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With flu season coming, DHR Health leaders urge South Texans to remain vigilant about COVID-19, but to continue to seek medical care for other illnesses, injuries and diseases - flu season - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured, from left: Liz Adamson, Chief Experience Officer, DHR Health; Maritza Padilla, Assistant Chief Nursing Officer, DHR Health; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Saroja Viswamitra, MD, Medical Director, Rehabilitation Hospital, DHR Health; Marissa Castañeda, Senior Executive Vice President, DHR Health: Nancy García, Chief Clinical Officer, Surgical and Procedural, DHR Health; and Dr. Ted E. Bear, Funology Specialist. This image was taken at DHR Health on Tuesday, May 12, 2020, as part of National Nurses Week to raise awareness of the important roles nurses play in society.

Photograph Courtesy DHR HEALTH

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With flu season coming, DHR Health leaders urge South Texans to remain vigilant about COVID-19, but to continue to seek medical care for other illnesses, injuries and diseases

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

With the 2020-2021 flu season coming during the COVID-19 pandemic, DHR Health leaders continue to urge South Texans to seek medical care when needed for all other illnesses, diseases, and injuries, while remaining watchful and careful to continue protecting themselves from the ongoing, infectious, dangerous coronavirus.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency has impacted the nation since at least March 2020 – and resulted in an alarming number of COVID-19 positive infections in deep South Texas during the summer of 2020.

According to the Centers for Disease Control:

• The flu season in the United States occurs in the fall and winter. While influenza (flu) viruses circulate year-round, most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, but activity can last as late as May; and

• There is no change in CDC’s recommendation on the timing of vaccination this flu season. Getting vaccinated in July or August is too early, especially for older people, because of the likelihood of reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season. September and October are good times to get vaccinated. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue, even in January or later. For more information, log on to vaccination timing this year.

Carlos Cárdenas, MD, Chair, Board of Managers, DHR Health, and Manish Singh, MD, Chief Executive Officer, DHR Health, shared their advice on protecting one’s health as part of a Thursday, August 31, 2020 broadcast interview with journalist Martha Benavídes, who anchors 30-minute news and public affairs broadcast on Socialife magazine.

Benavídes raised public concerns about large numbers of patients who reportedly have been staying away from important visits to doctors, medical centers, or hospital emergency rooms because of COVID-19.

“We’re still learning about this invisible virus. We know that staying on top of our health is certainly key, something that we should already be doing,” Benavídes observed. “Right now, fears associated with this pandemic, unfortunately, have resulted in many individuals who are living with (medical) conditions who need to maintain and seek personal health care, they’re just not doing it because they’re afraid to make their doctors’ appointments, they’re afraid to be exposed (to COVID-19). Why is this so concerning to the medical community?”

Cárdenas and Singh offered their perspectives and guidance for all South Texans.

I know the flu season is coming, so you have to be extra vigilant, not just for you, but for every person who may not be as healthy, and may get this disease (COVID-19), and have a worse outcome than others,” said Cárdenas. “It’s really important, and the message I would like to get across to everybody is if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or other chronic illnesses that need to be seen, don’t stay at home with it. Don’t sit at home and not be checked.”

Chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last one year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, according to the CDC.

(https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm)

Come in and get seen. That’s what keeps you on that even track that makes it possible to keep you well. It’s about your health, it’s about keeping you well,” said Cárdenas. “If you have COVID, we’re here for you, too. We’re able to handle both things.”

Singh said DHR Health continues to provide education and encouragement throughout the Rio Grande Valley, a metropolitan region that has more than 1.4 million residents, about the need to protect their health, even during a pandemic. (A pandemic is a disease widespread over a whole country or the world.)

“One of the public service announcements DHR has been doing is, ‘Your life may be on pause, but your health is not.’ It alludes to that your basic health conditions are still going on. People should go see their primary care physician. Make sure your blood pressure is normal, make sure about the chest pain you are ignoring, maybe its something very bad,” said Singh. “One of the reasons we have seen patients dying because of this (COVID-19) virus is because of diabetes or other conditions. If they are not controlled now, then we’ll have this condition for the patients getting worse in the future, also. This virus is not going anywhere until we have the (COVID-19) vaccine.”

Singh and Cárdenas reported on some of the ways DHR Health is successfully keeping their patients and medical professionals as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Valley.

“Here at DHR, from the very beginning, we built units to be able to handle our COVID patients separate from the population that didn’t have COVID, because we understood very clearly our community. We have a large number of patients who have diabetes, high blood pressure, and other problems. Just because there’s COVID in the community doesn’t mean that these other problems went away, and we wanted to be able to create a safe environment for those who don’t have COVID, that they can come and be seen, be attended to, and have their problems addressed.”

With the memory of Hurricane Hanna still fresh in the minds of most South Texans, Benavídes noted, “We are in the middle of hurricane season. We saw just a few weeksago (Saturday, July 26, 2020), we had Hurricane Hanna. Are you concerned about having to deal with a natural disaster on top of this health crisis? Are we prepared?”

The official hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin (the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico) is from June 1 to November 30, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The peak of the season is from mid-August to late October. However, deadly hurricanes can occur anytime in the hurricane season.

“We have a plan for it. We’ve been through storms in the past, we will be through storms in the future. At this time, we’re dealing with a pandemic storm at the same time that we may deal with a natural disaster. We have a plan and we implement that plan,” Cárdenas explained. “We’re in the middle of executing our plan for pandemic right now, and it’s been going very well. If Mother Nature decides to turn her fury towards us, we’re prepared.”

On Sunday, September 6, 2020, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortéz announced the latest daily and total figures on COVID-19 positive test results, deaths, hospitalizations, and other key health information since the pandemic hit the nation in March 2020.

On Sunday, September 6, 2020, Hidalgo County saw 22  more people died in Hidalgo County of COVID-19 complications while another 222 people tested positive. The death toll, as well as the new positive cases, reflected a two-day period as health officials took off Saturday, September 5, 2020.

Between March 2020 and Sunday, September 6, 2020, there have been 1,272 individuals in Hidalgo County who have passed away due to COVID-19. 

During that period, 142,772 COVID-19 tests have been administered in Hidalgo County, with 28,591 tests coming back positive for COVID-19, while 113,726 tests showed no active infection of COVID-19.

“We have said it before, but we are in the midst of another critical weekend as people in Hidalgo County celebrate Labor Day — a day that traditionally involves large family gatherings,” Judge Cortez said. “But these tragically rising numbers of our neighbors who have died, as well as those who have contracted this virus, are a reminder that we must protect ourselves. To the extent you can avoid large crowds on Labor Day, please do. It’s for your own safety and that of your family.”

“We hear that the (COVID-19 positive) numbers are going slightly down across America. This is very encouraging, compared to where we were just a month ago. Where do we stand right now?” Benavídes asked.

“Yes, we’ve seen some downtrend in hospitalizations. However we continue to have a large number of patients in our COVID units, and we have a lot of very, very ill people who are with the virus,” Cárdenas reported. “This virus is still with us. This is not a time for complacency. It’s a time to continue to do the things we’ve been talking about – the social distancing, wearing your mask, being very careful not to touch your face, your eyes, and washing your hands frequently. Continue to do those things.”

Highlights of the Socialife Magazine interview by Benavídes with Cárdenas and Singh, which was first posted online on Thursday, August 27, 2020, follow. The transcription has been edited for content and grammar:

MARTHA BENAVÍDES
NEWS ANCHOR
SOCIALIFE MAGAZINE

As we keep searching for that big medical breakthrough, we learned that the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) has authorized emergency use of plasma treatment. But what does it mean for us, and how safe and effective will it be? We turn to two experts for the answers from DHR Health. I would like to welcome Dr. Singh and Dr. Cárdenas to the show. Welcome, gentlemen, thank you so much for doing us.

(The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of the nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.)

CARLOS CÁRDENAS, MD
CHAIRMAN, BOARD OF MANAGERS
DHR HEALTH

Martha, it’s great to be here.

MARTHA BENAVÍDES: Before we get to that subject, gentlemen, I would like to begin by asking where we stand right now? We hear that the (COVID-19 positive) numbers are going slightly down across America. This is very encouraging, compared to where we were just a month ago. Where do we stand right now?

CARLOS CÁRDENAS, MD: We hit a landmark. I think we’ve had 25,000 (COVID-19) cases in Hidalgo County (as of Sunday, August 24, 2020), which is a very large number. Yes, we’ve seen some downtrend in hospitalizations. However we continue to have a large number of patients in our COVID units, and we have a lot of very, very ill people who are with the virus. 

This virus is still with us. This is not a time for complacency. It’s a time to continue to do the things we’ve been talking about – the social distancing, wearing your mask, being very careful not to touch your face, your eyes, and washing your hands frequently. Continue to do those things.

MANISH SINGH, MD
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
DHR HEALTH 

The numbers which we are seeing of the new (COVID-19) positives have been consistent, between 200 to 500 (daily), depending on the test results. It has been there for the last two weeks, even though the number of transmissions has gone down. I completely agree with Dr. Cárdenas. It’s not time to lower your guard.

MARTHA BENAVÍDES: We don’t want to give anybody a false sense of security by saying that these numbers have gone down, even a bit. We want to thank you for the work you do for taking care of all of us in this community. We’re so thankful to you. We just received news this week – the FDA is authorizing emergency use of plasma treatment. How much of a difference do you think this serum is really going to make? How safe is it?

(Convalescent plasma (kon-vuh-LES-unt PLAZ-muh) therapy uses blood from people who’ve recovered from an illness to help others recover. – https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/convalescent-plasma-therapy/about/pac-20486440)

CARLOS CÁRDENAS, MD: Convalescent plasma treatment has been with us for a very long time, maybe 100 years. A lot of people don’t realize that, but it’s been around a long time. Basically, what it is, is to take the plasma from somebody who has been through the illness, has become well, and is now donating their plasma – which is the clear part of the blood – back to be used as a treatment (for) someone else who is ill, because it contains the antibodies.

DHR, very early on, became a site for research and to use convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID. With the FDA announcing this week (Sunday, August 23, 2020) that it’s an emergency treatment, certainly, that will hopefully make it more available to people. But at the same time, it will increase the demand for donors. 

So if you, or someone you know, has been through COVID, you’re well now, I would urge you to please consider donating at one of the plasma centers or contacting us here at DHR and becoming a plasma donor because it is a therapy that appears to truly help our COVID patients.

MANISH SINGH, MD: There are two terms that I want to clarify: “expanded use” and “emergency use”.

In “expanded use”, as Dr. Cárdenas mentioned, we were part of the MAYO Clinic trial and we have been providing these services to our patients for a long time, with the wonderful results we have seen. Based on those results, the FDA has now approved as an “emergency use” for other hospitals, they can use it without getting on that trial. This is something we have been using safely for at least a couple of months.

(According to the MAYO Clinic, earlier this year, the U.S. government provided support for a national Expanded Access Program to provide access to convalescent plasma to patients in need across the country. This program provided a pathway for patients with serious or life-threatening COVID-19 access to investigational convalescent plasma outside of clinical trials because no satisfactory alternative therapy options were available.)

(After evaluating safety and efficacy data for patients transfused in the Mayo Clinic-led EAP program and other existing data, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to further expand access to convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized patients. This EUA allows the use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma to be distributed and used by licensed health care providers to treat adult patients hospitalized with COVID-19.)

(https://www.uscovidplasma.org)

(According to the FDA, that federal agency has determined that it is reasonable to believe that COVID-19 convalescent plasma may be effective in lessening the severity or shortening the length of COVID-19 illness in some hospitalized patients. The FDA also determined that the known and potential benefits of the product, when used to treat COVID-19, outweigh the known and potential risks of the product and that that there are no adequate, approved, and available alternative treatments.)

(https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-issues-emergency-use-authorization-convalescent-plasma-potential-promising-covid-19-treatment)

MARTHA BENAVÍDES: Very encouraging news. We had one of your colleagues (Sohail Rao, MD, CEO, DHR Health Institute for Research & Development) just a few months ago (Thursday, July 2, 2020) talking about the need for (plasma) donations. I’m glad you both touched on that, and I hope people will respond. We also just heard a report of a gentleman in Hong Kong who is believed to have reinfected with the virus. What do you make of this situation, and should we be concerned?

MANISH SINGH, MD: One thing I can tell you about this coronavirus (COVID-19) is that we don’t know anything about it. We’re basically learning as we go. I saw those reports, and I would like to see the details about that case report. What we have seen, and what we know so far about coronavirus, he may be positive because of random PCR tests which were done when he was going through an airport. But that doesn’t mean he has an active infection. Even now, CDC has mentioned people can be positive even three to six months after their coronavirus because they have dead viral particles. That doesn’t mean they have the virus or they are infected. Probably, that person who was considered to be positive through their test had the immunity to kill the virus the second time, and they actually saw the dead virus particles. There is nothing to become alarmed.

(COVID-19 testing involves analyzing samples to assess the current or past presence of SARS-CoV-2 , which stands for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2”, and is the official name of the virus. COVID 19 stands for “coronavirus disease, which is the official name of the disease. The two main branches detect either the presence of the virus or of antibodies produced in response to infection. Tests for viral presence are used to diagnose individual cases and to allow public health authorities to trace and contain outbreaks. Antibody tests instead show whether someone once had the disease. They are less useful for diagnosing current infections because antibodies may not develop for weeks after infection. It is used to assess disease prevalence, which aids the estimation of the infection fatality rate. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_testing )

MARTHA BENAVÍDES: We’re still learning about this invisible virus. We know that staying on top of our health is certainly key, something that we should already be doing. Right now, fears associated with this pandemic, unfortunately, have resulted in many individuals who are living with (medical) conditions who need to maintain and seek personal health care, they’re just not doing it because they’re afraid to make their doctors’ appointments, they’re afraid to be exposed (to COVID-19). Why is this so concerning to the medical community?

CARLOS CÁRDENAS, MD: You bring up a really great point, and that is, before COVID, we still had a lot of illness and disease in our community-driven by diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and all of the other problems. Just because we have COVID doesn’t mean these other problems stopped. Just because we have COVID doesn’t mean that you don’t need to come in to be checked and to be seen and to be followed. Or something changes in your health that you don’t go see your physician. If you let something sit, if you let something fester, by the time you come, it will be much more advanced, and we’re beginning to see some of those issues. That’s very unfortunate. One of the safest places to come is the hospital because we’ve taken tremendous measures to keep everybody safe. 

Here at DHR, from the very beginning, we built units to be able to handle our COVID patients separate from the population that didn’t have COVID, because we understood very clearly our community. We have a large number of patients who have diabetes, high blood pressure, and other problems. Just because there’s COVID in the community doesn’t mean that these other problems went away, and we wanted to be able to create a safe environment for those who don’t have COVID, that they can come and be seen, be attended to, and have their problems addressed. 

It’s really important, and the message I would like to get across to everybody is if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or other chronic illnesses that need to be seen, don’t stay at home with it. Don’t sit at home and not be checked. Come in and get seen. That’s what keeps you on that even track that makes it possible to keep you well. It’s about your health, it’s about keeping you well. 

If you have COVID, we’re here for you, too. We’re able to handle both things.

MANISH SINGH, MD: Once of the public service announcements DHR has been doing is, “Your life may be on pause, but your health is not.” It alludes to that your basic health conditions are still going on. People should go see their primary care physician. Make sure your blood pressure is normal, make sure the chest pain you are ignoring, maybe its something very bad. One of the reasons we have seen patients dying because of this virus is because of diabetes or other conditions. If they are not controlled now, then we’ll have this condition for the patients getting worse in the future, also. This virus is not going anywhere until we have the vaccine.

MARTHA BENAVÍDES: We know our bodies, Dr. Singh and Dr. Cárdenas, and we need to listen to our bodies and stay on top of our health. We are in the middle of the hurricane season. We saw just a few weeksago (Saturday, July 26, 2020), we had Hurricane Hanna. Are you concerned about having to deal with a natural disaster on top of this health crisis? Are we prepared?

CARLOS CÁRDENAS, MD: The keyword here is “crisis”, and the health crisis that we are in the middle of the pandemic, and we are still on an emergency footing here at the hospital. We have an incident team that meets every day on COVID. We don’t skip our stride, we step right in and have a plan to deal with a hurricane or whatever natural event may occur. It just means that our vigilance continues, our planning continues. We have a plan for it. We’ve been through storms in the past, we will be through storms in the future. At this time, we’re dealing with a pandemic storm at the same time that we may deal with a natural disaster. We have a plan and we implement that plan. We’re in the middle of executing our plan for pandemic right now, and it’s been going very well. If Mother Nature decides to turn her fury towards us, we’re prepared.

MANISH SINGH, MD: This is the time for the community to be extra vigilant and be more responsible because of the hurricane season. I know we had a big Memorial Day (Monday, May 25, 2020) weekend and we saw the big surge of cases after that. Every health care worker who is at the forefront of dealing with this, we appeal to the people to be extra responsible. I know the flu season is coming, so you have to be extra vigilant, not just for you, but for every person who may not be as healthy, and may get this disease, and have a worse outcome than others.

MARTHA BENAVÍDES: Thank you, gentlemen, for being our health care heroes, for doing what you do and committing to take care of all us during this pandemic and always. Thank you for your time.

MANISH SINGH, MD: Thank you for having us.

CARLOS CÁRDENAS, MD: Thank you for having us.

MARTHA BENAVÍDES:

We wish you all the best, and we look to getting more updates with both of you if you will allow us to have another conversation on Socialife. Be well.

MANISH SINGH, MD: Anytime.

CARLOS CÁRDENAS, MD: Be happy to do it.

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 70 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.

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