Organizations address blood donation concerns amid Omicron surge

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – Amid the ever-increasing demand for blood, the only way to get it is to collect it from people directly.

But since the Delta variant began spreading in August, the Red Cross said they’ve experienced low donor turnout and the trend continues as the Omicron variant took over.

James Jarvis of the Red Cross said since the pandemic began, their donors are down 10% across the board, which puts them in a dangerous situation.

Jarvis said they strive to maintain at least a five-day supply of blood inventory but now they’re down to less than a day’s supply of many blood types.

The Blood Connection echoed a similar crisis-mode message to the Carolinas, saying they’re projecting to collect 40% less than what hospitals need in the next 30 days.

“Blood has always been there and people are gonna assume that it’s always gonna be there,” medical director Robert Rainer said. “But we have no way of manufacturing it, it’s gotta come from people. We have to collect it.”

Doctors nationwide have had to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who will need to wait.

At the ECU Division of Hematology/Oncology, division chief Darla Liles said they haven’t seen as much of an impact at the division because they’ve developed a plan where they would limit the usage of their blood products based on how much they had.

But Liles addressed the ongoing issue.

“We’ve had fewer people who are donating blood because of COVID-19 and then we have a blood supply issue, because we have many people who need that for surgery, or some of my hematology/oncology patients who are getting chemotherapy. And so we’ve had to restrict how we give blood products because of that,” Liles said.

Jarvis added historically, only 3% of the population gives blood on an annual basis.

“So with Omicron spiking across the country with a number of your workforces going virtual, a lot of those larger blood drives that we would have gotten in years past, we’re not getting right now,” Jarvis said. “Our school drives, both high schools, and colleges are down 62%. Now why that is problematic is because 20% of our national blood supply has historically come from those school drives.

But the pandemic hasn’t changed who’s eligible to donate blood.

The Blood Connection said people who have received an FDA-approved vaccine are still eligible to donate blood, and those who have had COVID-19 before can still donate blood as long as they are symptom-free for 14 days and feeling healthy and well.

The Red Cross said you can make an appointment to give blood or platelets as soon as possible by using their blood donor app, calling them, or by visiting their website.

“If you are vaccinated, we absolutely encourage you to come and donate blood,” Jarvis said. “When you get there, we’ll ask you which type of vaccine you received and, in most cases, there’s no deferral for those who just received a vaccine. For those who have been exposed to COVID-19, we ask that you be 14 days after symptoms, so if you’ve been diagnosed with Covid, we ask that you wait until 14 days after symptoms to go ahead and donate blood.”

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