Alabamians urged to donate blood as crisis stems supply

It’s safe to donate blood – and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, donation centers say, blood supplies are needed across Alabama. 

Blood drive

Angelita Robinson of the American Red Cross takes blood from donor Billy Duncan in Talladega in this 2015 file photo. 

A national shortage of blood supply is expected as concerns about the coronavirus keep people from donating. In Alabama, people are being 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 University of Alabama at Birmingham 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, was quoted as saying 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 6 feet apart and making an appointment with a local blood drive.

Kelly Porter, donor recruiter for the Anniston branch of LifeSouth Community Blood Drives, said LifeSouth has canceled many of its blood drives this month because the pandemic temporarily closed so many local businesses. 

That’s how the blood donation process works. LifeSouth runs blood drives from a bus parked at a well-attended event or popular store, hoping to draw the attention of would-be donors. It’s the only method of collection for Anniston’s LifeSouth branch, Porter said. The closest stationary center for collecting blood is in Birmingham. 

LifeSouth typically does a blood drive somewhere in the county every day, Porter said. She said she’s working with churches to host more of those drives in the near future.  

The best way to track down the LifeSouth bus is to go to a page Porter created on Facebook, called “LifeSouth.TeamAnniston." The current schedule has the bus at Wal-Mart in Jacksonville on Thursday, Wal-Mart in Oxford on Friday and Wal-Mart in Centre on Saturday. The group has also put out a call for donations of hand sanitizer.

“We’re now allowing only three people who can donate into the bus at one time,” Porter said.

At Lifesouth Community Blood Center in Opelika, donors are allowed to wait in their car, beds are 6 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 says that 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 for donations. 

“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. 

Marla Troughton, M.D., medical director of the Alabama Region of the American Red Cross, was quoted in a UAB press release as saying 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 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 their website at www.redcross.org. Life South centers and drives can be found at www.lifesouth.org.

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