Blood shortage reaches crisis levels, hits 10-plus year low
Caution, closed venues and staffing shortages are contributing to shortage of life saving blood.
"We like to have between three and five days worth of blood on the shelf and we're at less than one right now," said Carrie Carlson-Guest, regional communications director for the American Red Cross's Minnesota and Dakotas region. "It really is a dangerous situation."
The American Red Cross provides the nation with 40% of blood donations used in medical settings, so that organization is particularly aware that the United States is experiencing a blood shortage of drastic proportions.
If people can just give an hour of their time, that could be a lifetime to someone else
"The American Red Cross is in the middle of one of the worst blood crises we've seen," Carlson-Guest said. "It's the worst we've seen in the last decade if not more. I've been with the Red Cross for 20 years and I've never seen it this bad."
At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, some schools and community organizations made an effort to hold donation events with added precautions at that time, but the blood supply still immediately felt a hit.
"Since March of 2020, when the pandemic began, we have seen a decrease in blood donors of 10% and it's never bounced back up," Carlson-Guest said.
There are several contributing factors. Some would-be donors are being cautious about going into public gatherings, including blood drives. Carlson-Guest said places that traditionally hosted blood drives have become increasingly cautious about inviting outside groups into their facilities.
"Schools and businesses and organizations where we collect blood are closed or intermittently closed or may not feel comfortable having a blood drive at their facility," she said. "Or they may only have part of their staff back so it may not be enough for what they need to have a blood drive."
She said even the Red Cross has experienced a staff shortage.
"Like many nonprofits and businesses, we are in the same position," Carlson-Guest said. "So we have fewer staff and are more stringent on the protocols for cleaning. One of the things we do is have more space between the beds where people are donating. As you can imagine, if you have more space between beds, there are fewer beds to be able to collect blood."
Fewer staff also means it takes longer to take care of donors and sanitize stations, meaning there is less time available for actual donation.
Carlson-Guest said people may have a lot of questions about blood donation during the pandemic. One question she said is common is whether a person who has had one of the COVID-19 vaccines may donate.
"The answer is absolutely," she said. "If you are healthy and go through our normal questionnaire, which we get from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), absolutely. Please come in and donate blood."
All these factors combined with extreme weather conditions, holidays and travel make a perfect storm for the blood shortage.
Traditionally, Carlson-Guest said there are seasonal fluctuations when blood donations are fewer. Holidays and school vacations can often trigger a brief dip, but it's simply not springing back like usual. But the need for blood for victims of car crashes, in surgery or childbirth and other needs continues.
"It's constant," Carlson-Guest said. "Every two seconds someone in this country needs blood."
Carlson-Guest wants people to know that teenagers age 16 or older can donate blood with a parent's permission. That's something her own daughter recently did.
"She and her best friend both rolled up their sleeves about a month ago," Carlson-Guest said. "I think it was kind of inspiring."
Carlson-Guest said the donation of blood could have a priceless impact on another person.
"If people can just give an hour of their time, that could be a lifetime to someone else," Carlson-Guest said. "That's what I would really encourage people to do."
She encouraged bringing a friend to blood donation appointments.
Those who would like to offer up their facilities for a blood drive can contact the Red Cross to inquire about requirements for their space.
The need for blood is so vital that the Red Cross is entering donors for a chance to win valuable prizes. Those who donate with the Red Cross in January will be entered to win prizes that include a getaway to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles or a home theater package and a $500 e-gift card.
More information is available at https://www.redcrossblood.org/local-homepage/events/super_bowl.html
Donors can find donation opportunities by visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-733-2767. There is an official free app that simplifies the sign-up process.
One upcoming area blood drive will take place from noon to 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 21, at the Nisswa Community Center, sponsored by the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce. To sign up to give blood, call 1-800-RED-CROSS (733-2767) or visit RedCrossBlood.org and enter sponsor code "Nisswa Community."
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.