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Blood donations dropping during pandemic

Blood donations are usually in great need during the best of times, but the COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the country has put an even greater strain on this nation’s blood supply.
John McFarland, executive director of the southeast chapter of the American Red Cross, said that the recent need to cancel a number of large blood drives due to the pandemic has made it difficult to build up those supplies.
That is made more difficult since many of the larger venues where blood drives are held are also closed, such as casinos. McFarland said that has caused the American Red Cross to switch from holding large blood drives to holding smaller drives, typically by appointment. McFarland said he is always on the lookout for a small venue willing to host a blood drive.
Even though they would rather donors make an appointment, they don’t turn away a donor who just walks up.
He said that smaller drives allow American Red Cross staff to abide by social distancing mandates, and conduct initial testing to see if the donor may exhibit signs of COVID-19. All donors have their temperature take to see if they have a fever. Anyone who may have the virus is asked to see a medical professional and not allowed to donate blood.
One positive aspect is that elective surgeries have been postponed, meaning the demand for blood has been reduced. But with the supply of blood dwindling every day due to the larger drives being cancelled, the gap between need and inventory continues to grow. Nationwide, he estimates 200,000 unites of blood were not collected due to the cancellation of the larger drives.
While smaller drives abide by social distancing requirements, they come at a higher cost. McFarland estimates that the American Red Cross will have to spend an additional $15 to $20 million due to the need for more staff and overhead to hold the smaller drives.
To abide by social distancing requirements, donors are placed in a room with no more than one other person while they wait to donate blood. While giving blood, donors are spaced out in the blood mobiles or the regional office, meaning that stations are left empty.
After a donation is collected, every surface the donor could have touched is sanitized before a new donor is brought in.
“We made it as safe as possible,” McFarland said.
Anyone who may be able to host a small blood drive can contact McFarland at john.mcfarland2@redcross.org, or call 1800-RED-CROSS.
Potential donors can find a drive near them by visiting redcrossblood.org.