Plasma may help COVID-19 patients, Austin doctors say as they join national study—it definitely boosts morale
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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."
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In May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more race in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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Houston? Dallas? San Antonio? No, it has to be Austin.
We know Californians love Texas, but a recent string of posts on neighborhood platform Nextdoor in Santa Barbara, California, displays what the craze to move to Austin looks like.
When one user posted, "Hi neighbors, I want to buy a house in Houston, Texas any recommendations?" the responses flooded in displaying what the admiration for Austin looks like from the West Coast. Users mostly advised against a move to Houston; one person even wrote, "Austin is the ONLY place to consider!!"
While some defended H-town, saying, "Awesome place to live," one person wrote, "WORST PLACE TO LIVE." Reasons to not move to Houston from Californians' perspective included:
- "Foul air from refineries"
- "horrible flooding due to the flat Gulf coastal shelf"
- "crazy zoning"
- "racial prejudice"
- "super high humidity"
- "very conservative"
The comments were shifted to Austin's lush greenery, weather and acceptance of gay people.
Over the last five years, Austin has seen more migrants from California than any other state, according to an Austin Chamber of Commerce report. The Austin appeal from residents living in more congested places like California became more prevalent during the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were issued and people sought more space.
It wasn't just Austin though; lots of other Sunbelt cities saw an influx in their housing market as a result of people working from home and looking for a lower cost of living. And that included Texas in general, with people flooding to various Texas cities.
But it hasn't come with resistance. The "Don't California my Texas" pleas are still alive and well, as Californians are blamed for raising the cost of living by outpricing current residents. The housing market has reached record numbers in the median home price year-over-year since the beginning of the pandemic. Austin was even predicted to be the most expensive city outside of California by the end of the year.
Still, Californians and even New Yorkers can't stay away. Companies and celebrities have followed, leading Texas transplant Elon Musk to label Austin's future as "the biggest boomtown that America has seen in half a century."