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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Blood centers urge donations, citing heightened need during pandemic

Although blood supply currently stable, blood centers fear donation shortage 

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, many blood drives have been canceled. Due to this, blood centers warn of potential shortage in the coming weeks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed a decrease in donations due to the pandemic on their website

“At this time the number of blood donations has been dramatically reduced due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives,” the website reads.

Despite the decrease in donations, blood supply has remained able to meet patient demands so far. Drew Fowler, the marketing and communications manager for Vitalant, a blood donation company with a center in Davis, explained this phenomenon.

“Because of COVID-19, a lot of people are canceling elective surgeries and traumatic need has dropped, so actually the blood level is fairly stable for right now,” Fowler said. “When all the shelter-in-place orders happened, we started drawing blood at a very high level to meet the need we had prepared for under normal circumstances.”

The American Red Cross website echoed that the current supply is able to meet patient demands but reminds people that it is vital to continue donating throughout the pandemic.

“Thanks to the many who gave blood and scheduled upcoming appointments over the past couple of weeks, the American Red Cross has been able to meet immediate patient needs,” the website reads. “During this uncertain time, we encourage individuals to keep scheduled […] donation appointments and to make new donation appointments for the weeks ahead to ensure a stable supply throughout this pandemic.”

Fowler also mentioned the flood of donors during the early days of the quarantine mandates, whose donations prevented a disastrous shortage.

“There was this phenomenal outpouring of people who came out and donated in the beginning of the shelter-in-place,” Fowler said. “That has helped us level out some of the critical need that existed a couple of weeks ago.”

COVID-19 cannot be spread through blood. The FDA emphasized that donating blood at centers is safe because they have already had strict health guidelines in place to decrease likelihood of disease spreading.

“Blood donation centers can facilitate the safe donation of blood because they are skilled in infection control practices and already have procedures in place to prevent the spread of infections,” the website reads.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams also assured the American people that blood donation isn’t a high-risk activity during the pandemic in a video.

“Blood centers are open now and in need of your donation,” Adams said. “I want Americans to know that blood donation is safe and blood centers are taking extra precautions at this time based on new CDC recommendations.”

Recently, Adams announced that the FDA would be easing restrictions on blood donations from gay men and other groups previously barred from giving blood. Advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have repeatedly criticized these restrictions. Donated blood is screened for HIV, among other infectious diseases.

Fowler listed the precautions Vitalant centers are taking in order to ensure patients are not exposed to COVID-19 while donating. 

“We’re practicing good social distancing, we’re obviously wiping down patient areas after everybody comes in,” Fowler said. “We also have somebody at the front desk take temperatures as people come through the door to make sure nobody is running a fever. People are making appointments before they come in to help us manage the flow of donors.”

Shelter-in-place orders don’t prevent people from leaving their houses to donate blood — as the FDA explains blood donation is critical and, therefore, exempt from the mandate. 

“We also recognize that maintaining adequate levels of our nation’s blood supply is critical,” the website reads. “People who donate blood are equivalent to those people who are working in a critical infrastructure industry. In volunteering to do so, they are contributing immeasurably to the public health of our nation.”

At the end of his announcement, Adams urged Americans to donate blood for the benefit of their fellow citizens. 

“Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement,” Adams said. “So give blood today. You’ll feel good about it and you’ll be helping your country and your community during this crisis. And you might even save a life.”

Written by: Eden Winniford –– city@theaggie.org

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