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Concern grows over threat to blood supply caused by the coronavirus

Concern grows over threat to blood supply caused by the coronavirus

Blood Drive at City Hall

Matthew Boland, blood collection technician, searches for a vein on Julie Ellison's arm at the American Red Cross Blood Drive at City Hall on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in St. Louis. The drive, which placed an emphasis on getting African-American blood donations for sickle cell treatments, was hosted by the Office of St. Louis Comptroller, Darlene Green. Photo by Lexi Browning, lbrowning@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — A regional blood center that provides blood supplies to St. Louis area hospitals has sent donations to help relieve emergency shortages in the Northwest, the area hit hardest by the coronavirus.

But the center is also trying to prepare for its own possible drops in donations.

“We are concerned about a similar impact here in our region,” said Kirby Winn, spokesman for the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center.

The Mississippi Valley center provides blood products to more than 115 hospitals in parts of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, including 24 hospitals in the St. Louis area.

In Washington state, an increasing number of blood drives have been taken off the calendar as employees work from home, schools close and events are canceled. With fewer opportunities to donate, the community’s blood supply “is at risk of collapse in coming days,” warned a statement Monday from Bloodworks Northwest.

“The cancellation of blood drives creates a serious public health concern since nearly 60% of our blood supply is collected at mobile blood drives,” Curt Bailey, Bloodworks president, said in the statement. “Without access to locations where the public can donate blood, we’re at a tipping point where children and adults experiencing trauma, those going through cancer treatment, and premature babies, among others, will not have blood available.”

Winn said Mississippi Valley and other regional blood centers were able to send supplies to Bloodworks, much like they help each other in the past when a natural disaster like a hurricane strikes an area.

“We band together and give them what we can while making sure our own communities’ needs are met,” Winn said.

The Mississippi Valley center is concerned, however, that as cases of coronavirus increase in the Midwest, opportunities to donate blood will decrease.

One large manufacturing firm in the center’s region, which Winn did not want to name, has canceled its blood drive because of a temporary ban on outside visitors to its facility.

“Our concern is, if that becomes widespread practice, we could see the same impact here that they have seen in the northwest,” Winn said. Mississippi Valley depends on nearly 100 blood drives a week to keep up its supplies.

Since Missouri’s first coronavirus case over the weekend, the American Red Cross has seen five blood drives canceled in its service region for parts of Missouri and southern Illinois, according to Red Cross communications manager Joe Zydlo. The region provides blood supplies to 63 hospitals.

Nationwide, the Red Cross has seen 125 blood drives canceled, which amounts to about 3,500 donations, Zydlo said. The Red Cross depends on about 13,000 donations a day nationwide to maintain its supplies.

“It’s very concerning for us,” Zydlo said. “We want people to know that if they are healthy and eligible, we would love for them to donate now as soon as they can in case the situation continues to change.”

The Mississippi Valley center wants to continue to be able to help other areas in need while also increasing its own blood supply, Winn said.

“When others are hit by a hurricane, we know a hurricane is not heading our way,” he said. “But this is something where we may see a similar impact in our region, and we have an opportunity to be ready, to get the blood supply where it needs to be and weather the storm.”

Winn stressed that giving blood is safe. Donation centers are sterile and attract healthy people who are able to donate blood, he said. People are told not to donate if they are sick or have fever.

The Red Cross is instituting temperature checks even before donors enter screening areas, Zydlo said.

Anyone who has recently returned from travel to countries with a Level 2 or higher health notice are not allowed to donate blood until 28 days after the date of their return to the U.S.

Every 2 seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood, according to America’s Blood Centers. More than 31,000 pints of blood are used daily. However, less than 10 percent of Americans currently donate each year.

“We have to ramp up,” Winn said. “That is really the message.”

Mississippi Valley has two St. Louis area donation centers in Crestwood and St. Peters. For information on blood drives or to schedule an appointment, donors can call 1-800-747-5401 or visit bloodcenter.org.

To find a nearby Red Cross blood drive or donation location, visit redcrossblood.org.

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