WebMD News Brief

Canceled Blood Drives Lead to ‘Severe’ Shortage

blood bags

March 20, 2020 -- Coronavirus patients generally don’t need transfusions. But people in emergency situations often do, and thanks to the pandemic, there may not be enough blood available.

More than 4,500 American Red Cross blood drives had been canceled as of March 18 due to public health warnings against gatherings, reported TheNew York Times. As a result, the Red Cross has received nearly 150,000 fewer blood donations than expected.

Donated blood has a shelf life of just 42 days, so stocks have to be refilled constantly. With the loss of all those donations, the nation is facing what the organization called “a severe blood shortage.”

“I am looking at the refrigerator that contains only one day’s supply of blood for the hospital,” said Robertson Davenport, MD, director of transfusion medicine at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor. “The hospital is full. There are patients who need blood and cannot wait.”

More than 80% of the blood the Red Cross collects comes from blood drives, so it is urging healthy Americans to make appointments to give blood by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, calling 800-RED-CROSS (800-733-2767), or activating the Blood Scheduling Skill for Amazon Alexa.

“One of the most important things people can do right now during this public health emergency is to give blood. If you are healthy and feeling well, please make an appointment to donate as soon as possible,” said Gail McGovern, president and chief executive officer of the American Red Cross.

In an effort to ease fears about contracting COVID-19 during donation, the organization has added new safety measures at its blood drives and donation centers. Respiratory viruses like coronavirus have never had a reported case of transmission via transfusion.

“This is not a blood-borne disease, that is clear,” Claudia Cohn, MD, PhD, director of the Blood Bank Laboratory at the University of Minnesota and chief medical officer of AABB, formerly the American Association of Blood Banks, told the Times. “Blood itself is safe.”

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 20, 2020
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