Hospitals Can’t Get Back to Normal Without More Blood. Here Are 7 Ways You Can Help
A shortage of blood donations and drives means patients who already faced COVID-related delays for operations could face more.
Editor’s note: Information on the COVID-19 crisis is constantly changing. For the latest numbers and updates, keep checking the CDC’s website. For the most up-to-date information from Michigan Medicine, visit the hospital's Coronavirus (COVID-19) webpage.
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The heart surgeons are ready. The cancer nurses are ready. The organ transplant teams are ready.
In hospitals across America, medical teams are ready to get back to providing regularly scheduled care, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
But they can’t do it unless they have a reliable supply of blood, and right now, that supply just isn’t there.
Add in the threat of injuries from home fireworks shows and more road travel as July 4 and summer vacations approach, and the demand for blood at emergency rooms, trauma centers and burn units could also increase.
Robertson Davenport, M.D., heads the blood bank at Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center and one of the busiest in the Midwest.
Right now, supplies are so low that he and his team have to choose which patients will get each unit of blood that comes in. The supply is nearly as short as it was in mid-March, when blood drives across America started getting canceled.
“Now, we have patients on the schedule for operations that were pushed back weeks or even months by the pandemic. A lack of blood could delay them further,” he says. “I can’t emphasize enough how much we need people to step forward and donate or host a blood drive now.”
Here are seven ways you can help:
1. If you’ve given blood before, sign up to give it again.
If you gave whole blood in March or April, you’re eligible to give whole blood again now.
If you haven’t given since March because of worries about going out, rest assured that blood drive organizers have put in place many new safety measures. This includes masks for donors, staff and volunteers, and more space between people.
Those precautions also mean that each drive has fewer spots than usual. So, when you’re looking for a new appointment, you may need to look at mid-July or later. Don’t get frustrated – claim an appointment even if it’s weeks from now.
To book your spot, visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-733-2767. Even after you make an appointment, you might get a phone call if a new drive opens up sooner.
And a bonus: For a limited time, donors at Red Cross drives will receive the results of an antibody test that will be conducted on their blood. This might indicate if they had COVID-19 earlier in the year, when the availability of testing for mild cases was very limited.
2. If you’ve never given, now’s the time.
Maybe you’re not a fan of needles. Maybe you’ve always been too busy. Maybe you just turned 17, the minimum age to give. Or you just never thought about giving blood because you figured they had enough of your type.
Whatever your reason, the urgent need for blood to help patients who have waited months for care, or are having an emergency, should give you more reason to consider giving. Read about how to deal with common concerns about giving blood, and learn more about being a first-time donor.
3. If you think you aren’t allowed to give, check again – the rules have changed.
It used to be that having a tattoo or piercing, or going to a country where malaria is common, meant you couldn’t give blood for a year. Both of those rules have recently been relaxed to just three months, in order to encourage more donations while still protecting the safety of patients who receive blood products.
Men who have sex with men, and women who have sex with such men, may also now give blood if they have not engaged in this type of sex for three months. Find out more about blood donation by LGBTQ+ individuals (LGBTQ+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and Gender non-conforming).
And for people who have traveled or lived in areas where “mad cow disease” was found in earlier times, such as the United Kingdom, France and Ireland, may also be able to give, if they meet specific criteria.
4. If you’ve had a positive COVID-19 test in the past few months, your blood plasma could be used to treat current COVID-19 patients.
The blood of people who have had the disease recently can contain antibodies that could help boost the immune system of people who have the disease now. This is done by taking clear plasma from the blood of the recovered person, and giving it to a current patient as “convalescent plasma.” Researchers are still working to see how effective this is for people who have serious COVID-19 symptoms, but to do so they need plasma from as many recovered people as possible. If you have tested positive in the past for COVID-19, learn about donating plasma.
Right now, people who have a positive antibody test, but didn’t get tested for the virus when they were sick, cannot give convalescent plasma. This may change in future.
5. If you can’t give but you have time, volunteer to help at a drive.
Every blood drive now needs volunteers to screen donors as they arrive, to make sure coronavirus precautions are followed. If you have time, find out about blood drive volunteer opportunities in your area here.
6. If you own or run an organization that could host a drive, sign up to do it.
Auto dealerships. Hotel ballrooms. Fraternal organization halls. Large office buildings. Churches. Municipal buildings.
If you’re affiliated with a business or organization that has a large indoor area that could serve as a blood drive organization, now’s the time to contact the Red Cross or your local blood service organization and offer it for a blood drive.
Each drive has fewer appointments because of pandemic-related safety requirements, so that means more drive locations are needed than ever before. Learn what’s involved.
7. If you want to encourage others to give, here’s how.
The Red Cross has a way to hold a “virtual blood drive” that encourages people to give at a location near them, in honor of a special person or occasion. You can start a virtual blood drive and share it via email, online gatherings and on social media. Learn more.