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Red Cross warns of severe blood shortage

Canceled blood drives have reduced new blood supplies

Photo (c) hapabapa - Getty Images
The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and resulting social distancing measures have resulted in a significant unintended health consequence. The Red Cross says blood supplies are falling to critical levels.

That’s because scheduled blood drives all across the country are being canceled, along with other public events, as a means of controlling the spread of germs. But the Red Cross says those blood drives are safe and are needed to replenish blood supplies.

As of Tuesday, the Red Cross said more than 2,700 blood drives had been put on hold. The result of that is about 86,000 fewer blood donations from these events, which typically produce 80 percent of the blood the Red Cross collects.

"I am looking at the refrigerator that contains only one day's supply of blood for the hospital," said Dr. Robertson Davenport, director of Transfusion Medicine at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor. "The hospital is full. There are patients who need blood and cannot wait."

More cancellations

Unfortunately, the Red Cross expects the number of canceled blood drives to continue to increase. The evolving blood shortage could affect patients who need surgery, victims of car accidents and other emergencies, or patients being treated for cancer.

"As a nation, this is a time where we must take care of one another including those most vulnerable among us in hospitals," said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross. "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."

Safety standards

In lieu of an organized blood drive, McGovern is urging healthy adults to go to Red Cross collection centers and donate a pint of blood. She stresses that blood collection centers always maintain the highest safety standards by following these steps:

  • Checking the temperature of staff and donors before entering a drive to make sure 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;l and

  • Increasing enhanced disinfecting of surfaces and equipment.

McGovern says Red Cross employees already follow thorough safety protocols to help prevent the spread of any type of infection, including:

  • Wearing gloves and changing gloves with each donor;

  • Routinely wiping down donor-touched areas;

  • Using sterile collection sets for every donation; and

  • Preparing the arm for donation with an aseptic scrub.

McGovern also stresses that people should not fear the donation process, saying there is no evidence the virus can be transmitted by a blood transfusion.

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