By Catherine Marfin
The American Red Cross is urging people to donate blood as the organization experiences the lowest blood supply and donor turnout that it’s had ahead of the holiday season in more than a decade.
While donor turnout typically declines during the holidays, turnout in recent months has been especially low and especially troubling, said Krystal Smith, communications director for the American Red Cross North Texas Region.
Blood shortages mean patients who are seriously injured may not be able to get blood transfusions they need, and can lead to some patients deferring major surgeries such as organ transplants.
While people were eager to step up and donate last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, donors’ sense of urgency has not carried over into 2021, Smith said. Yet many of the reasons for the low turnout and increased need for blood stem from the pandemic, Smith said.
“Part of that is [donors’] nerves over there being a pandemic and wanting to make sure that they stay safe,” she said. “Part of it’s been increased needs from hospitals from patients delaying services during the pandemic’s height and now coming back and needing additional transfusions.”
Smith said patients shouldn’t be worried about visiting a donation center; the Red Cross is continuing to take additional health precautions at donation centers to ensure patients’ safety.
The organization has encouraged people to schedule appointments online, keeps donors at least 6 feet apart, requires the use of face masks and has added extra cleanings between patients “to help make it a safe environment while still collecting that lifesaving blood,” Smith said.
The Red Cross is encouraging anyone who is healthy to make an appointment to donate. People with O-negative blood are especially encouraged, as the blood type is a universal donor and ideal for emergency situations when doctors don’t have information about a patient’s blood type.
The blood donation itself takes about 10 to 15 minutes, while the entire donation process, which includes a health screening, takes about an hour, Smith said.
To donate blood, people must be 16 or older, in good health and weigh at least 110 pounds. Other eligibility criteria can be viewed online. People can return to donate every 56 days.
Right now, donors who schedule and keep their appointments will receive an incentive, while supplies last. Incentives include Red Cross long-sleeve shirts, Red Cross socks and Amazon gift cards, Smith said.
“If it’s an accident or burn victim, if people need transplants or surgery, or even the people that are battling cancers in sickle cell disease, they need these transfusions,” Smith said. “And the only way to have blood available when patients need it is to have the generosity of donors coming in to roll up a sleeve and donate.”