As everything closes and everyone self-isolates, hospitals are postponing less-than-urgent surgeries in response to a critical decline in blood donations.
In the Minnesota-Dakotas region, 80 Red Cross blood drives—the equivalent of 2,500 donations—have been canceled.
Yet the need for blood is constant. Every community has cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy who can’t make their own platelets and require regular transfusions to avoid life-threatening hemorrhages, such as bleeding in the brain. Emergency surgical patients, victims of car accidents and other trauma, mothers experiencing complications during childbirth, and others are also in need.
Volunteer donors are hospitals’ only source of blood. The Red Cross must collect 13,000 units of blood every day to maintain optimal levels for hospitals nationwide. It now has less than a five-day supply.
As a result, hospitals this week received less blood than they would normally get from blood banks. Some, including Fairview and Allina, are deferring all surgeries that can be postponed, like knee and hip replacements, to preserve blood for those who need it even more urgently.
Doctors are calling on healthy people to step up and make an appointment at a blood center. The Red Cross and Minnesota-based Memorial Blood Centers are taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by checking staff and donors’ temperatures, providing ample hand sanitizer, spacing beds, and disinfecting everything constantly.
There’s no evidence a blood transfusion can spread COVID-19, or any other respiratory virus for that matter.
Dr. Lauren Anthony, Allina Health System’s laboratory medical director, says hospitals have the most critical need for platelets, which have a shelf life of just three days after staff completes all the testing required for them. Red blood cells, while also perishable, can be stockpiled in refrigerators for weeks.
“What that means is if there aren’t enough donors going in today for platelet donation, we’ll have a critical shortage in two to three days because that’s when the supply would be felt. It’s very short,” she says.
Allina alone needs 250 people to donate platelets and 1,800 people to donate red blood cells every month.
“What we’re needing is people who are feeling helpless in the wake of this COVID,” Anthony says. “The big thing is healthy people should donate and encourage their healthy neighbors to get on it. Especially platelet donors.”
Eligible donors need a driver’s license or two other forms of identification, must be at least 17 (or 16 with parental consent), and weigh at least 110 pounds.
Red Cross has an app to speed up registration.