Brad Bryan

Houchin CEO Brad Bryan speaks during a Thursday press conference

Kern County officials are calling on those who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma in a new effort aimed at saving lives of those hospitalized with the virus.

At a Thursday news conference, local officials said hospitals' requests for convalescent plasma fall short by around 20 to 30 units each day. The plasma, rich in antibodies, has shown promising results in scientific studies of aiding those impacted the hardest by the coronavirus.

However, Kern County isn't meeting the demand, and patients suffering from COVID-19 have been left without the potentially lifesaving fluid. Of the 18,411 positive cases reported by the Public Health Services Department as of Thursday morning, only about 130 people have visited Houchin Community Blood Bank to make plasma donations.

Officials hope that by increasing the number of those donations, hospitalization times of those who have contracted the virus can be reduced and lives can be saved.

“You have a weapon inside your body and that weapon is something that can save the lives of individuals that are suffering right now,” said Houchin CEO Dr. Brad Bryan, addressing those who have recovered from COVID-19. “If you’re sitting at home and you’re wondering what you can do to help people and you’ve been through COVID-19, you’ve been through this, this is something you can do.”

He added that interested people can call Houchin at 616-2504. Individuals will need to show proof of a positive test or of a positive antibody test. Houchin is the only facility in Kern County equipped to handle plasma donations.

Defined as the liquid part of blood, convalescent plasma therapy is an experimental treatment that's shown promise for helping COVID-19 treatment. Each convalescent plasma donation can benefit three to four people, with studies showing diminished mortality and shorter hospitalization times from those who have received the plasma.

In recent weeks, hospitals have become overwhelmed with patients suffering from coronavirus, with projections showing hospitalizations will likely increase over the next few months. Hoping to respond to the surge and reduce deaths, Kern County has started actively recruiting those who have suffered from COVID-19 for plasma donation.

The effort is the first to actively target coronavirus patients for donations locally. Through the county health department’s contact tracing program, the county is encouraging such donations. On Monday, a separate group of Kern County employees will begin calling coronavirus patients to request the donations over the phone.

“We cannot force people to donate blood,” county Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said during the meeting. “What we can do is to put a significant effort into convincing people that it’s the right thing to do. They are needed. The community is calling on them to come forward and assist.”

The county will also contribute $500,000 to a six-month advertising campaign designed to promote public health practices like washing hands and wearing a mask. Included in that messaging will be requests for convalescent plasma donations.

While the advertising campaign will be primarily funded by the county and the city of Bakersfield, the local medical community will lead the effort.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.