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Hospitals In Desperate Need Of Plasma From Survivors Of COVID-19

Plasma from survivors of COVID-19 infection may improve the odds for sick patients
Plasma from survivors of COVID-19 infection may improve the odds for sick patients

Plasma from the survivors of COVID-19 can be a life-saving therapy for those who are hospitalized due to coronavirus, but Sarasota doctors say supplies are critically low and donations are urgently needed.

“We are in desperate need of plasma," said Kirk Voelker, a critical care pulmonologist at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

"It is one of our mainstay medications -- treatments -- for COVID. And we are running critically short on it.”

Florida is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases, and hospitalizations. As of Monday, the Florida Department of Health reported more than 206,000 cases in the state since the pandemic began, with more than 16,000 people currently hospitalized.

While 3,778 people have died from COVID-19, more than 200,000 people in Florida have recovered from coronavirus.

This pool of survivors presents a large opportunity to save lives, as the outbreak continues to mount, said Voelker.

"Every time you donate, you can save four lives," he said.

While medical professionals have made progress in their understanding of how to treat COVID-19, they are also grappling with a nationwide shortage of one of the only promising drugs against coronavirus, known as remdesivir.

That leaves the plasma of COVID-19 survivors as a frontline treatment. And soon, it may have to be rationed, Voelker said.

“Before, when you came into the hospital if you required oxygen or were short of breath, you would get the convalescent plasma. Right now, we are going to have to start looking at how sick are patients? Are they on higher amounts of oxygen? Are they on the ventilator? Are they definitely ill? And we're going to have to start stratifying who gets it," he said.

"We have not had to do so until this point, but if we do not have the supply, then we have to ration.”

Sarasota Memorial had 78 people in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Monday – a new record high for that hospital -- including 16 in the ICU.

Voelker says plasma is needed from survivors of all blood types. Donations can typically be made 28 days after a person tests positive for COVID-19.

The Red Cross offers more information on how to donate plasma  here

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.