Maintaining Blood Donations During the COVID-19 Pandemic
A major casualty of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is the dramatic decrease in the number of blood donations across the United States. As more people are urged to shelter-in-place and avoid social contact, the number of cancellations in blood drives has been dramatic. According to the American Red Cross, which supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood supply, as of March 25, about 7,000 blood drives have been cancelled due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, resulting in about 200,000 fewer blood donations.1
Although blood and platelet transfusions are not needed in the current treatment of patients infected with the coronavirus, they are a critical part of treatment for patients with sickle cell disease and cancer. In addition, these transfusions are necessary for emergency situations, such as trauma, severe infant anemia, and urgent surgeries.
“We need people to start turning out in force to give blood…. We don’t want to have to ration blood products because we are in such short supply.”— Peter Marks, MD, PhD
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“We need people to start turning out in force to give blood…. We don’t want to have to ration blood products because we are in such short supply,” said Peter Marks, MD, PhD, Director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a statement. “This is a potentially lifesaving medicine, and we need people to come out and donate blood.”
Reducing the Strain on the Nation’s Blood Supply
Calls from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as medical associations, including the American College of Surgeons, to suspend elective surgeries during the COVID-19 pandemic has decreased the demand for blood transfusions, thereby reducing the strain on the nation’s blood supply system, it is unclear how long this tenuous balance of supply and demand will last. “Right now, at this time, in my institution, we have an adequate supply of blood on hand, but the question is, how long will it last?” asked Joseph Schwartz, MD, MPH, Director, Transfusion Medicine and Cellular Therapy, and Professor of Pathology and Cell Biology at Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, New York City—now an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Providing an Essential Community Service
To ensure the safety of blood donor volunteers at its donation sites, the American Red Cross has implemented the following new protective procedures:
- Check the temperature of staff members and donors before entering a donation center to make sure they are healthy
- Provide hand sanitizer for use before the drive and throughout the donation process
- Space beds, where possible, to follow social distancing practices between blood donors.
“Our health-care system relies on a continuous supply of blood from volunteer donors. It is a resource that is only available by donation,” said Dr. Schwartz. “And while, right now, the focus of our attention is on patients infected with the coronavirus, there are a lot of other patients who need our care as well. The oncology patient and the patient with sickle cell disease cannot wait for this pandemic to be over for their next infusion. We have to be ready now to treat these patients. Donating blood is something we can all do for the greater good of society.”
“The oncology patient and the patient with sickle cell disease cannot wait for this pandemic to be over for their next infusion.”— Joseph Schwartz, MD, MPH
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Locating a Blood Donation Center Near You
To find a local blood donation collection site near you and to schedule an appointment, contact the following organizations:
- AABB: www.aabb.org
- America’s Blood Centers: www.americasblood.org
- American Red Cross: www.redcrossblood.org
- Armed Services Blood Program: www.militaryblood.dod.mil
- Blood Centers of America: www.bca.coop.
DISCLOSURE: Drs. Marks and Schwartz reported no conflicts of interest.
1. American Red Cross: During coronavirus outbreak, Red Cross mission continues: We need your help. Available at www.redcross.org/local/south-carolina/about-us/news-and-events/press-releases/during-coronavirus-outbreak--red-cross-mission-continues---we-ne.html. Accessed March 31, 2020.