Blood Centers Need Donors Right Now, Both From COVID Survivors and Everyone Else

Yes, it is still safe to donate blood during the coronavirus pandemic.

Wisconsinites have never been great at donating blood.

Off and on over the past couple years, Wisconsin’s blood centers (like the Red Cross and Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin) have reported “critical” shortages at several points. And that was before a pandemic hit.

It’s only gotten worse because of coronavirus.

“The need for plasma is now exceeding the number of donations,” Gov. Tony Evers said on Friday while pleading for more Wisconsinites to donate. “We’re all in this fight together.”

In March, blood donations spiraled downward. Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin, which provides blood to more than 50 Wisconsin hospitals, reported that blood stockpiles Haveafallen to “concerning” levels. (Versiti became the new name of Blood Center of Wisconsin in early 2019.)

One of the big problems is that the churches, businesses and schools that typically host blood drives are closed.

While that’s good for preventing the spread of coronavirus, it isn’t good for keeping up Wisconsin’s blood supply even while blood centers have remained open.

At least 4,000 drives have been canceled nationwide, leading to a decrease of 130,000 donations, or the equivalent of 61,100 liters of blood. Since the average person has about 5 liters of blood in them, that’s enough to fully replenish 12,200 people’s bodies in full.

That’s despite the fact that there’s little-to-no risk of spreading the virus through the donation process, according to health officials. 

“The donation process itself poses no risk of infecting a donor with coronavirus. Donors and our blood drive sponsors should be reassured that attending organized blood drives is safe. Coronavirus is currently not known to infect patients through blood transfusions,” stated Dr. Tom Abshire, chief medical officer for Versiti.

Still, demand continues to outpace supply. Car accidents have continued and so have many other surgeries, even while the rest of most people’s lives has come to a standstill.

The FDA even loosened up its rules to make it easier for people to donate —  though restrictions that make it tough for gay men to give blood remain mostly in place.

But more important than typical donations are donations from COVID survivors.

Hospitals are begging for plasma donations from someone who had been diagnosed with coronavirus but is now COVID negative. As such, they’re not going to get anyone else sick, but their bodies carry the antibodies that can help someone still suffering from COVID.

Those transfusions could make the difference between life and death for “high risk hospitalized patients or those in life-threatening stages of the disease,” Evers says. “Many hospitals are using the plasma treatment, and the studies are ongoing to understand its effectiveness.”

That’s why the governor has been calling on survivors directly to donate.

“I strongly encourage recovered patients to donate plasma,” he says. “This is your opportunity to help others … to provide a sense of hope and perhaps a life-saving gift.”

According to the Red Cross, “This convalescent plasma is being evaluated as treatment for patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections, or those judged by a healthcare provider to be at high risk of progression to severe or life-threatening disease.” (Convalescent is an adjective that describes a being that has recovered from an illness or operation.) The first convalescent plasma donor with Versiti was a pediatric oncologist with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Dr. Dave Lal, who donated in early April.

“I have a unique opportunity to help others,” Lal stated to Versiti after donating. “Even in my own community, I know people who are really struggling and who are critically sick. So if I can help any one of those people, it would give me much joy.”

  • To fill out a donation interest form as someone who survived COVID with the Red Cross, click here.
  • To donate with Versiti, click here, or call 866-702-HOPE or 886-702-4673.

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Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan