SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — Health officials announced Tuesday that three Santa Clara County hospitals have begun a study in conjunction with Mayo Clinic to measure the impact of using convalescent plasma therapy to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

Santa Clara County has been the hardest hit region in the San Francisco Bay Area. As of May 11, there have been 2,341 confirmed cases since the outbreak began. There have been 129 deaths including 57-year-old Patricia Dowd, a senior manager for a Silicon Valley semiconductor firm, who is considered the nation’s first fatality to the disease.

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Currently, there are 102 patients hospitalized in the county, suffering from the coronavirus. Of those 33 are being treated in the ICU.

Many medical experts believe convalescent plasma therapy may be a key treatment of COVID-19 going forward.

“People who’ve recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies to the disease in their blood,” the Mayo Clinic says on its website. “Doctors call this convalescent plasma. Researchers hope that convalescent plasma can be given to people with severe COVID-19 to boost their ability to fight the virus.”

The clinical staffs at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, O’Connor Hospital and St. Louise Regional Hospital are participating in the study that began on April 9.

The convalescent plasma is being made available to eligible, admitted patients who are critically ill and determined to be at high-risk for developing severe symptoms.

Officials said the goals of the study includes determining whether plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can improve oxygenation and reduce the requirement for mechanical ventilation and intensive care unit admission.

It also will be used to determine if the COVID-19 convalescent plasma assists in the treatment by providing patients with antibodies against the virus, while waiting for patients’ immune system to mount an effective response.

“Infections like the new coronavirus are dangerous because we do not have antibodies against them. We hope to learn if supplying antibodies can save lives,” says Dr. Dayani Nualles-Percy, the lead investigator of the study at SCVMC. “Given the lack of natural immunity and the lack of a vaccine, plasma therapy may help to provide the body what it needs to fight the infection.”

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“We don’t have a treatment right now for COVID-19, and we know this approach of providing
what we call convalescent plasma has worked in the past,” added Dr.Nualles-Percy. “It’s a way that we’re trying to see if it can help patients get better faster.”

But more coronavirus survivors are needed to donate their plasma.

“It was a lot of congestion and shortness of breath,” said Bob Dinsmore, describing how he felt when he had COVID-19 back in January.

Tests have since confirmed that he still has the antibodies. He says the next step for him was to donate plasma.

“The blood plasma is one of the strongest medicines you can give. So you gotta go help people,” Dinsmore said.

He’ll donate his plasma next week, which could be used to save multiple lives.

“Just one donation can save up to three people,” Dr. Nualles-Percy said.

People wishing to donate plasma will be screened and donations can be made at the American Red Cross.

The Food and Drug Administration has issued guidance for the use of investigational COVID-19 convalescent plasma, including expanded access to convalescent plasma given the unprecedented nature of this infection and the lack of effective treatment.

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Len Ramirez contributed to this report.