ST. PAUL — The American Red Cross is facing a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Red Cross press release.

To date, nearly 2,700 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled across the country which has resulted in about 86,000 fewer blood donations. More than 80% of the blood the Red Cross collects comes drives held at locations of this type.

In the Minnesota-Dakotas region, 80 blood drives have been canceled, resulting in 2,500 fewer blood donations.

In response, the Red Cross is adding appointment slots at donation centers and expanding capacity at many community blood drives over the next few weeks as well as being committed to additional safety precautions to an already safe process.

Scheduling an appointment can be done at redcrossblood.org and residents can find a local blood drive by following this link and entering their zip code.

According to the press release, the Red Cross expects the number of cancellations to continue to increase and this shortage could impact patients who need surgery, victims of car accidents and other emergencies.

“I am looking at the refrigerator that contains only one day’s supply of blood for the hospital,” said Dr. Robertson Davenport, director of transfusion medicine at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor. “The hospital is full. There are patients who need blood and cannot wait.”

The shortage can even affect patients suffering from cancer.

“In our experience, the American public comes together to support those in need during times of shortage and that support is needed now more than ever during this unprecedented public health crisis,” said Chris Hrouda, president, Red Cross Biomedical Services. “Unfortunately, when people stop donating blood, it forces doctors to make hard choices about patient care, which is why we need those who are healthy and well to roll up a sleeve and give the gift of life.”

The Red Cross has implemented new safety measures at blood drives and donation centers in response to COVID-19 pandemic concerns including:

  • Checking the temperature of staff and donors before entering a drive to make sure they are healthy.

  • Providing hand sanitizer for use before the drive, as well as throughout the donation process.

  • Spacing beds, where possible, to follow social distancing practices between blood donors.

  • Increasing enhanced disinfecting of surfaces and equipment.’

Previous safety precautions Red Cross employees will continue to follow include:

  • Wearing gloves and changing gloves with each donor.

  • Routinely wiping down donor-touched areas.

  • Using sterile collection sets for every donation.

  • Preparing the arm for donation with an aseptic scrub.

According to the press release, there is no data or evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by blood transfusion and there have been no reported cases of transfusion transmission for any respiratory virus including the COVID-19 virus worldwide.

“Volunteer donors are the unsung heroes for patients in need of lifesaving blood transfusions. If you are healthy, feeling well and eligible to give, please schedule an appointment to give now,” added Hrouda.

To donate blood, individuals need to bring a blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification that are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also must meet certain height and weight requirements.

Donors can also save up to 15 minutes at the blood drive by completing a RapidPass. With RapidPass, donors complete the pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of donation, from a mobile device or computer.

To complete a RapidPass, follow the instructions at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass or use the Red Cross Blood Donor App.

As a public service, we've opened this article to everyone regardless of subscription status.