by Elizabeth Cook & Molly McCrea

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – When it comes to COVID-19 in California and in the Bay Area, some cautious optimism.

“California is doing better than the nation,” noted public health specialist Dr. John Swartzberg of UC Berkeley.

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On average, hospitalizations and deaths have hit new lows. But that can always change as the seasons do – even in Northern California.

‘It’s going to get colder. And people are going to be inside, and inside is riskier,” warned Swartzberg.

As the world waits for a vaccine to stop this pandemic, researchers have great expectations for an experimental treatment now in clinical trials for individuals with mild or moderate COVID-19 infections.

“Not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital. But sick enough that they have symptoms,”” Dr. Annie Luetkemeyer, professor of infectious diseases and HIV at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and the local lead trial investigator.

Luetkemeyer told KPIX 5 that the hope is it would beat back an infection, keep you out of the hospital, and possibly even stop further transmission.

Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital is one of several sites across the nation testing what’s called a monoclonal antibody.

It is made by Eli Lilly and referred to only by a series of numbers and letters: “LY-CoV555.” The treatment is given once by infusion, while some patients will get a placebo.

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The trial is part of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed and is coordinated through NIH’s ACTIV-2 program. It is a public/private project that is testing numerous treatment options.

LY-CoV555 is the first one in a series to be tested at Zuckerberg General Hospital.

To date, the drug has been well tolerated with no drug-related serious adverse events reported with either the placebo or the real thing.

It’s an engineered version of what our bodies naturally produce.

“Monoclonal antibodies are a way to take advantage of what the body normally does to fight off infections, including viral infections, by taking an antibody that’s been shown to work in people who are recovering from the coronavirus and making a copy of a very effective antibody and then giving it back to people,” Luetkemeyer explained.

In the trial, it’s given once by infusion.  The hope: it will make infected people feel better , faster; it may keep them out of the hospital and off a ventilator, and if caught early enough, reduce the viral load more rapidly, breaking the chain of transmission.

Swartzberg hopes trials like these prove to be successful. He is concerned with the holiday season right around the corner.

“Thanksgiving and Christmas, and people traveling, and you know travel is just like embers carrying it and like someone carrying those embers inside a plane,” said Swartzberg.

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The trial is currently enrolling patients. If you’ve been recently diagnosed with COVID-19 within the past 10 days, you may be eligible for the trial.  For more information, visit the ACTIV-2 Rise Above COVID’s website.