Blood donors needed: What you should know about risks and safety during COVID-19

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Coronavirus has led to a nationwide shortage of blood and blood products. Donors are needed, at the same time donors are worried about exposure. Wochit

Blood supply is extremely low with a deficit of 300,000 units across the U.S., according to the local chapter of the American Red Cross. The closure of schools and businesses due to the COVID-19 threat also shut down many blood drives, leading to a critical shortage.

Cancer patients and those suffering from an accident still require blood. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has encouraged Vermonters to consider giving blood even during the “stay in place, stay safe” order.

“It is imperative that healthy donors come out and join the Red Cross in giving blood,” said Maria Devlin, CEO for the Northern New England American Red Cross. The shortage is “very, very significant,” she said.

Too risky to donate now?

With the Vermont stay home order recommending going out for essential needs, there is some inherent risk to potential blood donors. But Devlin said the need is great and individuals should think about what would work for them.

“Across the United States someone needs blood every two seconds. So that need has not changed since the coronavirus outbreak,” Devlin said. 

Extra precautions protect donors 

Devlin said the Red Cross taken safety precautions over and above what is typically done to maintain social distancing and a more sterile environment.

Devlin said some of those safety measures include:

  • Spreading apart donor beds and seats in waiting areas.
  • Temperature checking staff and donors.
  • Asking all staff and volunteers questions about their health, with a particular focus on phlebotomists who will need to be within the six foot personal space range to draw blood.

Devlin said they are guided by recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

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Recovering COVID-19 patients would have a longer deferment period before being able to give blood.

COVID-19 is the official name of the disease related to the coronavirus that first started to affect people in China at the end of 2019. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. 

Some procedural changes

Some donation procedures have changed in light of the pandemic.

Donors are asked not to walk up to a donation facility. Instead, appointments are necessary to ensure social distancing and other proper safety precautions.

A donor can go to redcrossblood.org or the Red Cross app to look up donation drives in their area and sign up for a time to give. For Burlington area donors, the Burlington Blood Donation Center at 32 North Prospect Street is booking appointments. 

Devlin said it is possible Vermont donors may not find a drive near them for the same day, but to be patient and keep checking back. If there is not an open blood drive near you currently, look a couple weeks out.

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For questions about whether you can give, call 1-800-RED-CROSS. 

Contact April Barton at abarton@freepressmedia.com or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.

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