While the American Red Cross has added has added COVID-19 antibody testing to its process, it and other centers that collect blood donations are experiencing shortages in the face of hospitals getting back closer to normal operations.

"We've been under a critical appeal for blood over the past several weeks," said Chris Pilgrim, spokesperson for the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks. "As hospitals have ramped back up their demand, our blood usage is nearly back to normal. But our blood drives have been canceled."

The center is the sole blood supplier for Freeman Health System and Mercy Hospital Joplin. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pilgrim said, the center has lost more than 7,500 donations, because normal suppliers such as high schools and larger workplaces have not been operating. High school students alone account for about 35 percent of total donations, Pilgrim said.

The American Red Cross, which operates a blood donation center in Springfield, reports a similar draw on demand.

On Monday, it announced that it would for a limited time start testing donations for COVID-19 antibodies.

Joe Zydlo, a spokesperson for the Red Cross, said the test would be administered as part of a regular screening donations undergo for other blood illnesses, such as HIV and syphillis.

"This is not just a straight COVID test," Zydlo said. "We don't want people to show up just for a COVID test. This is part of a blood donation."

Antibody tests detect whether a patient's blood has antibodies created by the immune system to fight off a COVID-10 infection. They are different from the pharyngeal tests administered at drive-thru sites, which detect traces of the virus in its active phase.

That distinction is important, because the plasma of patients who have successfully fought off COVID-19 is valuable for treatment, Pilgrim said. The Community Blood Center of the Ozarks is also collecting that from eligible donors.

"If you had a positive confirmation and recovered for a certain amount of time, then you're eligible to start giving plasma," Pilgrim said. "It's being given to other patients with symptoms, because it's shown to be a good treatment."

Pilgrim said the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks is not yet performing COVID-19 antibody tests on donations.

People who donate through the Red Cross can be notified of their results seven to 10 days after a donation when using the organization's app for donors, Zydlo said. It is collecting blood from donors at events across the region over the next few weeks, including from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Diamond, 501 W. Market St. in Diamond. The organization will also host events June 25 in Joplin and June 30 in Carthage. More details can be found at www.redcrossblood.org/together.

In addition to its regular donation center in Northpark Mall, the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks will hold a blood drive from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Columbus Community Building, 320 E. Maple St. in Columbus, Kansas. The donor center in Northpark Mall is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more information, call 417-626-8323.

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.

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