Calls for hospital masks, protective gowns and ventilators have reached a critical point for many hospitals and healthcare facilities looking to protect staff while tending to patients during the burgeoning coronavirus crisis.
But there is another shortage that promises to be problematic as well – a dwindling blood supply.
With the public being asked to stay home as much as possible and the mandated shutdown of schools and non-essential operations, there have been mass cancellations of blood drives, which are often held in schools, churches and community organizations this time of year.
Already, more than 2,700 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled throughout the United States, said Abigail Adams, the director of communications for the Red Cross in Westchester County. Plus, others that would have been scheduled for later this spring almost certainly won’t be held.
On Saturday, the New York Blood Center announced that there has been a 75 percent reduction in blood donations. The center has canceled all community blood drives until further notice, including an upcoming spring drive at Pleasantville High School.
However, donating blood, as long as proper precautions are followed, does not pose a health risk, Adams said.
“We want everybody to be safe,” she said. “We’re the leaders of preparedness. The immediate goal is urging people to donate blood.”
This week there will be two Red Cross blood drives in Westchester: on Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the organization’s Hawthorne headquarters at 40 Saw Mill River Rd. and at the Paramount, located at 1008 Brown St. in Peekskill on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Adams said Red Cross volunteers will perform the pre-donation screenings and the venues are large enough to keep members of the public at a safe distance from each other. Those who are waiting to give blood will be asked to wait outside.
Anyone who doesn’t feel well is urged to stay at home.
“As much as we can we’re practicing social distancing,” Adams said. “What people need to remember is that a blood drive at any one time has less than 30 people, so that (addresses) the social distancing.”
What people should also remember is that giving or receiving blood will not transmit COVID-19, said Robert Kessler, president of Vitalant, the nation’s second-largest community blood service provider, which holds blood drives throughout New Jersey and the Hudson Valley each year.
Kessler said that there’s no proof that the virus can be transmitted from person to person through blood, which is important because many people who may be infected have no symptoms. There’s no way for the Red Cross workers to be able to test donors for the coronavirus.
“I think the overriding message is we need blood because, again, if we don’t have enough blood to meet the basic needs of patients that may well cause another public health crisis, so we’re urging folks who feel well to come in and donate,” Kessler said.
Blood donations also do not impact a person’s immune system, he said.
Further exacerbating the looming danger is that March and April are a popular time for high schools and colleges to hold blood collections, Kessler said. This year that won’t happen, he said.
Adams said for those who can take the time to donate this week they are strongly urged to make an appointment at www.redcrossblood.org and enter the sponsor code ARC for Tuesday’s drive in Hawthorne and the code Paramount for the one in Peekskill on Thursday. The Red Cross is looking to schedule another drive in Chappaqua in the near future, she said.
“We’ve been getting word out that if you’re healthy and can donate please donate because you’re saving lives,” Adams said.