Four clinics have partnered with the city of Donna to provide 5,000 COVID-19 tests for free to Donna residents as part of an ongoing effort to combat the disease which has ravaged the small Mid-Valley town.
Among Hidalgo County’s 22 municipalities, Donna is one of only seven cities to report more than 1,000 positives. And, as the smallest city to report more than 1,000 cases, Donna also has the highest rate of infection per capita than any other city in the county.
As of Saturday, the city had reported 1,186 cases, according to figures posted on the city’s Facebook page, as well as information released by Hidalgo County. With a population of just over 16,600 people, Donna’s infection rate is 7.14% — meaning seven out of every 100 people in the city have tested positive for the virus since the county’s first confirmed case on March 21.
That rate of infection is more than double and triple the infection rates of McAllen and Edinburg, respectively — cities which have six to eight times the population as the small Mid-Valley town.
In McAllen, where the population is estimated to be more than 143,000, the rate of infection is just 2%, or 2,878 people, according to figures listed at RGVCovid19Cases.com, a website that has been tracking COVID-19 data throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
Edinburg has thus far reported the most COVID-19 infections of any city in the county at 3,346; however, that number represents just 3.2% of the city’s 104,000 people.
In Donna, the story is vastly different.
Speaking after a special city council meeting last month where the council approved the purchase of the COVID-19 nasal swab tests, Donna Mayor Rick Morales said he personally knew of several people who had died from the disease.
He spoke of the harrowing phone calls from first responders — calls that have started to become regular occurrences — of the dead being found in their homes, victims to the virus that has swept the globe.
“As a mayor, you know, you get the phone call from your police chief. ‘We found two people passed away in their house,’” Morales said during an interview in mid-July.
“And the next day, ‘We found another person, and another person.’ After a while it just takes a toll on you because you want to do everything you can to protect your city and your people and you feel helpless. It’s an invisible enemy coming in and it’s affecting your community. The only thing I know to do is pray,” the mayor said.
However, Morales and the city council are doing more than just praying. In that July meeting, which took place remotely via phone and was streamed live via the video-streaming platform, Twitch, the council unanimously approved the purchase of 5,000 PCR tests which would be distributed among local healthcare providers and administered to Donna residents free of charge.
On Friday, the city released a list of four clinics that have joined together with the city to form a task force to test Donna residents.
“The City of Donna has taken an aggressive approach on mitigating the COVID-19 virus within Donna,” reads a statement released by the city.
“The testing data will be tracked daily, weekly, and monthly by block number, and zip code to identify the hotspots,” the release further stated.
Among the providers in the task force are: Dr. Sarojini Bose, of Ashley Pediatrics Day and Night Clinic; Dr. Salman Muhammad Khan, of Donna Children’s Clinic; internal medicine physician Dr. Michael A. Flores; and Julio Avila, a nurse practitioner at Avila Family Practice Clinic.
“The reason why we’ve done this is … because we don’t want it to spread in Donna. We’ve had quite a few deaths. People have passed away in their homes without getting the proper medical treatment,” Morales said.
As of Friday, 36 Donna residents have died from COVID-19, including three men in their 20s, and a dozen people aged 70 or older, according to county figures.
Those 36 fatalities represent some 3% of the people who have tested positive in Donna.
That fatality rate is on par with Edinburg, whose 101 deaths account for approximately 3% of positives there, but is about half the fatality rate of McAllen, whose 169 deaths account for 6.6% of its 2,878 positives.
But Morales also added that Donna’s statistics may be slightly misleading. The mayor said cases from people who live outside the city limits, but within the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, are being counted among Donna’s tallies.
“They’re giving us Donna county, which is from the river all the way to 107,” Morales said Saturday, speaking of the city’s ETJ, which extends from the Rio Grande to the south, and stretches north to State Highway 107 in the Delta region.
“Our little town, it finishes just north of the expressway,” he said of the Donna city limits.
When asked why other towns nestled along I-2 with similarly expansive ETJs — like Mercedes — are not reporting similarly high numbers of COVID-19 cases, Morales said the colonias and residential areas north of Donna are more heavily populated than those north of other Mid-Valley cities.
For the mayor, who before the pandemic greeted residents at council meetings with warmth and aplomb, using familiarities such as “m’ija” and “m’ijo,” each death is a devastating personal loss.
“Donna is a small community and everybody knows everybody. And it’s just very sad. It’s a devastating virus,” he said.
“I pray that we come up with a vaccine soon and I lift up my little town and everybody in it. Every day, I ask for prayer and ask God to keep everybody safe,” Morales said.
Where to get tested
>> Dr. Sarojini Bose
Ashley Pediatrics Day and Night Clinic
701 N. Main St.
Monday – Friday, 9 a.m – 2 p.m., appointment required
>> Dr. Salman Muhammad Khan
Donna Children’s Clinic
1704 Scobey Ave.
Monday – Thursday, 8 a.m. – 9 a.m., appointment required
>> Dr. Michael A. Flores
Internal medicine physician
102 N. Salinas Blvd., Ste. B
Monday – Thursday, 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.; Friday 8:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Text driver’s license and insurance to (956) 377-0068, call (956) 377-5400 once in line.
>> Julio Avila, NP
Avila Family Practice Clinic, PA
308 N. Salinas Blvd.
Monday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., appointment required