American Red Cross officials say healthy blood donors are needed more than ever as coronavirus concerns continue to grow.

“About 80% of the blood we collect comes from mobile drives in our communities,” Carrie Wiste of the American Red Cross said Thursday, March 19.

Volunteer blood donors are required to maintain the nation’s blood supply and help keep it from falling below critical levels, according to Wiste.

“Due to the coronavirus, we have seen more than 4,500 Red Cross blood drives canceled. And that has resulted in about 150,000 fewer blood donations through March 18,” Wiste said.

Closer to home in the Minnesota-Dakotas region, there have been 117 blood drive cancellations, resulting in roughly 3,800 units of blood lost.

“We're facing a shortage, and we have been getting personal letters from doctors in different places around the country who are writing to us, saying, ‘Hey, I'm currently looking at the blood supply at my hospital. We're down to one day,’” Wiste said.

A single car crash victim may require as many as 100 units of blood, according to the American Red Cross, and every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.

“We are taking extra precautionary measures to keep people safe and ease their minds at blood drives,” Wiste said.

The American Red Cross urges the public to join its lifesaving mission by giving blood this month in celebration of Red Cross Month. Donors of all blood types, especially type O, are urgently needed to help ensure blood is available for patients this spring.

American Red Cross employees take a number of precautions to ensure blood drives and donation centers are safe for all. Submitted infographic / American Red Cross
American Red Cross employees take a number of precautions to ensure blood drives and donation centers are safe for all. Submitted infographic / American Red Cross

“We are trying to remind people that these are not mass gatherings. They are controlled events that are staffed by trained professionals who will follow strict protocols, at every single drive, to maintain sanitation and, you know, good health in our communities,” Wiste said.

The American Red Cross provides about 40% of the nation’s blood and blood components, but supply does not always meet demand because only about 3% of age-eligible people donate blood yearly.

“We take the temperature of all of our staff, our volunteers and every donor that comes in the door,” Wiste said. “We're asking them to please be patient and let us check temperatures to make sure that no one is running a fever before they come in the door.”

As of Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health officials confirmed 89 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus that first emerged last year in China, with the closest case to the county of the potentially fatal disease in Benton County. The MDH states the total number of cases is likely an underestimate, as officials know the virus is circulating in communities.

“We're sanitizing our laptops and tablets that people used to check in electronically. We are maintaining social distancing with the chairs we set out for waiting, so we're setting them far apart, placing them back to back, so people aren't in close quarters while they wait,” she said.

There is no data or evidence COVID-19 can be transmitted by blood transfusion, and there have been no reported cases of transfusion transmission for any respiratory virus, including the COVID-19 virus worldwide, according to a Red Cross news release.

“As usual, our collection staff are changing their gloves between every person (who donates),” Wiste said. “We're wiping down and sanitizing anything that our donors touch, basically, during the donation process.”

Blood is essential for surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illnesses and traumatic injuries, so the need for blood is constant, according to Sue Thesenga, an American Red Cross external communications manager. Blood and platelets cannot be manufactured, according to the American Red Cross, and they can only come from volunteer donors. One donation can potentially save up to three lives.

“We're being restricted and places are being shut down to slow the spread of the virus, so that we don't have a crisis of care, where we don't have enough beds or respirators for the people who get sick and who need them,” Wiste said. “ … But, meanwhile, we could be facing a secondary problem if people don’t donate blood during, you know, during this period when people are being told to stay at home and practice social distancing. If they're not donating blood, we could be in real trouble.”

Brainerd blood drive

The Brainerd Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 1647 will host an American Red Cross blood drive 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 30-31 at 309 S. Sixth St. in downtown Brainerd.

To make an appointment to donate, contact Sterling Molby at 218-851-1148 or the Red Cross at 1-800-733-2763. More details at brainerdvfw.org.

How to donate blood

To make a blood donation appointment for any upcoming blood drive, download the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to make an appointment or for more information.

A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in at the blood collection site.

Those who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate.

High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

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FRANK LEE, county and features reporter, may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchFL.