COVID-19 cancels blood drives across nation, raises concerns over shortages


Maria Guerrero | The DePaulia

A woman donates blood as a part of the blood drive at the Harrison Red Line stop, as a part of The CTA’s partnership with Vitalent to transform the Red Line into the ‘Blood Line’ in 2019.

As coronavirus continues to spread throughout the United States, another potential health crisis looms – blood shortages.

American Red Cross reported an “unprecedented” number of cancellations as nearly 2,700 blood drives were cancelled around the nation as a result of the pandemic, per a March 17 statement.

In his March 22 coronavirus debriefing, Gov. J.B. Prtizker said such a shortage in Illinois would “only worsen the health crisis” and called upon healthy citizens to donate blood if they can during the pandemic.

Dr. Craig Klugman, professor in DePaul University’s department of health sciences, said a number of factors contributed to the cancellations. 

Blood drives require the use of personal protective equipment by the phlebotomists, the people taking your blood, and with a worldwide shortage of that equipment, it is needed to protect health care providers who are treating COVID patients,” Klugman said. “Taking your blood without that equipment is a risk factor for the phlebotomist. So it’s for everyone’s safety to cancel these drives.” 

The closure of schools and churches across the country have also contributed to cancelations, since many organizations rely on these locations to host drives.

Klugman said the need for blood has changed compared to “conventional times.”

“In our current crisis, most, if not all, elective surgeries have been postponed, so the number of procedures happening that require blood is far lower than it would be,” Klugman said. “But accidents still happen, and those people need blood. And some patients on ventilation can experience bleeding that requires transfusing blood.”

While elective surgeries have been postponed, blood is still needed for transfusion procedures for individuals with other disorders. 

Jessica Hanson, junior in Loyola University’s nursing school, said there are countless patients suffering from conditions that require either “whole blood transfusions or transfusions of other blood products.”

Without these transfusions, many patients who require blood transfusions may experience a decline in their health and exacerbation of certain disorders,” Hanson said. “It’s important to remember that besides COVID-19, there are still many other emergencies and critical disorders that require treatment involving blood transfusions.”

In place of these drives, donation centers have opted to allow healthy individuals to schedule appointments to donate blood.

Nastasia Scales, DePaul junior majoring in health sciences with a concentration in nursing, said misconceptions around the safety of the process may contribute to lack of willingness to schedule such appointments. 

“There is a lot of false information and valid information on the internet, so it is incredibly important for the public to fact-check their resources and make sure that the information has been backed by scientific, peer-reviewed research,” Scales said.

Klugman said there is no risk in giving blood if the recommended precautions – including keeping six feet apart and wearing masks – are taken.

We have to be sure to keep six feet between everyone,” Klugman said. “The person drawing your blood will be wearing PPE which should prevent transfer if either person has the virus. No one should donate blood if they do not feel well, but this has always been a screening criterion.”

An estimated 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood at any given time yet only 10 percent actually do, per AABB. A recent study from Abbott showed 12 percent of those regularly donating are millennials.  

Hanson said college students are an essential group of donors.

We as students can use our power to contribute to the recovery of this pandemic that has affected all ages, races, genders, etc.,” Hanson said. “I’m sure a lot of students already participate in risky activities, so donating blood is the least at-risk among those activities and should not scare and deter us from being a part of the solution to this pandemic.”

 Isis Chaverri, regional marketing and communications manager for American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois, said the blood supply is currently stable due to those who have donated thus far but added the organization will still need the help of healthy donors since there’s no “end date” to the pandemic. 

During this uncertain time, we encourage individuals to keep scheduled blood donation appointments and to make new blood donation appointments for the weeks ahead to ensure a stable supply throughout this pandemic,” Chaverri said.

Healthy individuals can schedule appointments at participating donation centers via phone and websites – or with the Blood Scheduling Skill found on the Amazon Alexa in partnership with American Red Cross.