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Could COVID-19 survivors be our best chance at beating it?

The number of people who have recovered from the disease is also growing. And experts think those survivors could possibly be a game-changer moving forward.

Health care workers staff a drive-thru COVID-19 testing center at the University of Utah Health’s Farmington Health Center in Farmington on Thursday, March 26, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

I miss easy interaction, the casual communication with strangers in stores, going to movies, chitchat at the pharmacy window, impromptu lunch with pals. I long to banter with my colleagues in the office.

Mostly, I dread the uncertainty that has come into all of our lives, worldwide, with the arrival of a coronavirus-spawned terrible illness that no one had seen in humans mere months ago.

I suspect most people share a near-universal set of fears.

COVID-19 has smashed life as we know it, shattering our habits, reordering our interactions and robbing disparate groups of people of loved ones and jobs and in some cases even a sense of hope. Seniors are being isolated in unhealthy ways to keep them healthy. Young children have no way to understand what’s even happening.

But along with the rising death tolls and increasingly steep infection rates, something else is rising, too, that may provide some hope. The number of people who have recovered from the disease is also growing. And experts think those survivors could possibly be a game-changer moving forward.

With Food and Drug Administration approval, a hospital in Houston recently became the first in America to collect blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to see if it will help those who are the sickest fight off the infection. Experts wonder if it’s possible that anitbody-laden plasma could even help prevent someone from being infected in the first place.

It’s an old theory that has been proven with other conditions. Now it’s in the spotlight with COVID-19. As Quartz just reported, “Ever since (The) Wall Street Journal published an op-ed in late February by Johns Hopkins immunologist Arturo Casadevall, a growing coalition of researchers at more than 40 U.S. institutions have pitched in to the National Covid-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. The project is developing protocols American hospitals can follow to identify plasma donors and administer treatments.”

Convalescent plasma therapy uses blood from infected patients and those who have recovered to battle the virus itself.

Antibodies from an illness can protect people from developing that illness again. And while this novel coronavirus is still mysterious, health experts do believe that having COVID-19 provides some degree of immunity from future sickness, though how long it lasts isn’t clear.

Testing the value of survivors’ plasma could soon be a worldwide undertaking. It was tried in a tiny clinical trial in China and other countries are gearing up. They’ll hopefully all share information since we are all engaged in countering the same viral foe and have much to learn from each other in the endeavor.

Survivors may be able to help in other ways, too. There’s talk of recruiting people who have survived COVID-19 to help with treatment as they’d have less risk from new exposure. Some might work in clinical settings to help health care staff. Some of the survivors are doctors and nurses who were infected, recovered and may soon be even more important in treatment and testing.

Survivors may play a key role in all kinds of research regarding how the virus works, which will be needed to effectively stop it.

The best way to handle the virus is to avoid it completely. We all agree on that.

Fortunately, for those who can’t, most will have mild to moderate symptoms, miserable perhaps, then go on with their lives.

When I’m whiling away the hours not interacting with loved ones, not traveling or going to events that used to add spice to my life, I find myself thinking hard about the potential that growing group of formerly infected people might have to instill some normalcy to an unprecedented, decidedly not-normal now.

A vaccine will come at some point, but it takes time. Hopefully, researchers will find a way to take the lemon of having been infected and help the world recover.