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(We Are Blood)

Local officials are working with We Are Blood to identify and screen people who have recovered from the coronavirus to serve as plasma donors. (We Are Blood)

Lindsay Thompson, 30, suspects she had one of the earliest cases of coronavirus in Austin. She began feeling sick—body aches, a cough, fatigue—on March 14, one day after the city first announced cases. Because Thompson is a physician's assistant, she qualified for testing. On March 20, five days after she got a nasal swab, she received her results.

"It was kind of an emotional thing to know that I was positive," she said.


Thompson alerted everyone she spent time with in the first two weeks of March and posted on Instagram about her diagnosis. Her partner, with whom she lives, never presented symptoms, but Thompson suspects she contracted an asymptomatic case.

"I really have no clue [how I got it]," Thompson said.

Since then, Thompson has recovered and returned to work. She also applied with the American Red Cross to be a plasma donor and is awaiting results.

Convalescent plasma therapy uses plasma donations from recovered patients—or those who have convalesced—in the hopes that their antibodies aid those in need of treatment.

For more than a century, convalescent plasma therapy has been used to treat diseases such as the Spanish flu, diphtheria and Ebola, with varying levels of success. In late March, a team of researchers at Houston Methodist Hospital began the country's first clinical trial using plasma transfusions to treat the coronavirus. And last week, local nonprofit We Are Blood announced it was "actively collecting" convalescent plasma donations from people like Thompson, who have lab-confirmed coronavirus diagnoses and are fully recovered.

As of Monday afternoon, We are Blood—which provides blood to 40 hospitals and clinics in Central Texas—had received 80 applications and collected two plasma donations, said Nick Canedo, vice president of community engagement.

To qualify as a plasma donor, individuals must have a lab-confirmed diagnosis, be symptom-free for at least 14 days and be eligible to donate blood.

As of today, Travis County has 856 confirmed coronavirus cases, 93 hospitalizations and 144 recoveries. Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Travis County commissioners this morning that reporting the number of recovered cases is helpful.

"Now we have the opportunity to transition those individuals who have recovered into plasma donors. We have 49 individuals in the ICU, and that means 49 individuals who may benefit from plasma treatment," Dr. Escott said. "We're hoping that this will prove to be successful in treating these critically ill individuals."

Dr. Escott added that all of the University of Texas at Austin students who tested positive for the coronavirus after traveling to Cabo San Lucas for spring break are interested in donating plasma. Additionally, local officials have identified 63 people as potential plasma donors and hope to identify hundreds more in the coming weeks.

Results from the Houston study are not yet available, but on March 27 the Journal of the American Medical Association published a paper by Chinese scientists detailing convalescent plasma therapy among five coronavirus patients.

"Within three days of transfusion, body temperatures normalized in four of the five patients," according to a March 31 press release from the Texas Medical Center describing the Chinese study. "[W]ithin two weeks, three patients were taken off mechanical ventilation."

Thompson is waiting for final approval from the Red Cross to donate plasma. In the meantime, she is assessing patients with coronavirus symptoms in her role as a physician's assistant.

"I do feel safer," she said of having survived COVID-19. "If I hadn't I think I would have a little more anxiety about testing [other] people."

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