Blood Banks Trying To Assure Donors It’s Safe To Give, Despite Coronavirus Fears

In this Aug. 20, 2013, photo, technician Greg Snyder, left, inserts a needle into a vein on Gina Hohenstaff’s arm as she donates blood in an Indiana Blood Center Bloodmobile in Indianapolis. (Michael Conroy / AP Photo)

Nationwide, precautions are being taken against the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but blood banks throughout the nation are urging healthy individuals to donate blood to make sure supplies don’t get too low. 

Dr. Ralph Vassallo, chief medical and scientific officer at Vitalant, said since the outbreak of COVID-19 the blood supply in China has dipped below stable levels, which makes him concerned for United States blood supply levels.

“It’s not the intrinsic safety of the blood supply that’s at risk, it’s the availability of life saving blood,” said Vassallo. “We have patients who still need blood for trauma, surgeries, cancer therapy and chronic transfusions, so we’re urging our donors and drive sponsors to keep commitments to donate while following prudent measures to reduce the risk of infection.”

Vassallo said Vitalant, a nonprofit organization that collects blood from volunteer donors and provides blood products and services throughout the United States, collects in six of the 13 states that are currently affected by coronavirus. He said Vitalant is following strict procedures and guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety. 

“There’s firstly no inherent risk of getting coronavirus from the donation procedure itself and we’re minimizing the risk of contracting it from others at a drive or blood center by following rigorous safety and disinfection protocols,” Vassallo said. “We’re using gloves and personal protective equipment, we’re wiping down high touch areas after every collection, using single-use collection sets for every donation and a careful 30-second arm scrub.”

Vassallo said he has seen a number of concerned blood drive sponsors calling to ask about whether or not they should continue with their drive.

“We and other providers have seen cancellations where folks are concerned about the safety of their donors,” said Vassallo. “If there haven’t been human to human transmissions on a significant basis within your community it’s really safe to come out and donate blood as long as you’re prudent.”

Vassallo said people who have travelled to countries with sustained transmission in the last 28 days, are themselves recovering from coronavirus, are in close contact with known or suspected patients, or are feeling generally unwell are excluded from the donation process. 

“Frankly, donors who don’t feel well, they’re excluded early in the donation process as are people who have a temperature,” said Vassallo. “We let donors know if they have risk factors for coronavirus, don’t attempt to donate blood.”

There are many ways individuals can reduce the spread of coronavirus, an article published Feb. 28 by NPR’s Allison Aubrey states by avoiding close contact with people who are sick, avoiding touching your face, staying home when you are sick, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe are all ways to keep yourself and others safe.

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