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COVID-19, winter weather have strained nation's blood supply

Sabrina Famiglietti, Josianne Fiefie
Posted at 8:58 PM, Mar 03, 2021

The nation's blood supply is critically low as COVID-19 put a strain on the country's blood centers, and the weather made that situation even worse.

“It’s a bad time,” says Dr. Claudia Cohn, chief medical officer for the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB).

The AABB tries to keep blood safe by coordinating donations and transfusions.

“I’m used to hearing about emergency calls for blood and they’re always answered. This is the first time in my memory that there is a call for blood and every center around the country is trying to scramble to fill the needs. In Texas, they’re not entirely able... because they’re at a low level at their own centers,” said Cohn, who also says there's a need everywhere.

States are attempting to share supply but that's not easy.

“The strain from COVID put together with the weather challenges have put a dramatic strain" on the supply, said Cohn.

So what happens if there's not enough blood? Cohn says, “If you need it very badly, I don’t want to sound dramatic, but you could die.”

Patients who need blood on a regular basis could be managed, but it's the trauma and surgery patients who would be placed in a life-or-death situation. Most of the time, our blood supply levels hold up well, Cohn said.

"I’ll talk about the pre-COVID days where we often had a five to seven day supply of all we need on the shelf. Saying that doesn’t mean we’re stable or flush,” Cohn said. “We always need people to come in and donate.”

Platelets have a shelf life of five to seven days. They need to be constantly replenished.

And as for the blood itself, they always need O negative.

“If there’s an emergency and a patient needs blood before we can do testing to make sure that it’s safe, we can usually, in 99% of cases, give group O negative blood and it will be safe for those patients," Cohn said.

So, what can you do? Give blood. Cohn said we've been in tough spots before, and we've always resolved it. So, she says, she has faith, but everyone needs to help to bring the supply back up.