firearms or create and enforce other related ordinances. 

Critics of House Bill 3231 said it could have a chilling effect on local officials’ willingness to use their authority to adopt effective public safety measures. They said the bill would enable people to challenge firearms regulations, inviting potentially costly litigation for local taxpayers. In effect, critics said, cities and counties might choose not to pass regulations that could have any effect on firearms, even if authorized by law, for fear of legal liability.

Other states. In their initial stay-at-home orders, states differed on whether firearms retailers were listed as essential businesses. In subsequent revisions or extensions of those orders, some states have continued not to list gun stores as essential businesses, some have reclassified gun stores as essential businesses after initially ordering them to close, and others have allowed gun stores, but not shooting ranges, to remain open.

Those who support classifying firearms retailers as essential businesses say doing so protects the constitutional rights of lawful gun owners and promotes the safety of families, property, and businesses. They say keeping stores open also may reduce sales occurring through unregulated, private transactions. 

Some have said that gun stores are not essential businesses and that closing them is in line with other measures taken to combat COVID-19, including measures restricting travel and assembly. They have raised concerns that some gun owners, including first-time gun buyers, may not have access to adequate training, and that this could be especially dangerous during a time of rising tension and anxiety.

On Saturday, March 28, 2020, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Department of Homeland Security agency that manages risk to critical infrastructure, issued guidance to state, local, tribal, and territorial officials on identifying essential critical infrastructure workers during the COVID-19 response. 

The guidance lists workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges as part of the essential critical infrastructure workforce. CISA’s guidance is advisory and not a federal directive or standard.

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MacKenzie Nuñez contributed to this story. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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