March is Red Cross Month, and 2020 is unlike any other year in the history of the organization. Red Cross workers and volunteers are stepping up to help ordinary citizens and the healthcare community combat the spread of the coronavirus. However, the organization is currently suffering from a severe blood shortage. The Red Cross is responsible for around 40% of the country’s blood donations. Yet, news of the pandemic has led to the cancellation of about 4,500 blood drives across the country, resulting in over 150,000 fewer donations.
In light of the coronavirus outbreak, the Red Cross has had to reevaluate its requirements for blood donations. However, the organization remains committed to collecting and providing blood donations for those in need of blood transfusions. Find out how the Red Cross is coping with the outbreak and what you can do to make a difference.
Urgent Calls for Blood Donations
The Red Cross wants to remind the general public that it’s safe to donate blood during the coronavirus outbreak; in fact, it’s encouraged. The organization needs a sufficient blood supply to avoid further shortages. Some donors have expressed reservations regarding the donation process, fearing they may get infected with the virus, but there is no evidence to suggest that blood transfusions can lead to the spread of the coronavirus.
The organization is looking for donations from healthy, eligible individuals, however it is asking those who have recently traveled to China, Italy, Iran, and South Korea to delay their donations for at least 28 days following their trip. Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been in direct contact with someone who has the virus should also avoid donating blood at this time. Those looking to donate blood to the Red Cross should schedule an appointment at Redcrossblood.org.
Amid the shortage of blood samples, several U.S. senators, including Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker recently sent a letter to the FDA asking them to reverse the policy that says men who have sex with men need to abstain for at least 12 months before donating the blood. The senators called the policy “discriminatory,” citing the fact that it prevents many healthy gay and bisexual men from donating blood. Thanks to advances in blood screening and pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP), men that have sex with men have a much lower chance of spreading HIV to donor recipients than in the past.
How the Red Cross Is Adjusting to the Virus
New social distancing requirements have forced the Red Cross to change its approach to the donation process. Donors are now spread six feet apart to limit the spread of germs. Workers and volunteers are using proper safety equipment to protect themselves from the spread of the virus, but recent shortages in personal protective equipment, or PPE, have made some volunteers nervous.
With N95 face masks in short supply, many volunteers are using basic surgical masks that are not as effective at stopping the spread of the virus. The act of drawing blood is also an inherently personal process. Nurses and volunteers must get close to the patient in order to retrieve the donation, and some workers are worried about getting infected with the virus.
However, the Red Cross is doing everything it can to put donors’ cares at ease. Staff are cleaning donation tables and equipment after every donation. They are also taking the temperatures of those interested in donating blood. Staff regularly have their temperatures taken, and anyone with a temperature over 99.5 degrees F will be turned away. The organization is also urging donors to schedule an appointment ahead of time to reduce overcrowding. This helps local clinics control the flow of donors, so they don’t pass the virus from patient to patient.
How the Red Cross Is Making a Difference Internationally
The organization extends beyond the borders of the U.S. Red Cross workers and volunteers are helping less affluent communities, including those in third-world countries, prepare for the eventual spread of the virus. They are helping these communities put together quarantine and isolation protocols, so they can reduce the chances of an outbreak. They are also educating individuals about proper hygiene, and fighting rumors and false information, while promoting other community-based programs that can limit the spread of the virus.
The Red Cross is currently urging the U.S. and international organizations around the world to invest in humanitarian actions to prevent widespread “devastation” in the developing world. The organization said on Monday that it will be nearly impossible for countries like Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan to fight off the virus without outside assistance. These war-torn regions do not have the resources they need to stop the spread of the virus, which could lead to widespread outbreaks across the Middle East and Africa.
Patients around the country need blood donations now more than ever. We can’t let the coronavirus lead to an ongoing shortage of blood donations. If you want to support your local community, consider donating to the Red Cross today. Celebrate the end of Red Cross Month by contributing to the nation’s blood supply.