There are several troubling medical shortages as health care providers work to tackle the many challenges presented by coronavirus. It’s not just face masks, gloves and other protective equipment that are increasingly scarce as doctors and nurses confront this disease — blood is also in short supply.
Top public health officials are urging people to donate blood when possible, as the coronavirus outbreak has caused thousands of blood drives to be canceled and resulted in a “severe blood shortage,” according to the American Red Cross.
Blood transfusions are vital for trauma and emergency medicine, and for treating some conditions such as leukemia and kidney disease. The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, may have our undivided attention right now, and deservingly so, but the necessary efforts to stay home and avoid crowds to slow the spread of the virus are making blood donations dangerously harder to come by.
“Across the country we’ve seen the cancellation of about 7,000 blood drives, and that’s resulting in 200,000 fewer blood donations,” Ann Kim of the American Red Cross in Maine told WGME this week. “So we are really urging people who are healthy and eligible to give to make an appointment.”
Kim told the BDN editorial board that, as of March 24, the Red Cross has counted 106 blood drive cancellations and 2,801 fewer blood donations in Maine. The organization is working to set up new drives, and continuing to operate its three fixed blood donation sites in Bangor, Portland and Auburn, Kim said. Potential donors are encouraged to make an appointment ahead of time online, by phone or using the Red Cross blood donor app so that the organization can manage the influx of donors while using social distancing practices.
Maine Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Nirav Shah stressed in a press conference on Wednesday that people can still give blood while complying with state public safety restrictions in place during the COVID-19 emergency.
In addition to pre-existing blood donation requirements, including that donors be healthy and feeling well, the Red Cross has taken additional steps to ensure both the safety of people giving blood and its own staff during the coronavirus outbreak.
The additional protocols include checking the temperature of staff and donors prior to entering a blood drive location, providing hand sanitizer, spacing beds when possible to allow social distancing between patients, and increasing the enhanced disinfecting of surfaces and equipment.
“A blood center environment is going to be safer than another more public area like a grocery store,” said Dr. Suchi Pandey, the chief medical officer of Stanford University’s blood center, as reported by the Associated Press.
The need to slow the spread of the virus requires people to stay home as much as possible. We’ve advised readers to do just that, and we still mean it. But just as some trips out of the house may be personally necessary, there’s a societal need for people to donate blood, and there are still safe ways to do it during this pandemic.
“Social distancing doesn’t mean social disengagement,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams rightly reminded America last week. “So give blood today; you’ll feel good about it.”
There are some problems stemming from the coronavirus outbreak — like the shortage of critical protective equipment for the medical workers — that require massive collective action from the government and from private industry. The blood shortage, however, calls for individual action and generosity from healthy Americans willing to take time to help others during this crisis.
This is a time for people to be smart, safe and kind. Healthy, eligible people can accomplish all three by making an appointment to donate blood.