Employees with the city of Roma are participating in a health initiative to raise vitamin D levels as a way to combat the symptoms of COVID-19.

The new initiative, which involves taking vitamin D3 on a daily basis for several days, was promoted by Dr. Raymond Mussett, a Roma-based family medicine doctor, and Dr. Jeff Gusky, a board-certified emergency physician and a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

During a news conference Wednesday, the doctors detailed the new health plan and their hopes that other cities and school districts in Starr County would participate in it.

Mussett said that on Dec. 15, Roma employees were tested to determine their vitamin D levels and the results were concerning.

“The vitamin D testing for the city of Roma revealed that 95% of the employees have dangerously low vitamin D,” Mussett said. “The vitamin D was so dangerously low, that they are at much higher risk of becoming infected and at much higher risk of death or getting very, very sick from COVID.”

While studies have shown a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and COVID-19 hospitalizations, the latest position by the National Institutes of Health in July stated “there are insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of vitamin D for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19.”

But Gusky and Mussett strongly encouraged their use to offset the most severe symptoms of COVID-19. To raise vitamin D levels, city employees are participating in an action plan called “Ten Days to Safer Vitamin D.”

Participation in the plan costs them $2 for each person, but through a partnership with Lino’s Pharmacy, the city donated a kit to employees with dangerously low levels.

“Within 10 days, our goal is to help 70% or more with dangerously low vitamin D to reach the maximum level of vitamin D safety,” Gusky said, adding that with COVID, maximum vitamin D safety is not achieved unless a person’s level is between 55 and 100 nanograms per milliliter.

“We believe that if 95% of city of Roma employees are dangerously low, that tens of thousands of Starr County residents now face imminent danger from low vitamin D,” Mussett said.

“We are working with Quest Diagnostics to come up with a plan to test 5,000 to 7,000 employees in Starr County next month,” Mussett added. “Unfortunately, as much as we want to test everyone right now, we cannot accomplish this mass undertaking until after the holidays.”

Still, Mussett said testing couldn’t wait and said they have to act now.

“Because the danger of low vitamin D we discovered in the city of Roma employees is so great, thousands of Starr County residents are at extremely high risk of COVID-19 due to dangerously low vitamin D.”