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Social distancing, fewer blood drives reduce donations

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Donor care specialists work with blood donors at Vitalant last week. There is a need for more blood donations in New Mexico. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

While none of the local hospitals is reporting dangerous conditions related to diminished blood supplies, there is a blood shortage in New Mexico, said Drew Sharpless, donor recruitment representative for Vitalant.

“Levels are up and down, but in general we’re having reduced capacity due to social distancing measures, which cause longer wait times for donors, and some donors don’t want to wait.”

There are also “far fewer blood drives out in the community,” though the public response to them has thus far been good, he said.

Vitalant, formerly United Blood Services, operates four blood donor centers around the state as well as five mobile buses and four trucks to set up blood drives in businesses and remote locations. It supplies blood to all of New Mexico’s nearly 55 hospitals, Sharpless said.

Whole blood, he explained, is separated into two components: Red cells, which can be stored for 42 days, and platelets, which can be stored for five days, but can be frozen for up to one year.

“Typically, we’re comfortable with having four or five days of every blood type on hand, but for some of those blood types we’re sitting at a half day to 1.5 days on hand,” Sharpless said.

For those wondering if it is safe to donate blood, the short answer is yes, said Dr. Annie Moore, a trauma doctor at the University of New Mexico Hospital and an assistant professor at UNM’s Health Sciences Center.

COVID-19 is spread through respiration droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes – “not through blood,” she said.

Further, said New Mexico Department of Health spokesman David Morgan, “Individuals are not at risk of contracting COVID-19 through the blood donation process or via a blood transfusion; that’s not how this virus is transmitted.”

Because of the blood shortage, Moore said, “We are reconsidering procedures and surgeries on an individual basis.”

Common reasons for needing blood transfusions might include bleeding from trauma, pregnancy, anemia, surgical procedures, “as well as people who are dependent on regular transfusions due to conditions like sickle cell disease hemophilia and clotting disorders,” she said.

Blood transfusions are 100% dependent on volunteer donors, Sharpless said. Depending on blood type, one donation can help up to three people.

Even though blood donation centers are considered an essential business, they adhere to social distancing mandates. Consequently, people wishing to make a donation should call to make an appointment, Sharpless said.

An appointment, however, is no guarantee that a donation will be accepted.

Before entering the main area where blood is taken, people are screened for temperature and given a visual well-being check to see if they are coughing, sneezing, if their nose is running or if they have a hard time breathing. They are also asked a series of questions about risk behaviors, travel outside the country and then must complete an online health questionnaire, he said.

Vitalant staff wipes down and disinfects all surfaces and equipment used by donors after their donation is complete. The same safety precautions are used at mobile blood sites as well, Sharpless said.

To find the nearest Vitalant blood donation center, go online to vitalant.org. For dates and locations of upcoming blood drives, go to bloodhero.com.

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