Demand is high, but is it safe to donate blood during the COVID-19 outbreak?
The American Red Cross reports that the COVID-19 outbreak has drastically reduced blood donations needed for surgeries, transfusions and transplants.
The novel coronavirus is testing healthcare systems around the world, forcing different communities within states to impose restrictions on where people can go. This includes restrictions on gatherings. The latest order came on Monday, March 16, when President Donald Trump said no more than 10 people could gather in the United States. All this is of great concern to the American Red Cross, which regularly conducts blood collection campaigns in order to always have donor blood in stock, even in the absence of a worldwide pandemic. You can learn more about coronavirus infection on the website.
The Red Cross said 2,700 donations were cancelled across the country due to concerns about COVID-19. As a result, blood donation dropped by 86,000 people. Workers at this non-profit organization say about 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed daily in the United States – even when there is no pandemic.
“As a nation at this time, we must look after each other, including the most vulnerable among us in hospitals,” Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, said in a statement.
“One of the most important things people can do right now during this public health emergency is to donate blood,” she continued. “If you are healthy and well, please make an appointment to donate blood as soon as possible.”
On Thursday morning, her request was echoed by American surgeon Jerome Adams, who encouraged healthy young people to donate blood.
Many of the problems associated with blood donation arise from the need to gather large groups of people at blood transfusion sites, be it workplaces, college campuses or schools. Many of them are already completely closed.
But not in a pandemic, the world needs donors. You may be wondering about the risks of coronavirus in diabetes .
Blood needed during the coronavirus outbreak
There is nothing special about the new coronavirus that would require additional blood donations, but there is still a constant need for life-saving plasma.
Pumpy Young, chief medical officer of the American Red Cross, told Healthline that heart surgery, organ transplants and the need for platelets in people with cancer have not gone away amid the global emergency.
“We strive to maintain the necessary level of blood donation on a daily basis,” she said. “That’s unlikely to change anything.”
On the other hand, the number of car accidents requiring blood transfusions for victims will decrease. As more people work from home and fewer people go out, naturally there are fewer cars on the road.
But the Red Cross still needs people to get in their cars and go to donate blood. “Blood is needed all the time,” Yang said. “As the epidemic worsens, we are losing more and more of our donors.”
At the same time, the Red Cross call for healthy people to donate blood was based on a statement by Dr. Robertson Davenport, director of transfusion medicine at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
“I look at the refrigerator and it has a supply of donated blood that is only enough for the hospital for one day,” he said. “The hospital is full. There are patients who need blood and they can’t wait.”
The elderly are at risk
The issue of blood donation is becoming more pressing for adults over 65, who are at risk of serious complications if they contract COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
They advise people at high risk of contracting COVID-19 to avoid crowded places and stay at home as much as possible if there is an outbreak in their city.
Young says that getting these people to donate blood during the outbreak has become very difficult, and this greatly reduces the available blood supply. But she knows that not everyone is able to come.
“We understand very well why people don’t want to donate blood,” she said.
Safety Measures Taken During the Pandemic
The Red Cross says it has introduced several precautionary measures in response to the virus.
These include checking the temperature of everyone who comes to a blood transfusion site, a necessary precaution as fever is a major symptom of COVID-19.
Other measures include disinfecting workspaces and tablets that donors use to fill out questionnaires, social distancing practices (allowing people to stay 1.5 meters or more apart), posting transfusion points freely, and scheduling donors so they don’t all were in the same room at the same time. Learn more about coronavirus prevention on the website.
What is donation now
On Monday morning, I went to the American Red Cross website and made an appointment for an afternoon blood transfusion site in north Oakland, Alameda County, California.
On my way to my doctor’s appointment – after waiting in long lines at the grocery store – I saw a sign someone had put up on the overpass: “We’re all in this.” At the end was a big red paper heart.
No sooner had I reached for the doorknob (using my sleeve as protection) than I saw a warning that everyone entering would have their temperature taken. I was told that people with a high temperature are being sent to free medical facilities.
But I was in good health and had a temperature of 36.6, so I was allowed to complete the registration.
I have noticed that staff are wiping down all surfaces and laptops that donors use to answer questions to determine if they are eligible to donate blood.
I still decided to use my smartphone to answer these questions and play it safe.
After I wrote down my answers, I was taken to a room for further examination. There, I was directly asked if I had recently been to Wuhan, China, at the center of the virus outbreak. I was not.
After my temperature was checked again, as well as my pulse and heart rate, I was taken back to the collection room.
About a dozen points were free, but only three were used. It took about 20 minutes to collect the required amount of blood in a container, including several tubes to test my blood for usability.
My blood will not be tested for the new coronavirus, this process is now restricted throughout the country.
However, I was given some Cheez-Its and Chips Ahoy cookies! with a box of juice while I waited 15 minutes after donating blood.
In about 10 hours, Alameda County and five other counties in the San Francisco Bay Area will issue a self-isolation order for their citizens, which means people are advised to stay home unless there is a compelling reason to go out.
Although it does not state anywhere that blood donation is an acceptable reason to leave the house, travel to healthcare facilities that masquerade as “businesses that provide other key businesses with the support or supplies they need to operate” is highly are important.