South Texas blood supply at risk of collapse as coronavirus concerns lead to drop in blood donations

Community urged to give blood to prevent secondary public health emergency

VICTORIA, Texas- The community blood supply is at risk of collapse as drives are canceled and donations decline because of concerns about coronavirus, said officials from the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of BioBridge Global.

Hospital physicians urge blood donation as a safe action people can take at a time when many feel powerless. An increase is critical to prevent a secondary public health crisis caused by a depleted blood supply.

“We are seeing a perfect storm developing as our community works to prevent the spread of the virus with school closings, more employees working from home and other measures,” said Elizabeth Waltman, chief operating officer of STBTC. “An unintended consequence is that, both locally and nationally, blood drives are being cancelled and fewer people are donating.”

“Without community action, projections show the blood supply will be depleted in less than two days, which means we could expect that blood would be rationed,” she said.

In the last few days, more than 50 blood drives have been cancelled. Drives at schools, businesses, churches and other organizations provide more than 60% of blood.

Over the weekend only 23 donations had been made at the Victoria STBTC donor room. Currently, STBTC needs to collect 650 donations a day to adequately supply local hospitals.

“People who are bleeding because of childbirth, because of major surgery, because of traumatic injury – that number is not going to change because we’ve shut down schools and limited visitation at hospitals,” said Dr. Donald Jenkins, a University Hospital trauma surgeon and UT Health San Antonio professor.

“COVID-19 is already causing critical blood shortages as people respond to social distancing messages by canceling blood drives and donations,” said Dr. Leslie Greebon, University Health System Medical Director of Transfusion Services.

“The entire country is in critical need of blood supply, especially in areas already hit with coronavirus.”

“We are likely to go through very long periods (possibly days to many days) without adequate resupply.  At a point, critical decisions on who we can treat with a limited resource will arise. We must be able to sustain daily transfusions for our patients.”

The shortage is a national emergency, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and the U.S. Military Defense Agency making an urgent appeal on Thursday for the public to donate blood. Dr. Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, reiterated that there have been no reported or suspected cases of transfusion-transmitted coronavirus and the virus poses no known risk to patients receiving blood.

“Giving blood is safe action you can take to make a difference,” said Dr. Samantha Gomez Ngamsuntikul, associate medical director at STBTC. “People are not at risk for contracting coronavirus, either by giving blood or receiving a blood transfusion, and we’re taking every precaution to ensure our donor rooms and bloodmobiles are a healthy environment.”

Donors are asked to schedule appointment for the Victoria STBTC donor room by calling 210-731-5590 or visiting Appointments are required to present crowding and reduce waiting times.

In addition, blood drive sponsors are urged not to cancel drives. Typically, no more than a handful of donors and STBTC staff are gathered at one time during drives.

STBTC is taking additional steps to protect donors. It is checking the temperature of everyone, including staff members, who enters a donor room using an infrared, touchless thermometer. A fever is one of the key symptoms of the COVID-19 infections.

Donation beds and equipment are sanitized between donors, and hand sanitizer is available. Hard surfaces like door handles and light switches are being sanitized on a frequent basis. Staff members have been told to stay home if they are sick, or if they meet CDC criteria for travel or other exposure to the virus.

All potential donors are asked about recent travel and receive a mini-physical during the screening process before donating. Anyone with potential exposure to the virus with the past 28 days is asked to defer their donation.

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The information in this article was provided in a press release from South Texas Blood and Tissue Center.