COVID-19 Is Pushing U.S. Blood Supplies to the Brink | Healthiest Communities
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life as we know it, curbing interactions with family and friends, canceling travel plans, shifting work locations and adjusting our health priorities.
But as the novel coronavirus continues to sweep across the nation, it’s having another serious side effect many may not have thought of: a drastic decrease in blood donations. The national blood supply is at a critical low, and health systems around the country are sending out the SOS for help.
Blood transfusions help everyone from car crash victims and cancer patients to new mothers and their newborn babies. They are among the most common procedures in hospitalized patients, young and old. And though the amount of transfusion varies from patient to patient, the need is always there.
It’s important to stress that we as doctors know the supply is limited and when a transfusion is called for, we stick to exactly how much blood a patient needs. Every day, we do everything in our power to deliver optimal care, including giving the right amount of blood to the right patients who need this lifesaving therapy. Yet the dwindling blood supply is making our jobs harder.
Photos: Daily Life, Disrupted
Before COVID-19, you may have walked past a blood donation site every week at a local church or school, or perhaps even your company may have sponsored one. If you qualify, you sit down, offer your arm for about 10 minutes, grab a cookie and an “I donated blood” sticker, and go about your day knowing you helped save someone’s life. In fact, one unit of blood may help save as many as four people’s lives as it gets separated into red blood cells, platelets and plasma.
Thanks to the pandemic, we are now trying to reinvent the wheel on how to rally the community so we may collect and deliver these crucial transfusions. As donation sites in our communities are less common during these difficult times, it’s on us to go the extra mile, drive to a donation center and give blood.
Normally, blood centers nationwide aim to maintain a week’s supply of “blood in hand” to meet area operating needs. Currently, we are teetering on a brink where supply and demand is almost the same, and many blood centers only have about one to two days of blood in hand.
The greater New York City area’s health care system alone requires 1,500 donations each day, the NYBC says. And at Northwell Health, the largest health system in New York state, we need more than 75,000 units of blood a year to properly care for our patients. That’s roughly what the NYBC reports its high school and college student donations account for each school year. Yet with virtual learning and canceled donation events, hitting that number seems unlikely.
To be sure, temporary blood shortages are not uncommon during summer months and winter holidays. Perhaps a hard-hitting weather event would leave a hospital or region low, causing hospital systems to find relief from neighboring blood banks, or even from systems or banks in other states. Yet because our current blood shortage is nationwide, other states cannot easily offer their supply as relief. And if things keep going in this direction, our patients’ blood needs may not be met.
The situation may be even more dire given the looming uncertainty surrounding the pandemic’s trajectory over the course of the winter and into 2021.
At Northwell Health, we’re working with the NYBC to spread the word about the need for donors, and encourage local health systems to do the same with their area blood banks. So what can you personally do? The answer is simple: Donate. Blood centers around the nation are open and following proper COVID-19 safety protocols to protect you, from requiring face coverings to issuing temperature checks and creating physical distancing. Online tools are available to let you check if you are eligible to be a blood donor.
Importantly, we need to remember that this call for help is ongoing. Thank you for donating tomorrow – but when will you go again? Please become a regular blood donor and help your neighbors in need.
During the pandemic, you may have thought, “What can I do to help?” We in the medical community have seen tremendous support through “clap outs” and cheering, and through donations of food or personal protective equipment for front-line workers.
But as the COVID-19 crisis rolls on, please – if you are serious about offering help – consider giving someone life. Donate your blood today.