In their efforts to treat those suffering from COVID-19, doctors have been experimenting with injecting those with severe cases of the disease with the blood plasma of those who are convalescing. The antibodies contained in the plasma are thought to help patients fight the infection. The logistics of this simple treatment are in fact quite complex: suitable and willing donors must be found; the machines needed to extract the plasma do not exist in abundance; the process itself takes over an hour; and the plasma must be transported to those most in need. At the forefront of surmounting these difficulties in the U.S. are a group of Ḥasidim, who began their efforts when one of their own was ill and no plasma was available—but did not stop there. Yonoson Rosenblum reports:
Michael Joyner, [a physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, tasked by the FDA with leading experimentation with plasma treatment], early on came to view the ḥaredi community as a major ally. Because this community was so hard hit by the COVID-19 virus, it constituted a huge reservoir of potential donors. In addition, he understood the community’s ability to mobilize once it identifies a goal.
On [one] occasion, Dr. Joyner called Chaim Lebovits, [the ḥasidic shoe merchant involved in coordinating plasma donations], on a Friday and told him that he needed eleven donors in Brooklyn, Minnesota before the weekend. Lebovits, who wasn’t previously aware of the existence of a Brooklyn in Minnesota, reached out to his connections in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. An hour before the Sabbath began eleven Ḥasidim showed up at the blood center in Brooklyn.
Within two weeks, approximately 5,000 recovered coronavirus victims have signed up. . . . The existing donors are already sufficient to cover every current slot for donations.
In addition, [these] efforts have already had an impact in Israel. Lebovits relates with relish the discussion in his conference call with Joyner, Shmuel Shoham [an Israeli-born physician at Johns Hopkins University working with Lebovits], and senior Magen David Adom (MDA) official in Israel. The MDA official’s main question was, “Where do you find the donors?” Shoham answered him in . . . Hebrew: “What’s your problem? Do what we did! Get the Ḥasidim. You have plenty of Ḥasidim.” The next day, the MDA official called back to say that they had successfully followed Shoham’s advice.