It may seem like most areas of American life are temporarily pausing right now because of the coronavirus — formally known as COVID-19 — but that hasn't stopped people from needing blood donations. It has, however, stopped a lot of blood drives from taking place and led to a "severe blood shortage," according to the American Red Cross.
"As the coronavirus pandemic has grown here in the U.S., blood drive cancellations have grown at an alarming rate," the Red Cross said in a Tuesday news release. So far, the organization says that around 2,700 of its blood donation drives have been canceled around the United States because of "concerns about congregating at workplaces, college campuses and schools amidst the coronavirus outbreak."
The organization says that those kinds of drives usually account for over 80% of the blood they collect and that the recent cancellations have caused them to fall short of an estimated 86,000 donations. And with the number of cancelations expected to continue, the shortage could end up hurting people like cancer patients, emergency victims, and those in need of surgery.
"I am looking at the refrigerator that contains only one day's supply of blood for the hospital," Dr. Robertson Davenport, director of Transfusion Medicine at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor, said in the release. "The hospital is full. There are patients who need blood and cannot wait."
The shortage has prompted top U.S. health officials to point out that, while some people may be concerned about the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, it is still safe to donate blood and those who can should to take the time to do so.
"To ensure an adequate blood supply we need people to come out and donate blood," U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research Director Peter Marks told NPR. "Blood donation centers are a very safe place to be. People take precautions to make sure those centers are spotless clean and that people who are sick don't enter them."
"It is safe to donate blood," Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement last week. "Part of preparedness includes a robust blood supply. Healthy individuals should schedule an appointment to donate today to ensure that blood is available for those patients who need it."
In addition to its normal sanitation protocols, the Red Cross says that it has taken extra precautions to protect the safety of people at donation centers and blood drives in response to the viral outbreak. These measures include checking the temperature of staff and donors before they enter the location, providing hand sanitizer throughout the process, practicing social distancing with the placement of beds and increasing the disinfection of equipment and surfaces.
"As a nation, this is a time where we must take care of one another including those most vulnerable among us in hospitals," American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern said in Tuesday's announcement. "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."