The heart surgeons are ready. The cancer nurses are ready. The organ transplant teams are ready.
At Michigan Medicine and in hospitals across America, they’re ready to get back to providing regularly scheduled care, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
But they can’t do it unless they have a reliable supply of blood. And right now, that supply just isn’t there.
Add in the threat of injuries from home fireworks shows and more road travel as July 4 and summer vacations approach, and the demand for blood at emergency rooms, trauma centers and burn units could also increase.
Robertson Davenport, professor of pathology, heads the blood bank at Michigan Medicine. Right now, supplies are so low that he and his team have to choose which patients will get each unit of blood that comes in. The supply is nearly as short as it was in mid-March, when blood drives across America started getting canceled.
“Now, we have patients on the schedule for operations that were pushed back weeks or even months by the pandemic. A lack of blood could delay them further,” he says. “I can’t emphasize enough how much we need people to step forward and donate or host a blood drive now.”
Here’s how you can help:
1. If you’ve given blood before, sign up to give it again.
If you gave whole blood in March or April, you’re eligible to give whole blood again now. Blood drive organizers have put in place many new safety measures. This includes masks for donors, staff and volunteers, and more space between people.
Those precautions also mean that each drive has fewer spots than usual. So, when you’re looking for a new appointment, you may need to look at mid-July or later. Don’t get frustrated. Claim an appointment even if it’s weeks from now.
To book your spot, visit redcrossblood.org or call 800-733-2767. Even after you make an appointment, you might get a phone call if a new drive opens up sooner.
Michigan Medicine employees can also give at a special blood drive on July 14 and 15 at the Towsley Center.
For a limited time, donors at Red Cross drives will receive the results of an antibody test that will be conducted on their blood. This might indicate if they had COVID-19 earlier in the year, when the availability of testing for mild cases was very limited.
2. If you’ve never given, now’s the time.
The urgent need for blood to help patients who have waited months for care, or are having an emergency, should give you more reason to consider giving. Visit this page to read about how to deal with common concerns about giving blood, and this page to learn more about being a first-time donor.
3. If you think you aren’t allowed to give, check again. The rules have changed.
It used to be that having a tattoo or piercing, or going to a country where malaria is common, meant you couldn’t give blood for a year. Both of those rules have been relaxed to three months in order encourage more donations while still protecting the safety of patients who receive blood products.
Men who have sex with men, and women who have sex with such men, may also now give blood if they have not engaged in this type of sex for three months. Find out more about blood donation by LGBTQ+ individuals.
And people who have traveled or lived in areas where “mad cow disease” was found in earlier times, such as the United Kingdom, France and Ireland, may also be able to give, if they meet specific criteria. Find out more about the specifics for travelers and people who have lived overseas.
4. If you’ve had a positive COVID-19 test in the past few months, your blood plasma could be used to treat current COVID-19 patients.
The blood of people who have had the disease recently can contain antibodies that could help boost the immune system of people who have the disease now. This is done by taking clear plasma from the blood of the recovered person, and giving it to a current patient as “convalescent plasma.”
Researchers are still working to see how effective this is for people who have serious COVID-19 symptoms, but to do so they need plasma from as many recovered people as possible. If you have tested positive in the past for COVID-19, learn about donating plasma.
Right now, people who have a positive antibody test but didn’t get tested for the virus when they were sick cannot give convalescent plasma. This may change in future.
5. If you can’t give but you have time, volunteer to help at a drive.
Every blood drive now needs volunteers to screen donors as they arrive, to make sure coronavirus precautions are followed. If you have time, find out about blood drive volunteer opportunities in your area here.
7. If you want to encourage others to give, here’s how.
The Red Cross can hold a “virtual blood drives” that encourage people to give at a location near them, in honor of a special person or occasion. You can start a virtual blood drive and share it via email, online gatherings and on social media. Learn more here.