The Red Cross gets roughly 80 percent of their blood donations from blood drives in partnership with outside organizations. But the spread of coronavirus has led to cancellations of thousands of these drives, which Red Cross officials fear will cause a massive blood shortage across the country.
Red Cross Communications Manager Kelly Isenor says the rate of cancellations for drives is “unprecedented” and doesn’t compare to another recent health crisis in the country or state.
“A blood shortage could impact patients who need surgery, anyone who was in a car accident, and more than half of the platelets that we collect go to cancer patients,” Isenor said. “It would be another health care crisis — on top of coronavirus — if there was a blood shortage.”
Around 2,700 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled across the country due to coronavirus concerns, according to the Red Cross. In Massachusetts, 115 planned drives were canceled, resulting in an estimated 3,130 fewer donations across the state.
Isenor says the Red Cross is trying to “make donating as safe as possible.” At the seven Massachusetts Red Cross facilities in Worcester, Springfield, Raynham, Danvers, Dedham, Weymouth and Boston, Red Cross staff is checking the temperature of staff and donors before they enter the building, providing hand sanitizer, disinfecting equipment and spacing beds to follow social distancing practices.
“Right now we're at the point where we are doing everything in our power to prevent a shortage,” Isenor said. “That includes getting out there and just reminding people that if you are healthy and you haven't been exposed to come and make an effort to make a blood drive.”
On Monday, Massachusetts General Hospital and several other hospitals across the country announced cancellations of all elective surgeries until further notice, following a recommendation from the American College of Surgeons and the U.S. surgeon general.
“Now the blood is being prioritized for extreme cases, things that can't be avoided,” Isenor said. “Trauma situations, burns. I mean, there are so many different uses for blood and blood products. And in the United States, they can only be given by volunteer donors.”
Isenor also addressed misinformation spread on social media, implying that the Red Cross will test blood for COVID-19 during a donation. “There is no test to screen blood donations for the coronavirus and other respiratory viruses,” Isenor said. “I should also emphasize, too, there's no data or evidence that this coronavirus can be transmitted by blood transfusions.”
In a press release, the Red Cross recommends speeding up the process of donating by pre-registering online on the Red Cross website. “We’re encouraging anyone who's healthy, who hasn't been exposed to the coronavirus or hasn't been around someone that's been exposed and are not showing symptoms,” Isenor said, “[to] make an appointment and give blood with the Red Cross.”