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Blood donations from recovered coronavirus patients sought

By Staff | Apr 16, 2020



Beginning Monday, Lee Health will be an official site participating in the Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Study.

Lee Health will be actively seeking blood donors who have fully-recovered from COVID-19 — meaning they previously tested positive and are now symptom-free, to participate in the study.

“Convalescent plasma refers to blood plasma collected from people who have recovered from COVID-19. That plasma is then used to treat others with advanced illness,” said Lee Health Chief Patient Care Officer, Lisa Sgarlata, on Thursday. “After donation, the blood is processed in the lab to obtain the plasma component. The patient is transfused with the donor’s convalescent plasma, which contains antibodies that may attack the virus and may help the patient recover more rapidly.”

According to a Lee Health release, Mayo Clinic is the lead institution providing coordinated access to investigational convalescent plasma for hospitalized patients with severe or life-threatening COVID-19, or those who are at risk for the development for severe illness as judged by their doctors, and was designated to do so by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on April 3.

Lee Health officials said enrollment in the study is based on the protocol’s preset exclusion and inclusion criteria and on the availability of an appropriate blood-type matched unit of convalescent plasma. Being admitted to Lee Health with COVID-19 does not guarantee a patient will qualify for this trial, and even if a patient does qualify, because of probable limited convalescent plasma supplies, the patient may not be enrolled in this study and receive convalescent plasma. All participants will sign informed consent as required by the Mayo’s Institutional Review Board, a committee tasked with protecting the rights and welfare of human subjects.

Sgarlata reiterated that a known safe and effective treatment for the virus is unavailable.

“As in any clinical research study, it is unknown if the treatment will be therapeutic and there are risks involved,” she said. “However, based on its use to treat other viral infections, researchers hypothesize that the plasma from recovered patients may contain antibodies that may help fight the disease.”

Lee Health said that in order to launch this study, they need a supply of convalescent plasma and are asking patients who have tested positive for the virus and recovered to donate blood at one of its donation sites. This blood will be processed to make the convalescent plasma required for the clinical trial. All donors will be screened with a nasal swab test for SARS-CoV-2. The test result must be negative before proceeding.

Lee Health officials said they were “honored” to be included in the study, and that any recovered patients can contact their blood centers at COVID.plasma@leehealth.org to volunteer.

Lee Health said all donations collected by Lee Health will stay in our community and will be used exclusively for Lee Health patients.

By the Numbers

As of 6 p.m. Thursday, there are 23,340 cases of the new coronavirus confirmed in Florida, an increase of 443 since FDOH’s last update Thursday morning.

The death toll increased by 35 since Thursday morning reported among Charlotte, Collier, Dade, Highlands, Indian River, Manatee, Orange, Palm Beach, Polk, Santa Rosa, Seminole, St. Lucie, Suwannee and Volusia counties.

A total of 224,459 individuals have been tested: 200,801 have tested negative, 318 tests were inconclusive and 1,277 tests are pending results. Of those testing positive, 3,3458 have been hospitalized at some point during their illness. There have been 668 deaths.

While Florida’s testing has increased over the past week, the percentage of those testing positive for COVID-19 overall is 10 percent. Of the 10,957 tests performed on April 15, there were 1,265 positive results, or 12 percent.

In Lee County, 687 individuals have tested positive as of 6 p.m. Thursday; 258 in Fort Myers, 138 in Cape Coral, 124 in Lehigh Acres, 64 in Bonita Springs, 26 in North Fort Myers, 23 in Estero, six in Sanibel, six on Fort Myers Beach, five in Alva and one on Captiva. Six positives were not classified by community.

The youngest to test positive is an infant boy, who tested positive on April 10. The oldest was a 100-year-old man who tested positive on April 3. Lee County saw its first two cases on March 7, when a man and a woman, each 77, tested positive. They had traveled to the Dominican Republic.

There have been 24 deaths in Lee County. All but one was between the ages 61 to 96, with 22 aged 65 or older. The exception was a 39-year-old man who died March 25.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious viral disease. For most individuals, symptoms are mild. For a minority, the disease becomes a type of viral pneumonia with severe complications. Especially at risk are those who are older, those with underlying health conditions and the immune-compromised.

Officials strongly urges all members of the public who can, remain at home so as to limit exposure and so limit the number of cases so as to not overwhelm the health care system with at-risk and severe cases.

As of Thursday afternoon, Lee Health had 67 COVID-19 patients isolated in system hospitals. A total of 123 patients who had tested positive have been discharged, including 11 on Wednesday.

The system has submitted a total of 7,020 specimens for testing and currently has 13 patients under investigation.

Lee Health mobile collection sites on Wednesday collected 197 specimens and had a total of 1,002 telemedicine visits between Lee TeleHealth and MyChartVideo.

Lee Health has 179 employees quarantined at home. Thirty-one employees have tested positive for COVID-19 after being exposed at work.

Current bed capacity is now at 58 percent with 7 percent of those being COVID-19 patients.

For more detail on Florida resident cases, visit the live DOH Dashboard.

To find the most up-to-date information and guidance on COVID-19, visit the Department of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage. For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control, visit the CDC COVID-19 website. For more information about current travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State, visit the travel advisory website.

For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-866-779-6121. The Call Center is available 24 hours per day. Inquiries may also be emailed to COVID-19@flhealth.gov.

Lee Health Taskforce Prepared

Sgarlata also serves as Lee Health’s system’s incident commander, and is so during this pandemic.

She said their coronavirus taskforce has been in operation for 38 days. The command center usually opens in situations such as hurricanes, so that their efforts are well coordinated across their hospitals and facilities.

The system-wide center normally is in use for three to five days, making these 38 “uncharted waters” for the system.

“Incident command coordinates the response of the entire health system, including researching and studying best practices, managing supplies and monitoring bed capacity,” Sgarlata said.

The team meets each morning, either virtually or while practicing social distancing, and is made up of dedicated leaders from different branches of the system.

“Infectious disease experts take guidance from organizations like the CDC to shape our strategies, the laboratory provides updates on testing and has been working around the clock to turn results around as quickly as possible and the leaders of each hospital give a daily report on items like ventilator usage and staff morale,” Sgarlata said.

There is a team of workers managing issues that arise, making sure supplies are correctly distributed and that coordination is on point.

“This scratches the surface of the countless hours our team has spent preparing our hospitals and community for this pandemic,” Sgarlata said. “I could talk all day about how proud I am of this team and how the brightest minds of our health care system have led the way in finding innovative ways to provide safe and effective care for all of the patients we serve. I am thankful for every one of them.”

Curve continues to flatten

Sgarlata said it’s impossible to predict when the peak of the virus will hit Southwest Florida, but that the trends over the last two weeks continue to see the curve of positive patients in the area.

On Sunday, Lee County saw its lowest daily new case total since March 25. Then the trend continued.

“Then Tuesday was lower than Sunday’s number, and yesterday was even lower than that,” Sgarlata said. “These numbers come on the heels of reduced turnaround time for testing, meaning we are seeing fewer cases even as we process more tests. This is very encouraging news, and our entire community has played a role in reducing the spread of the virus. We urge everyone to not become complacent amid these trends and continue to follow the same safety practices that have gotten us to the point we are now.”

– Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj