The U.S. is facing the largest blood shortage in years due to the COVID-19 pandemic discouraging people to donate.
Because of the shortage, hospitals and doctors are having to make decisions about which patients undergo blood transfusions, surgeries and other medical procedures requiring blood, according to the American Red Cross’s website.
There has been a 10% decline in blood donations nationwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the American Red Cross, which has 25% less blood than normal to distribute to hospitals around the country.
“Most adults can donate – only 3% do,” said Joe Fairbanks, a territory manager for Vitalant Blood Center in the Washington-Idaho area. Vitalant is the sole provider of blood to local hospitals in the South Washington-Idaho region.
Fairbanks said hospitals normally want to have a four-day supply of blood on hand, but right now, Vitalant is only able to distribute a less-than-two-day supply. Fairbanks said Vitalant hasn’t seen it this low in over two years.
Some hospitals’ ability to function and treat all patients properly is being threatened. For example, many elective surgeries are having to be postponed, according to Fairbanks.
The communications director for the American Red Cross Northwest Region, Betsy Robertson, said the shortage is mostly due to limited staff and many blood drives being canceled. Robertson said there has been a 65% drop in blood drives since the pandemic began.
Robertson said the drop in blood supply has paralleled the highs and lows of the pandemic.
Fairbanks said people haven’t gone out as much as they used to due to the pandemic, which has been a major cause of the crisis.
Sarah Stephanski, a political science major at Washington State University and former blood donor, said she believes the pandemic has overshadowed the continued need for blood. Fairbanks agreed.
“Life doesn’t stop; things exist regardless of COVID,” Stephanski said.
In 2017, Stephanski helped organize a blood drive at her high school in Nevada, to help the victims of the Mandalay Bay shooting in Las Vegas. She said her experience donating and helping at the drive was “nothing but positive.”
For those who are unable to donate, Fairbanks and Stephanski suggested coordinating and volunteering at blood drives, sharing statistics and encouraging and being emotional support for others to donate.
Amid the shortage, companies have been encouraging others to donate by providing incentives.
In January, which is National Blood Donor Month, Krispy Kreme partnered with the American Red Cross by offering a free dozen doughnuts to anyone who brought in proof of donation before Jan. 31. Robertson said they saw the number of donations go up and drives were full after this.
“Whatever it takes to get people to donate is a good thing,” Robertson said.