FDA OKs Plasma Treatment for Virus in Ohio Hospital

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said The Christ Hospital Lindner Research Center in Cincinnati has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to start treating high-risk COVID-19 patients with plasma from those who have recovered from the virus.

The FDA is leading an effort to develop the new protocol to provide, what is referred to as convalescent plasma, to patients who are critically ill.  Convalescent plasma is rich in antibodies that could possibly attack the virus that causes COVID-19. It shows promise to lessen the severity of the disease or shorten the length of the outbreak, according to Husted.

This treatment protocol incorporates a readily available blood test that reflects a patient’s risk of dying. Hospitals in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland have all expressed interest in participating in the treatment protocol, according to Husted.

While estimates of coronavirus cases are lower than what modeling had predicted, Gov. Mike DeWine said that will only continue if Ohioans maintain efforts to stay at home, practice social distancing and follow other state guidelines. 

“These estimates are getting certainly better. I say that all the while knowing that Ohioans are dying every day, hospital admissions are still going up,” DeWine said at his daily press conference. “But I’m still optimistic and happy with where we are at this point. These rosy projections are based upon calculations that we will do social distancing at the same level we’ve done up until now.” 

The Ohio Department of Health reports 5,512 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 1,612 hospitalizations, including 497 admissions to intensive care and 213 deaths as of 2 p.m. Mahoning County reports one death, bringing the total to 29. More than half of the deaths in Mahoning are among those 80 and older. The county has the most deaths in the state, with six more than Cuyahoga County.

Local numbers differ slightly from the Department of Health’s daily update, reported at 2 p.m. Mahoning County reports 337 cases, with 152 hospitalizations. Trumbull County reports 137 cases, with 67 people hospitalized and eight deaths, while Columbiana County reports 81 cases, with 52 hospitalizations and six deaths.

“Every move we’re making is based in the best science and we will not leave your side as we get you carefully through this arduous journey ahead. We are climbing and reaching a mountain peak here in Ohio and we will be seeing a lot of hospitalizations and deaths, said ODH director Dr. Amy Acton.

Dozens of people gathered outside of the statehouse during the briefing to protest DeWine’s nonessential business shutdown and stay-at-home orders.

DeWine said protestors are not violating an order against group gatherings, but rather, exercising their First Amendment rights. 

“There are people protesting right now outside the Statehouse. And people are worried. They’re afraid. They’re afraid about things like their jobs, and I want you to know that we are working just as rigorously on the recovery of this” he said. “We’ve been determined to protect Ohioans from the very beginning and the steps we’re taking and you are continuing to take are saving lives. We have to redetermined on responsibly recovering.”

The governor said his job is to communicate honestly and candidly to Ohio. 

“All the evidence that we have indicates if we don’t hang in there, if we don’t continue to do what we’re doing, it’s going to cost a lot of lives and it’s going delay our ability to economically recover,” he said.

He said plans will be revealed next week about efforts on a recovery plan for Ohio. Asked if he will lift his orders before a May 1 deadline, he said he doesn’t know yet.

“As we get closer to May we will evaluate it. I will tell you it will be a gradual opening. We’ll make a decision as early as we can,” he said.

Part of the process for recovery revolves around the data coming in, how much personal protective equipment is on hand, the ability for wide-spread testing.

 “The last thing we want to do is see this thing spike back up,” he said.

Husted referenced Singapore, which had early outbreaks and seemed to have recovered, but new data shows cases are again on the rise.

He added $132 million in unemployment insurance has been paid out to 207,000 people so far. Ohio’s initial jobless claims skyrocketed to 696,519 in the last three weeks. Ohioans filed 364,603 initial jobless claims in 2019.

In response to a question about people reporting they still are waiting on checks, Husted said the process was expedited with less stringent eligibility requirements to cope with massive layoffs caused by coronavirus, the system is meant to have checks and balances. 

Husted said Kimberly Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported all approved claims are caught up and either a digital payment has been made or a check has been sent via mail. 

Husted explains some claims are more complex due to issues such as missing documentation, eligibility clarification due to multiple employers and mismatched Social Security numbers.

“Everyone who has a claim that has been approved those checks have gone out the door. Nearly $15 million a day is going out and it will continue to pick up more and more,” Husted said. 

The agency has added 1,000 workers, expanded hours and increased its server capacity twentyfold. He said another increase in server capacity is being added next week.

“Just as the hospital system was not prepared for this, the unemployment system was not prepared. We’re building out as fast as can. This is not an excuse but rather an explanation,” he said. “For the families out there waiting for a check, I am completely empathetic. You’re going to get money and it will be back dated. We are pushing the system as fast as we can.”

Husted also reports Ohio is building a system to process unemployment claims for people independently employed, or who file 1099 income tax returns. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act made the contractors, who normally do not qualify for benefits, eligible to receive unemployment.

“While this was passed by the federal government, no systems have not been built to handle those claims,” Husted said. “With CARES, new systems have to be built state by state, and Ohio is working very aggressively with folks in the private sector who have skills in these things.”

He hopes to have the system up and running by mid-May. Benefits will be back dated to the time employment was lost as a result of the coronavirus. “No one is being forgotten and no one will be left behind,” Husted said.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.