Stay-at-home orders. Shuttering businesses. Mass unemployment. A surging case count and mounting death toll.
The need is so vast that any effort to help—ordering take out, sewing face masks, donating to charities—can seem almost futile. Like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.
While we may not be able to stanch the bleeding, we can do something for those who try.
“In this time of uncertainly, people are wondering what can I do to help? We’ve certainly talked a lot about social distancing,” James Hatcher, CEO of the American Red Cross Virginia Region, recently announced during a Roanoke news conference. “If you are healthy and feeling well, roll up your sleeve and give blood.”
COVID-19 hasn’t stopped car crashes, child births, cancer diagnoses or emergency surgeries, Gov. Ralph Northam said during the same briefing. It hasn’t stopped the need for blood.
Yet by the end of March, more than 12,000 canceled blood drives have left the Red Cross with a shortage of 325,000 collected pints of blood, Helen Parham, executive director of the American Red Cross of the Eastern Virginia Region told me last week.
The trend is only expected to continue.
That is why, Northam said at the March 18 news conference, he planned to donate blood that afternoon, and why he urged all healthy Virginians to do the same. It’s why on Monday I rolled up my own sleeve for the first time in 14 years (according to the Red Cross data bank).
The Red Cross supplies 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply. More than 80 percent of blood collected by the nonprofit comes from workplace drives and collections on school and college campuses. In fact, I made my first blood donation in my high school’s gymnasium at 17. My parents were blood drive regulars who reminded us that somewhere in the U.S., someone needed blood, platelets, plasma or red blood cells every two seconds. And that someone could be any one of us.
As COVID-19 closes offices and colleges and schools for at least the next two months, it has also closed the blood drives held there.
The Fredericksburg region, which supplies each area hospital with biomedical products used to treat cancer, Sickle Cell disease, newborns, postpartum mothers and others who need transfused blood, has been particularly generous.
“Last year, our chapter collected more than 12,284 units of blood, roughly 1,000 units per month” and 5 percent more than the prior year, Parham said. “Area residents know that blood donation is essential to ensuring the health of our community. This is the time to take care of one another. People who are healthy and feeling well—please make an appointment to donate blood mid-April and after.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Federal Drug Administration have called blood donation an essential service during the pandemic, Parham said. While there is no evidence of COVID-19 (or any respiratory virus) being transmitted through blood transfusion, the organization has stepped up its safety precautions during the donation process. For a full list of what they are, visit redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/dlp/coronavirus--covid-19--and-blood-donation.html.
Our own household so far has remained healthy. Still, I was well-aware of reports of asymptomatic carriers. On the morning of my blood donation, as I sat outside Spotsylvania Towne Centre to await my 10 a.m. appointment, I used a container of Clorox wipes to disinfect everything I might or had touched: the door handle, purse, keys, wallet, glasses. I rubbed sanitizer on my hands before and after. Then I hooked a face mask—one we’d had on hand for several weeks—over my wrist and sanitized again.
Inside an empty store, nurses and volunteers wearing masks wiped down chairs and beds all situated at least six feet apart. A nurse checked my temperature before I was allowed to enter. I donned my face mask and took a seat, where I was handed a notebook going over who was eligible and who wasn’t. (A volunteer wiped it down after I finished.)
When I answered questions on a touch-screen computer, a nurse gave me a squeeze of hand sanitizer before and after. When I finally climbed onto the donor bed and pulled up my sleeve, another nurse handed me a stress ball to squeeze. It was tucked inside a disposable glove.
While the bag filled up, so did several of those perfectly spaced chairs. Thanks to the public’s response to their urgent appeals, the Red Cross was satisfying the most immediate patient needs, Parham said. But if anything is certain about the coming weeks, it is the need for blood.
The donation took no more than 10 or 15 minutes (getting my vitals and finding my Red Cross donor number took longer.) Afterward, a gloved volunteer handed me a juice box, a bag of cookies and a sticker, which I wore for the rest of the day.
To schedule an appointment to donate, visit redcrossblood.org; donors can complete a Rapid Pass application the day of their appointment to cut down on time spent at the donation site.