Texas, national blood banks experience donation shortages due to coronavirus outbreak

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Finance sophmores Ashley Davison and Matt Johnson give blood during the Sigma Phi Epsilon blood drive for West families Monday afternoon. More than 30 people signed up to help bring relief to the victims of the fertilizer plant explosion on April 17.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

As thousands of donors cancel their appointments and blood drives shut down due to coronavirus concerns, health officials are worried about blood donation shortages.

The American Red Cross said they are already experiencing a “severe blood shortage” due to an “unprecedented” number of drive cancellations. The Food and Drug Administration is urging healthy individuals to donate blood to maintain the nation’s supply, according to a press release last Wednesday.

A decrease in blood donations is an unintended consequence of Americans staying home amid the coronavirus outbreak, said Elizabeth Waltman, Chief Operating Officer for the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center.

“We are very concerned that these necessary activities (of social distancing) will have serious and life-threatening impacts on the blood supply unless our community acts now,” Waltman said. “These blood drive cancellations mean that, in very short order, blood inventories locally and nationally will be depleted.”

Waltman said the center must collect 400 units of blood a day to meet the community’s need, but has lost over 1,600 units from 50 drive cancellations this week, Waltman said. The center tries to maintain a blood supply for three to five days, but only has two to two and a half days, she said. 

We Are Blood, a community blood provider for Central Texas, has experienced 14 blood drives cancellations, said Nick Canedo, vice president of community engagement. With the extension of UT-Austin’s spring break, We Are Blood is canceling a weeklong drive that was scheduled to occur on campus. 

"(Drive cancellations) put a significant strain on our blood supply and the amount of blood that's available for patients that need them for transfusions daily,” Canedo said. “Every canceled blood drive means 20 to 30 less blood donations than we were anticipating to collect to meet the community need.” 

Canedo said We Are Blood has to collect 200 donations a day to meet the community need for hospitals and clinics. He said half of those donations come from drives and the other half come from donor centers. 

Donating blood is safe to do during the virus outbreak, Canedo said. 

“The FDA has not found that the coronavirus is transmittable via blood transfusion,” Canedo said. “Our donor centers and mobile drives are clean places where we are already conducting health and wellness screenings on our donors to ensure that the blood supply is healthy.”

Blood shortages can affect patients undergoing cancer treatment and bone marrow transplants, said Dr. Joyce Schwartz, director of clinical pathology and the medical director of the blood bank at Methodist Hospital.

“Whether it’s for a surgical procedure or a medical condition, one day either you or your family member or your friend will need blood to save their life,” Schwartz said.

Where can I donate?

-South Texas Blood & Tissue Center (South Texas)

On Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center and the city of San Antonio are hosting a blood drive at the Alamodome. By appointment only.  

Visit southtexasblood.org to donate.

-We Are Blood (Central Texas)

Visit weareblood.org to donate. We Are Blood has two donation locations in Austin and one in Round Rock. 

-Carter BloodCare (North, Central and East Texas)

Visit carterbloodcare.org to donate. 

-Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center (East Texas, Houston Metro, Brazos Valley)

Visit giveblood.org to donate. 

-Vitalant (El Paso, Harlingen, Lubbock, McAllen, Midland, San Angelo)

Visit vitalant.org to donate.