Alabamians Encouraged to Give Blood

Blood donors being sought during COVID-19 pandemic. Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Allen Pollard.

It’s safe to donate blood – and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, donation centers say blood supplies are needed statewide.
A national shortage of blood supply is expected as concerns about the coronavirus keep people from donating. In Alabama, people are urged to donate.
“The blood supply could dip to dangerously low levels in the next few weeks if donations don’t increase,” said Bob Shepard, public relations manager of health and medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Usual donation practices have been disrupted by the novel coronavirus, and UAB and area blood collection agencies are urging blood donation.”

Shepard  said the hospital system has “sufficient” blood supply for the immediate future.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has identified blood donation as an “essential and integral component of the emergency support function,” according to its website.

The UAB is one of the largest users nationally of blood supplied by the American Red Cross. According to its website, the Red Cross “faces a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations during this coronavirus outbreak.”

The shortage means hospitals across the nation are taking proactive measures to conserve the blood available.

“The American Red Cross is urging hospitals to reduce blood use in an effort to maintain suitable reserves for those patients who could need a blood transfusion, such as those with cancer, sickle cell disease, undergoing emergent surgery, trauma victims or post-partum women,” Dr. Marisa Marques, director of transfusion services at UAB, said in a press release.

Social distancing also contributes to current blood donation shortages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people who are healthy to continue to donate blood and provides recommendations to keep donors safe, including keeping donor beds six feet apart and making an appointment with your local blood drive.

At Lifesouth Community Blood Center in Opelika, donors are allowed to wait in their car, beds are six feet apart and the building is following FDA sanitation regulations.

“We’re cleaning all door handles and anything donors touch or sit on – everything is being cleaned on a regular basis throughout the day,” Sharon Carpenter, district director of Lifesouth Community Blood Center of South Alabama, said.

Carpenter said the district started out in emergency need a week ago but has seen an increase in blood donations over the past week.

“Our community has helped out but in order to maintain that stable inventory, we need a consistent number of donors a day,” Carpenter said.

With several states issuing shelter-in-place orders, blood donation centers face further challenges.

“We are a little concerned that if we do have to shelter in place then there will be very few blood donors available,” Carpenter said.

Dr. Marla Troughton, medical director of the Alabama Region of the American Red Cross, said in a UAB press release that “the last thing a patient should have to worry about during this time is a blood shortage.”

“Donating blood is a safe process, and people should not hesitate to give or receive blood,” Troughton said. “If you are healthy, feeling well, and eligible to give blood or platelets, please make an appointment to donate. You can help change the headlines with a blood donation.”

Donors can give blood up to six times a year, every eight weeks.

The American Red Cross of the Alabama Region consists of 67 counties divided into six geographical Chapters – North, Mid, East, West, Central and South.

For those interested in donating, the process takes about 45 minutes, with the blood collection itself usually taking less than 20 minutes. Donors should bring a photo ID.

To find a blood drive or fixed donation location, call the Red Cross at 800-733-2767 or visit its website, or go to Lifesouth for a list of drives.