We’re all in this weird, confusing state of feeling powerless: We want to help, but the most helpful thing any of us can do is to stay at home.
But what about people who have recovered from the novel coronavirus and most likely have some level of immunity? I belong to that group, and there are at least 25,000 of us in the United States. Is there more can we do?
Yes, but with many caveats. Although the emerging consensus is that recovered patients will most likely have immunity for some time, meaning they cannot spread the disease through coughing, sneezing or breathing, it is still possible to transmit it through contact, like touching a surface with the virus and transferring it elsewhere, cautioned Dr. Ebb Lautenbach, chief of infectious diseases at University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
“It’s worth bearing in mind in that when you’ve recovered from the disease, you still want to maintain good hygiene practices,” Dr. Lautenbach said. “The same things that you were doing before — meticulous hand hygiene, decontamination of environmental surfaces, not shaking hands, sneezing into your elbow — those are all good pieces of advice for people to continue to do,” he said.
He added that while Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, has consumed the public psyche, other viral diseases, like the flu, are still going around.
Still, there are ways to help that recovered people are uniquely suited for — so long as you take necessary precautions.
First: Make sure you’re actually recovered
Before you do anything, wait at least 14 days since the date of your last symptom. That’s the required amount of time to be eligible to donate convalescent plasma donations (more on that below), but it also provides a buffer so you don’t unintentionally spread the disease while still infected.
In a study published in The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers found that “half of the patients they treated for mild Covid-19 infection still had coronavirus for up to eight days after symptoms disappeared.”
At a bare minimum, the current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise people who are recovering to continue self-isolation for seven days after symptoms disappear, and to continue to wear a nonmedical mask when in public.
Donate convalescent plasma
This is the most important thing recovered patients can do to help.
Once a person recovers from Covid-19, his or her blood contains antibodies in its plasma that can fight the virus. Those antibodies can be extracted from a donor’s blood and given to a severely ill patient via transfusion, with the hope that the donor’s antibodies will help the patient recover.
The use of convalescent plasma — plasma from people convalescing, or recovering — to treat illnesses has been around for a century, as doctors used the process to treat patients as far back as the Spanish flu in 1918. More recently, the treatment has been used on patients with polio, measles, SARS and other illnesses, and there is anecdotal evidence and new data that show it could be effective in treating patients with severe cases of Covid-19, according to Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the American Red Cross.
“We certainly are getting anecdotal reports in,” Dr. Young said, that “seem to be very positive,” adding that some people who have received convalescent plasma are stabilizing and requiring less oxygen.
Still, there is not yet conclusive evidence the procedure will be effective in treating Covid-19, and the process is very early on.
A spokeswoman for the Mount Sinai Health System in New York said that about 30 patients had received the treatment so far, with a few hundred more expected in the coming weeks. Dr. Young said the Red Cross collected only one donation of convalescent plasma the week of March 30 with several more expected last week, and that it could be as long as half a year until it is definitively known whether it works.
Still, with a small, but growing, body of research that is indicating positive results, “we can be somewhat optimistic about convalescent plasma as being an effective therapy,” Dr. Young said.
To qualify, donors must pass normal blood-donation requirements and be symptom-free of Covid-19 for at least 14 days, and, in most cases, must have positive results from a test. (Other restrictions may apply, depending on the organization.) Recovered patients can donate once every 28 days, and the process to donate can take 90 minutes to two and a half hours.
Many health care institutions nationwide are involved in plasma donations, including the Red Cross, so to find a location near you go to the website for the National Covid-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, at ccpp19.org, or visit the Red Cross’s website.
First, the good news: Partly because of a drop in hospital blood demand and the cancellation of elective surgeries, the nation’s overall blood supply has been able to meet demand since around the end of last month, according to Dr. Young.
However: Blood banks still need donations, because although there is an equilibrium, the outbreak has made it impossible to predict what demand will look like even a few weeks ahead.
“We anticipate that the pandemic will only worsen in terms of numbers of people affected, and that will continue to put added pressures on the blood supply,” Dr. Young said. She added that people should “think about not just what we need today, but what we might need in two weeks or four weeks as the situation continues to be dynamic and likely worsen.”
The anxiety of leaving home has caused many people to cancel donations, Dr. Young said, but the Red Cross has enacted strict safety protocols at all donation centers, including temperature checks for donors before they enter, masks for staff members and hand sanitizer throughout donation areas.
If you’d like to donate, check out the American Association of Blood Banks locator, visit the Red Cross website or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. You can also find information through the America’s Blood Centers website.
Run vital errands for members of your community
If you have fully recovered and have waited the appropriate amount of time, you can consider offering assistance to neighbors and friends, particularly those in high-risk categories, like older people and those with existing health conditions. Consider reaching out to people in your community to let them know you’re available.
However, remember to follow all of the standard safety protocols, especially washing your hands often and decontaminating things you take into people’s homes.
“You can find active virus on environmental surfaces, and that includes things you would pick up in a grocery store,” Dr. Lautenbach said. “The likelihood, if you practice good hand hygiene and good environmental decontamination, of you bringing in virus that way is low, but it’s not zero.”
You can still help from home
If you’ve recovered but don’t want to venture outside, there are still many ways to help: