The coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on many businesses, but one consequence of the virus in the U.S. is the blood supply.
Most health care services have returned to some sense of normal operation since shuttering temporarily in the spring during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
But blood centers are still reporting significant declines in blood collections, leaving the blood supply in the United States at critically low levels, according to a joint statement issued late last week by the AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks), the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers.
COVID-19, coupled with wildfires in the Western states, recent hurricanes and other storms, have led to “unprecedented fluctuations” in both the supply and demand for blood.
More than 80% of the blood collected by the American Red Cross comes from blood drives, which haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, as schools opt for virtual learning and people continue to work from home.
But demand for blood is as strong as ever, with hospitals back to scheduling elective surgeries.
“We’re able to collect less but demand is up and that’s what created this perfect storm,” said Kate Fry, CEO of America’s Blood Centers.
Fall and winter have always seen a dip in donations, but according to Fry, America’s Blood Centers has seen a 30% decline in blood drives scheduled for the rest of the year compared with last year – equating to about a 250,000 missed donations.
Dr. Claudia Cohn, chief medical officer of AABB, said most centers and hospitals like to have at least three to five days blood supply on-hand. Many centers, however, are operating on two days, some even less than that, according to Fry.
“A month or two ago, we were at probably a good place … because so many heard that message to come out (and donate),” Fry said. “But now it’s lost that momentum, we see the blood supply steadily decrease.”
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Fry and Cohn are concerned the approaching flu season and continued rise in COVID-19 cases will further decrease the nation’s blood supply asmore people become sick and are unable to donate.
While the COVID-19 pandemic stifles blood donations, it also may force hospitals to demand more blood for severely ill coronavirus patients who sometimes require surgery after complications arise. Lung transplants especially, Cohn added, require a considerable amount of blood.
“It’s a sad irony, isn’t it?” she said.
The American Red Cross, which supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood, said that about 13.6 million units of whole blood and red blood cells are collected in the U.S. on an average year.
Paul Sullivan, senior vice president of American Red Cross Blood Services, said more than 50,000 blood drives have been canceled or moved due to the pandemic forcing about a million donors to seek other ways to donate.
Health officials are warning of potential blood shortages as the coronavirus outbreak and shelter-in-place orders prompt cancellations of blood donation drives usually held at schools and businesses. Blood banks say donors are urgently needed. (March 20)
Sullivan said the American Red Cross has implemented new safety measures for donors and staff members, including mask-wearing, temperature checks, hand sanitizer, enhanced disinfecting processes, and bed spacing to follow social distancing practices.
Though most Americans continue to work from home, he encourages companies to schedule a blood drive as a safe and meaningful way for colleagues to reunite during the pandemic.
Dr. Robertson Davenport, director of Transfusion Medicine at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor, said that while the American Red Cross is working hard to keep his hospital supplied, he’s still concerned for the future.
“I know it sounds like I am beating the same old drum, but we really need blood donors to keep making the extra effort to donate,” he said.
How to help: The American Red Cross is asking people who are feeling healthy and well and are eligible to give blood or platelets to make an appointment to donate through the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Or find a local blood collection site and schedule an appointment to donate by visiting www.aabb.org/giveblood or calling America’s Blood Centers at 1-202-393-5725.
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.
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