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Red Cross concerned about maintaining blood supply

The U.S. has responded tremendously to the need for blood donations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the American Red Cross is emphasizing the continuing need for donations as restrictions are lifted and people’s schedules once again become quite full with other activities.

American Red Cross Regional Communications Manager Kristopher Dumschat said the Red Cross is not using the language that there is a blood shortage at this time, but there are concerns about the summer blood supply.

“We’re coming into summertime soon, and summertime, families are taking vacations,” he said. “There’s probably going to be a lot more traveling in the next couple months now that, again, those restrictions have been lessened, so what we’re really hoping is that people will continue to step up to help others in a big way like they did during the pandemic, because there are still going to be patients in hospitals that are awaiting surgeries or transplants, there’s still going to be individuals battling cancer, recovering from traumatic accidents, and all of those things rely on blood supply so that those individuals can remain healthy and can have what they need to get through.

“And honestly, it saves lives,” he added. “Blood, simply put, saves lives.”

Dumschat acknowledged that even without the COVID-19 pandemic, there are typically ebbs and flows to blood donation rates in the U.S.

“If we took COVID out of the mix, typically in the wintertime and in the summertime, we would see a dip in donations just with activities going on and then with the holidays going on in the wintertime,” he said. “When the pandemic first started over a year ago, we were very concerned about how this was going to impact the blood supply and being able to collect the blood that was needed, and to be honest, speaking specifically to the Coastal Tidewater area, the entire Virginia region and for the country, communities responded overwhelmingly. Throughout the entire pandemic, communities have rolled up their sleeves, they’ve hosted blood drives.”

He said that the Red Cross’ Coastal Virginia Chapter largely covers Franklin, Southampton County, Isle of Wight County, Surry County and Suffolk.

With the shift from a historic, global pandemic shutting down much of life to the reopening now happening across the U.S., the ebbs and flows of donations may be more significant than usual.

“Right now, what we are starting to see is that response and our blood drives not filling up as often and as quickly and to the capacity that they had been over the past couple months, so that’s where that concern does come in that we want to make sure people know, the blood need is always there,” he said.

On May 21, he referenced a blood drive set to be held May 22 in Franklin in honor of N. Brian Spivey.

“From what I’ve looked up, there are still 10 appointments remaining at that blood drive,” he said, “so that’s what we’re seeing right now is a trend, especially in the Coastal Virginia market but across the whole Virginia region and the country — blood drives are not filling up as much as we need them to, so we’re just concerned that that could impact the blood supply this summer.”

Shannon Hopko, who worked at the Franklin blood drive, said it fell a little short of its donation goal.

“Our goal was 36 units; we collected 31 units,” she stated. “But overall, we were impressed.”

To further underscore the importance of blood, Dumschat shared some key statistics.

“The Red Cross alone processes and collects and distributes 40% of the nation’s blood supply,” he said. “So what does that mean? That means each day, the Red Cross needs to collect about 12,500 blood donations and more than 2,700 platelet donations to meet the needs of all the patients at about 2,500 hospitals across the country that we work with.”

He noted that every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.

“A person involved in a car accident could need almost as many as a hundred units of blood, just one person in a traumatic car accident,” he said. “May is also Trauma Awareness Month, so we are talking about always needing that blood supply for traumatic incidents and stuff like that.

“All of those are just great examples of the importance of making sure people continue to roll up their sleeve,” he said, adding that he hopes as people make summer plans, the Red Cross hopes donating blood is a part of them. “Because it truly does save lives.”

He said individuals and organizations interested in setting up a blood drive can call 1-800-RED CROSS or visit RedCrossBlood.org.

Those interested in donating blood can utilize the blood donor app, which he said is available on nearly all smartphones.

“It’s in the app store on Google Play store, or they can go, again, to RedCrossBlood.org and schedule an appointment that way,” he said. “And we still are very much so strongly encouraging individuals to schedule appointments ahead of time instead of doing walk-ins. Even though we have seen lifted restrictions, we’re still encouraging that so that we can continue to fulfill the need that the communities have.”