By Cameron Van Til / Herald Writer
Blood banks rely on places such as businesses, schools, community centers and churches for a large portion of their blood donations.
But with most of those places closed in response to the new coronavirus outbreak, the nation’s blood supply is in desperate need.
As of last Saturday, the American Red Cross said about 7,000 of its blood drives nationwide were canceled this month because of coronavirus-related reasons. That translates to more than 200,000 fewer blood donations for individuals — such as cancer and trauma patients — who require transfusions.
“We need people to schedule appointments to give blood,” said Betsy Robertson, a Northwest Region spokesperson for the Red Cross. “And simultaneously, we need to find new venues and hosts to replace those blood drives that have been canceled.”
Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide stay-at-home order Monday, but blood donation is considered an essential function that people are allowed to continue doing.
“It’s an essential service,” Robertson said. “Just like going to the grocery store, these things need to stay happening.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages healthy individuals to keep donating blood.
“Donated blood is a lifesaving, essential part of caring for patients,” the CDC said last Thursday. “The need for donated blood is constant, and blood centers are open and in urgent need of donations. CDC encourages people who are well to continue to donate blood if they are able, even if they are practicing social distancing because of COVID-19.”
Blood banks such as the Red Cross and Bloodworks Northwest are taking extra precautions to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They include: checking the temperature of staff and donors before entry; providing hand sanitizer and hand-washing options; spacing out beds, where possible, to follow social distancing practices; and using appointments to space out when donors arrive.
That’s in addition to the standard health and safety practices blood banks follow, such as routinely disinfecting surfaces and equipment.
“They are taking every precaution to keep folks safe,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, who donated blood Tuesday at the Snohomish County branch of the Red Cross in Everett.
Bloodworks Northwest said it experienced a massive decline in blood collection earlier this month, but announced Monday that its supply had stabilized with an influx of donations.
“We really rang the alarm bell and let the community know what a dangerous situation (we were in) and how we really needed the community to continue to make blood donations,” said Kirsten Alcorn, the medical director of blood services at Bloodworks Northwest. “… Since then, we’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of support in our community.”
However, the organization said it’s critical for people to continue blood donation appointments.
Individuals can donate whole blood once every eight weeks, according to the AABB, formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks.
“It’s clear now that this massive public health crisis will go on for months, and we anticipate further shocks to the blood supply in the coming days and weeks,” Bloodworks Northwest president and CEO Curt Bailey said in a release Monday. “The community must act by making their appointments now to donate blood in April and again when they become eligible.
“This is the only way the Pacific Northwest will meet the unprecedented demands facing our health care system and those lives depending on it.”
Robertson, the regional Red Cross spokesperson, echoed those sentiments.
“If we see a mass surge this week, that’s not going to solve the problem,” she said. “As long as the pandemic exists and the concerns for social distancing exist, this will just be a rolling issue that we need to constantly maintain.
“So don’t just give once, but make an appointment to give now and in another eight weeks, and eight weeks after that, to keep the supply fresh and going.”
How to help
The American Red Cross and Bloodworks Northwest have locations in Snohomish County. To schedule a blood donation appointment, visit their websites or call their offices.
Red Cross — Snohomish County
2530 Lombard Ave., Everett
Bloodworks Northwest — Everett Center
2703 Oakes Avenue, Everett
Bloodworks Northwest — Lynnwood Center
19723 Highway 99, Suite F, Lynnwood