Welcome to Austonia, a new, locally owned news company reporting on news, business, and politics in Austin. Like what you see? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get our latest stories in your inbox.

Dr. MaryAnn Tran, an infectious disease specialist and regional section chief for Baylor Scott & White, just enrolled some of her COVID-19 patients in a treatment study.


With her approval, they will receive convalescent plasma therapy—or plasma infusions from donors who have recovered from COVID-19—as part of a national study overseen by the Mayo Clinic and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Hopefully we'll get some more promising data and so we'll get better at knowing who the patients are who could benefit the most from it," Dr. Tran said.

Convalescent plasma therapy uses donations from recovered patients—or those who have convalesced—in the hopes that their antibodies aid those in need of treatment. Since We Are Blood began collecting convalescent plasma donations in mid-March, 91 COVID-19 patients have received treatment.

The wait time for infusions has dropped to less than 24 hours as the local nonprofit has shifted to operating at a surplus. Initially, the organization only accepted plasma from eligible donors who had tested positive for COVID-19, but now it is allowing people who have received positive antibody test results to donate, too. One donation can be used to treat multiple patients.

"For me, I didn't start enrolling patients until I heard from We Are Blood that there was ample supply," Dr. Tran said.

The expanded use of convalescent plasma therapy has improved morale for physicians and patients alike.

"It gives us a potential weapon to offer to patients where we otherwise don't have a lot of good options, outside of excellent support and care they're going to get in the hospital," Dr. Jeff Yorio, a hematologist-oncologist at Ascension Seton and Texas Oncology's Austin Central location. "It kind of gives us a chance to feel like we're actively doing something."

Convalescent plasma therapy has been used for more than a century to treat diseases such as the Spanish flu, diphtheria and Ebola, with varying levels of success. Despite this precedent, questions remain.

"There have been some patients where I have felt that their response was more rapid than I might otherwise expect, and I wonder if that's due to the convalescent plasma," said Dr. Matthew Robinson, an infectious disease physician at St. David's South Austin Medical Center. "But we have no way of knowing for sure."

While scientists know that patients exposed to the coronavirus develop antibodies, it is still unclear what level of immunity those antibodies confer—or how long they may last.

As the national study continues, Dr. Robinson said he is excited to learn more about potential uses of convalescent plasma therapy, such as to treat patients with symptoms of COVID-19 who do not require hospitalization in an effort to prevent the disease from progressing, or as a prophylactic for health care workers to help them avoid contracting the disease altogether.

Convalescent plasma therapy also provides a chance for those who have recovered from COVID-19 to help others.

Dr. Tran, Dr. Yorio and Dr. Robinson each said their patients are not only interested in receiving the treatment—but also in becoming donors themselves when it is safe for them to do so.

"People can contribute and feel like, 'I'm doing my part,'" Dr. Robinson said. "It's just another aspect of this—patients helping patients."

(Austonia staff)

The University of Texas-Austin continued its march toward a new normal on Friday, as university President Gregory Fenves marked his last day of leadership after five years in office—the final two months of it dominated by sweeping pandemic-era changes on campus.

Keep Reading Show less
(Tito's Handmade Vodka)

Sponsored by Tito's Handmade Vodka

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz. Tito's Handmade Vodka
  • 4 oz. lemonade
  • 3 blueberries, garnish
  • 2 strawberries, garnish
  • 1 lemon slice, garnish

Directions: Just add Tito's Handmade Vodka, lemonade, and berries to a glass with ice. Stir and garnish with a lemon slice.

(Charlie L. Harper III)

At least two protests are planned in Austin this weekend over the recent killings of black men by police: Mike Ramos, who was fatally shot by an Austin Police Department officer on April 24 in Southeast Austin, and George Floyd, who died in police custody on Monday after a Minneapolis Police Department officer knelt on his neck. Both events were filmed.

Keep Reading Show less
Select city services—including some pools, libraries and the Austin Animal Shelter—will reopen starting Monday.
Keep Reading Show less

As Texas navigates reopening restaurants and bars safely, al fresco spots provide the perfect place for long-quarantined Austin residents. Some of these favorites are open only on the patio, others are allowing customers to eat to-go orders in the space, and a few are full service—the details are subject to change. This is not an all-inclusive list, but here they are, in no particular order:

1. Perla's

Upscale seafood fare is served under striped umbrellas on the tree-lined porch, with dogs allowed and an unfettered view of South Congress foot traffic.

Address: 1400 S. Congress Ave.

(Charlie L. Harper III)

Keep Reading Show less
(Central Texas Food Bank)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Austin, the Central Texas Food Bank has seen a tenfold increase in food costs.

Keep Reading Show less