Red Cross urges Americans to donate blood to prevent shortage during coronavirus scare

There's great concern about a slowdown in donations during the outbreak.
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/ Source: TODAY
By A. Pawlowski

Calling all blood donors to avert another public health emergency.

Facing an “unprecedented” number of canceled blood drives in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the American Red Cross is urgently asking healthy, eligible people to give blood or platelets to prevent shortages.

The organization recently started to warn it was facing a "severe blood shortage."

As of April 1, almost 13,000 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled across the country due to coronavirus concerns, resulting in more than 375,000 fewer blood donations, said spokeswoman Greta Gustafson in a statement to TODAY.

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“We’re very concerned as the situation evolves that it could have a material impact on blood availability,” Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer at the American Red Cross, told TODAY in March.

“As the number of individuals with COVID-19 increases, we’re concerned there will be even fewer eligible donors and it will make giving blood extremely difficult.”

Donors have been dropping out because of fears about being in close contact with other people or prevented from coming by new rules about who can enter buildings and facilities.

Yet the need for blood never goes down.

Thanks to the many people who have given blood and scheduled upcoming appointments since mid-March, the American Red Cross has been able to meet immediate patient needs, Gustafson said.

"We greatly appreciate the generosity of the public to help stock hospital shelves for patients in need," she noted.

"During this uncertain time, we encourage individuals to keep scheduled blood donation appointments and to make new blood donation appointments for the weeks ahead to ensure a stable supply throughout this pandemic."

Donating blood is safe and doesn’t harm a person’s immune system or health, and there’s no data that COVID-19 or any respiratory viruses can be transmitted via blood transfusion, Young said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also eased restrictions on gay blood donors.

Stronger donation safety protocols in place:

The Red Cross collects blood only from people who are healthy and feeling well at the time of donation, and who meet other eligibility requirements.

The organization said its employees are taking additional safety measures, including:

  • Wearing gloves and changing them often
  • Wearing face masks
  • Wiping down donor-touched areas after every collection
  • Conducting temperature checks before potential donors enter the blood drive
  • Providing hand sanitizer for donors to use before entering and throughout the appointment
  • Using sterile collection sets for every donation
  • Preparing the arm for donation with aseptic scrub
  • Conducting "mini-physicals" to ensure donors are healthy
  • Conducting enhanced disinfecting of surfaces and equipment
  • Following social distancing practices between donors, including waiting areas and donor beds

The organization is telling potential donors who may have any risk factors — like international travel and exposure to an infected person — to give blood at a later time.

People who want to donate blood can make an appointment by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Type O and platelet donations are especially needed right now.

“The last thing a patient should worry about is whether lifesaving blood will be on the shelf when they need it most,” said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Blood Services, in a statement.