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Blood donations needed amid pandemic

The American Red Cross is facing a severe blood supply shortage due to the rippling effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Workplaces, college campuses, schools and other locations for crucial blood drives are now temporarily closed, leading to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations.

“We’re hearing from the American Red Cross that they are experiencing a shortage of donated blood, as blood drives are canceled,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said during a news briefing Wednesday. “We are all focused on the coronavirus epidemic, but car accidents or childbirth or emergency surgeries don’t stop. Our need for blood does not stop. So I’m going to donate blood this afternoon, and I urge all healthy Virginians to do the same.”

James Hatcher III, the chief executive officer for the Virginia Region of the American Red Cross, said at the briefing that thousands of blood drives have been canceled over the past two weeks, due to COVID-19 concerns, the illness that is caused by the coronavirus.

The impact of these cancellations has been the loss of approximately 100,000 units of blood, Hatcher said. Michelle Ellis Young, executive director of the Coastal Virginia region of the American Red Cross, wrote in an email Thursday that 70 blood drives have been canceled in the Coastal Virginia area due to coronavirus concerns, resulting in approximately 2,138 uncollected blood donations.

This trend is projected to continue, which is causing serious concerns for blood collection organizations and hospitals nationwide. According to a Tuesday press release, the American Red Cross collects more than 80 percent of its blood donations from drives held at locations that are currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns, according to a Tuesday press release.

“As a nation, this is a time where we must take care of one another including those most vulnerable among us in hospitals,” Gail McGovern, president and chief executive officer of the American Red Cross, stated in the press release. “One of the most important things people can do right now during this public health emergency is to give blood. If you are healthy and feeling well, please make an appointment to donate as soon as possible.”

The Red Cross has implemented new measures to ensure blood drives and donation centers are even safer for donors and staff.

Red Cross employees already follow rigorous safety protocols to help prevent the spread of any type of infection. These protocols include wearing gloves and changing them with each donor, routinely wiping down donor-touched areas, using sterile collection sets for each donation, and preparing the arm for donation with aseptic scrub.

“We understand why people may be hesitant to come out for a blood drive but want to reassure the public that blood donation is a safe process, and that we have put additional precautions at our blood drives to protect the health (and) safety of our donors and staff,” McGovern stated.

The Red Cross is implementing the following measures to further ensure safety:

  • Checking the temperature of staff and donors before they enter a blood drive to make sure that they are healthy
  • Providing hand sanitizer for use before the drive, as well as throughout the donation process
  • Spacing beds where possible to follow social distancing practices between blood donors
  • Increasing enhanced disinfecting of surfaces and equipment

Furthermore, there is no data or evidence that this coronavirus can be transmitted by blood transfusion, and there have been no reported cases of transfusion transmission for any respiratory virus, including this coronavirus, worldwide, according to a Tuesday press release.

“In our experience, the American public comes together to support those in need during times of shortage, and that support is needed now more than ever during this unprecedented public health crisis,” Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services, stated in the press release. “Unfortunately, when people stop donating blood, it forces doctors to make hard choices about patient care, which is why we need those who are healthy and well to roll up a sleeve and give the gift of life.”

Hatcher said at the Wednesday news briefing that individuals who want to donate blood need to make an appointment at a fixed blood donation site, in order to support social distancing and gathering guidelines.

The best way to find a location with available appointments is by going online to redcrossblood.org, according to Michelle Ellis Young, executive director of the American Red Cross of Coastal Virginia.

“Given the unprecedented nature of this global situation, we ask our donors to be patient as our teams care for each person who presents at a drive,” Young wrote in an email Thursday.

For more up-to-date information on donor eligibility requirements, visit redcrossblood.org or call the donor and client support center at 1-866-236-3276.

Donors can also complete a RapidPass to save up to 15 minutes at their blood donation. They can complete the pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of the donation, from a mobile device or computer.

Schedule an appointment to give blood with the American Red Cross by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. Complete a RapidPass by following the instructions at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass or by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App.