Medical services and personnel that are unrelated to the coronavirus are nevertheless severely impacted by its spread — just take the status of donated blood levels, for instance. Last week, hospitals and blood banks across the nation and in our own community reported critically low levels of platelets and certain blood types. The American Red Cross announced a severe blood shortage, and Children’s Hospital Colorado tweeted out a plea for new donors.
The cause of such depletion was a halt in the steady stream of donors, who normally turn up to blood drives in droves. These drives are often hosted by businesses, schools, libraries, religious institutions and other community-based sites. The government’s recommendation to cancel events that involved more than 10 people, however, resulted in the dissolution of blood drives, often alongside the closure of such public spaces. This is perhaps an unintentional externality of social distancing measures, since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that blood donation is a “critical infrastructure industry.” This designation implies that blood drives should not be counted as nonessential gatherings.
Nevertheless, the once-reliable flow of healthy blood into hospitals is at risk of drying up (so to speak). Vitalant — the nation’s second largest blood collector, which runs eight donation centers in Colorado — has witnessed the cancellation of over 1,400 scheduled blood drives from now until the end of June. This amounts to nearly 41,000 uncollected blood donations.
Luckily, this urgent call to action is being answered as we speak, and not without the help of several distinguished relayers. Governor Polis and the U.S. Surgeon General highlighted the need for blood donations during press conferences last week, which, according to Vitalant, played a large role in generating the tremendous community response they’ve received in the past few days.
In fact, the outpouring of community support is so great that Vitalant is now asking aspiring donors to call ahead for an appointment rather than walk into a donation center. (Dial 303-363-2300 or visit Vitalant.org to do so). Due to the high volume of inquiries, it is likely that those who want to donate will have to schedule an appointment day — if not weeks — in advance, but hospitals and donation centers are still urging people to donate to sustain the blood supply throughout the course of the pandemic. “Your donation will be just as crucial to meet patient needs in the coming days and weeks,” said Brooke Way, a marketing and communications specialist at Vitalant.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock echoed this message during the announcement of the city’s stay-at-home order on March 23. “If you are healthy we ask you to please consider donating blood if you’re able,” he said.
To inquire about making a blood donation at Children’s Hospital Colorado, call 720-777-5398. UCHealth Garth Englund has blood donor centers in Loveland and Fort Collins — call 970-495-8965 to see about scheduling an appointment with them.
You do not have to officially test negative for the coronavirus in order to donate blood, and blood donation sites are not administering tests to potential donors. The scarcity of test kits makes such screenings impossible, considering that people who display symptoms of the virus but aren’t sick enough to merit hospitalization are being sent home untested right now in Colorado. If hospitals across the state don’t have the resources to test sick people, they won’t test apparently healthy blood donors.
Given these conditions, it is imperative that those who plan on donating blood are in good health. This is always a stipulation for donation across all donation sites, but the times call for its reiteration.
Many well-intentioned concerns about the safety and sanitation of donating blood have arisen during the time of the coronavirus, but donation sites follow policies laid out by the FDA to ensure the health and safety of donors and patients. According to Vitalant’s public response to COVID-19, the organization’s chief medical and scientific officer, Dr. Ralph Vassallo, said that “due to the nature of the virus, it is highly unlikely that [COVID-19] can be transmitted through blood transfusions.” Giving blood also does not alter the donor’s immune system.
Vitalant’s public response document also states that its staff follows “rigorous safety and disinfection protocols at its blood drives and donation centers.” The organization is also telling individuals not to come in to donate if they’ve lived with or been in close contact with individuals diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19 infection over the last 28 days, and if they’ve spent time in a country with sustained widespread COVID-19 outbreaks as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). (The U.S. itself has the highest number of cases worldwide as of March 31.)
To maintain the health and safety of both blood donors and patients, Children’s Hospital moved chairs so that they are six feet apart and are providing food in sealed individual packages. The staff members at Garth Englund are now wearing face masks to help minimize the risk of virus transmission.
Hospitals and blood banks will continue to encourage healthy people to donate blood unless local public health officials specifically direct otherwise. At present, the need for blood is high, and medical and government officials are actively encouraging eligible donors to keep it flowing in.
You can find more information on Vitalant eligibility requirements here. Children’s Hospital Colorado’s updated blood donation stipulations are listed here. UCHealth Garth Englund’s Loveland and Fort Collins donation centers also list their coronavirus-specific and ever-present eligibility requirements on their respective websites.