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Coronavirus

Colorado blood supplies approach critical levels as coronavirus-wary donors stay home

Dozens of blood drives have been canceled, and donors are now being asked if they have been in countries beset by COVID-19

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Blood banks and hospitals say supplies of platelets and certain blood types have dropped to critical levels in Colorado, while donation drives are being canceled amid fears of the new coronavirus.

“Now that the president has come out and announced that gatherings of no more than 10 people are recommended, I expect that there will be more cancellations,” said Kaitlin Zobel, the blood donor recruiter at UCHealth Garth Englund Blood Donor Centers.  

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Despite the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, it is still safe to donate and receive blood, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Donors must undergo usual screenings to donate, and in addition, they will be asked if they recently traveled to any of the major coronavirus outbreak countries, or if they or anyone close to them has been diagnosed with or is suspected of having a COVID-19 infection.

Vitalant, which supplies blood and platelets to 100 hospitals across Colorado, has an urgent need for type O blood and for platelets, spokeswoman Liz Lambert said. The company normally collects 3,500 units a week, and tries to maintain a four-day supply for all blood types. 

“Right now we’re at half or less than that amount for some blood types,” she said. 

Children’s Hospital Colorado tweeted an appeal on Monday that its supply of platelets were critically  low.

By Monday afternoon, 24 blood drives were canceled through the end of the month, Lambert said. For the second half of March, 35% of blood drives have been canceled thus far, she said.

The Garth Englund Blood Centers in Loveland and Fort Collins don’t have any current shortages, but in 24 hours, eight blood drives were canceled for coming weeks, Zobel said. Those drives would normally collect nearly 180 units of blood, enough to help about 360 people, Zobel said. 

“The majority of our blood supply comes from these community blood drives,” she said. “As people self-quarantine and as blood drives get canceled we will really start seeing the effect over the next couple of weeks.” 

Blood banks are encouraging eligible people to go to their permanent donation centers to donate.

  • Vitalant has eight donation centers across Colorado. (An appointment can be made by calling 303-363-2300).
  • Garth Englund has donation sites in Loveland and Fort Collins. (Call 970-495-8965 to schedule an appointment.)
  • Children’s Hospital asked people to call to be screened over the phone and make an appointment. (Call 720-777-5398)

Blood donors will notice only a few changes, such as the new screening questions. At Garth Englund, the staff is now wearing face masks to help minimize the risk of virus transmission, while Vitalant is moving toward taking people’s temperature at the door before they enter the site. Children’s Hospital said it was moving chairs so that they are six feet apart and providing food in sealed individual packages. 

Neither Garth Englund nor Vitalant is changing the layout of its blood collection sites, but Vitalant’s Chief Medical and Scientific Officer Dr. Ralph Vassallo said the chair spacing distance of 3 feet apart is all that is mandated to avoid droplet transmission in healthy populations.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

“Routine blood donor screening measures that are already in place should prevent individuals with clinical respiratory infections from donating blood. For example, blood donors must be in good health and have a normal temperature on the day of donation,” the FDA said on its website. 

There is no way to screen blood donations for the COVID-19 virus, but, in general, respiratory viruses are not known to be transmitted through blood or platelet donations, according to the FDA. 

And pandemic or not, blood banks must maintain their levels of blood and platelet supplies to treat people who require emergency surgery, have heart attacks or get cancer, Vassallo said. 

“As the number of coronavirus cases grows in the U.S., the number of people eligible to give blood and platelets for patients in need could decrease further, which is why the Red Cross is urging all eligible, healthy donors to give now,” the Red Cross said on its website

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