By Shereen Siewert

As cases and deaths blamed on the novel coronavirus in Wisconsin continue to creep upward, doctors around the world are studying whether infusions of blood plasma packed with immune molecules that helped survivors beat the disease will help treat new infections.

State officials on Saturday said 2,112 Wisconsin residents have tested positive for the virus, including 12 in Marathon County. The total is up from Friday’s tally of 1,916 statewide positive test results and 10 in Marathon County. Deaths in Wisconsin also rose from 37 to 56, a more than 50 percent jump in 24 hours.

So far, 23,859 negative tests have been reported and 588 people, about 28 percent of patients with COVID-19, require hospitalization For an age summary, scroll below to a screen shot of Wisconsin Department of Health Services data released on Saturday.

The state does not release the number of people who have so far recovered from the virus, in part because little data is yet available, though reporters from around the state have asked about recoveries repeatedly in press briefings. One reason, officials say, is that there is no automated reporting system for hospitals to provide such data; another is because many people infected with COVID-19 are recovering at home.

Locally, the Marathon County Health Department is reporting that one person infected with COVID-19 has recovered as of April 4.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration on Friday announced a national study, led by the Mayo Clinic, to help hospitals offer experimental plasma therapy and track how it works. Former patients in Houston and New York have been early donors to the effort, with potentially hundreds of survivors to follow around the country.

Blood donation centers across the country are ramping up their efforts to collect the plasma in hopes it could be used to save lives. The century-old treatment is known as convalescent plasma therapy, which uses blood products from people who have recovered from a viral infection and injects them into people still suffering.

Health officials say antibodies, proteins the body makes to target a germ during an infection, float in survivors’ plasma for months or years.

The practice, which is considered experimental, was used during the 1918 flu and in measles treatments in the 1930s. More recently, the therapy was used to treat victims of Ebola, SARS and H1N1.

Some studies suggest that plasma treatments had some success in reducing symptoms and death in past outbreaks, but rigorous clinical trials have not yet been undertaken. Anecdotal evidence from China shows that passive antibody therapy has appeared to help sick patients fight off COVID-19.

In other developments, the CDC is now advising all Americans to wear cloth masks in public to help limit the spread of COVID-19, and some retailers are taking action to limit the number of people inside their stores. Walmart on Friday announced it will now admit customers to stores one by one. “Starting Saturday, we will limit the number of customers who can be in a store at once,” the company posted on its website. “Stores will now allow no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet at a given time, roughly 20 percent of a store’s capacity.”

Home Depot also announced measures to limit the number of people in each store.

“Stores are limiting the number of customers inside at any given time,” the announcement reads. “We’re also eliminating major spring promotions to avoid driving high levels of traffic to stores. In addition to training our associates on social distancing, we’ve placed distancing markers at counters, posted signage throughout the stores and are making overhead announcements on our store PA systems asking customers to maintain safe distances.”

Home Depot is also distributing thermometers to associates in stores and distribution centers and asking them to perform health checks before reporting to work.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation also took action Friday and announced that airlines must fully refund airfare to passengers whose flights were canceled during the outbreak.

DHS officials say policies like Safer at Home will need more time to result in a significant decrease in cases reported due to the time that passes between transmission, symptoms, and a test result. This means Wisconsin’s peak will most likely occur within three to seven weeks — between April 23 and May 23 — according to the department’s official page.

Wisconsin DHS statistics on ages of COVID-19 patients, as of April 4, 2020