Largely thanks to COVID-19-related closures canceling blood drives, as well as the wildfires in the West and hurricanes and severe storms in the south further disrupting donations, US is facing a critical blood supply shortage this winter.
The AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks), America’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross recently issued a joint statement warning that the country’s blood centers have reported “significant declines” in collections this year.
Someone in this country needs a blood transfusion every two seconds, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While the spiking number of COVID cases and hospitalizations across the country has dominated headlines this year, that doesn’t mean that all other medical emergencies have stopped. People are still undergoing surgeries and organ transplants, for example, which require blood supplies. And donated blood is a lifeline for people including the victims of car crashes and other emergencies, as well as cancer patients who may need blood products to boost their immune systems.
Yet the Red Cross, which supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood, told MarketWatch that more than 50,000 blood drives have been scrapped since March as the pandemic forced schools, businesses and community organizations to close, which has impacted more than 1 million blood donation appointments. And Red Cross Blood Services must collect 13,000 donations a day to meet the need of the hospitals and patients it serves.
America’s Blood Centers warns on its website that 15 of its community blood centers have just a one-day supply or less.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also called on New Yorkers to give blood during a Giving Tuesday press conference, warning that the city’s blood banks only had enough supplies to last three days — less than half of the target of maintaining seven days’ worth of blood. The Big Apple is hoping to bank another 25,000 pints of blood by New Year’s Eve — and the city is sweetening the deal for donors by dangling prizes in front of them, such as the chance to win a VIP tour of the Empire State Building, “coaches’ club’’ tickets to a New York Jets football game, and a year’s supply of Krispy Kreme donuts.
“The current blood supply is down to just a few days — just a few days,” de Blasio said. “This is really a very, very urgent situation.”
The Red Cross has also teamed up with country music star Martina McBride and Suburban Propane to encourage Americans to give blood. Those who donate blood, platelets and plasma through Dec. 15 have a chance to win an Outdoor Living Experience: a socially-distanced celebration with friends and family that includes a propane-powered pizza oven, a fire pit, an outdoor heater and stipend towards propane.
While canceled blood drives have represented the biggest hit to many blood banks’ supply, the fear of contracting the coronavirus has also kept some from giving blood.
Health officials have encouraged Americans to continue to donate blood throughout the pandemic. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has said, “You can still go out and give blood. We’re worried about potential blood shortages in the future. Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement.” Both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also released statements urging healthy individuals to donate blood if they can. Even if you are sheltering in place, you can leave home to do “essential” things such as buy food, pick up medications — and donate blood.
What’s more, the American Red Cross is testing all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies, as the convalescent plasma from whole blood donations that test positive for the coronavirus could be used to treat current COVID-19 patients who are seriously ill.
If you have questions about giving blood during the pandemic, this article breaks down what you need to know about giving blood right now, and also dispels some common myths — no, you won’t be tested for the coronavirus when you donate, for example. This is where you can get tested, and what you can expect.
If you are interested in donating blood, the following organizations can connect you to a local blood-collection site to schedule an appointment. What’s more, some centers can arrange to call your mobile phone when they’re ready for you to come in, to minimize your time in the waiting area.