Nation's blood banks struggling in wake of COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 12:17 PM, Mar 31, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Blood banks in the time of COVID-19 face a challenge unlike any they’ve dealt with before.

“We have been putting out a call for donations,” said Dr. Meghan Delaney, Chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Director of Transfusion Medicine at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Delaney said the hospital’s blood bank found help in their own ranks.

“We have had quite a few employees coming and donating to us which has kept our blood supply at a healthy level,” she said.

It isn’t a long-term solution, though. Blood banks throughout the country are facing similar challenges, with blood drives normally held at schools or businesses now canceled because of the virus.

The American Red Cross says it’s dealing with a deficit of at least 86,000 blood donations. Inova Blood Donor Services said it’s struggling as well.

“We are able to maintain it at its current minimum levels,” said Andrea Brightwell, regulatory affairs manager with Inova Blood Donor Services.

To try and get beyond the minimum, Inova turned to a fire station in Virginia to hold a blood drive in the parking lot by appointment only.

The idea is to maintain social distancing, while keeping the number of blood donors coming in a steady stream and not all at once – because beyond dealing with a pandemic, the need for blood at hospitals is constant.

“You never know what's going to happen, whether you know there was an accident that happened, then a patient needs the trauma emergency transfusions or there are the patients who come in with a crisis or they come in for maintenance transfusions,” Brightwell said. “So, every day is a new challenge.”

Back at Children’s National, they’re also keeping in mind any apprehension donors or blood receivers might feel during this time.

Doctors say the blood supply is safe from the virus.

“We test for lots of infectious diseases in the blood,” Dr. Delaney said. “However, there's been no evidence that a respiratory illness, such as influenza or coronavirus, is transmitted through the blood supply.”

It’s a reminder that health and safety remain a top priority during this outbreak.