Blood banks nationwide are fearful of blood supply shortages as community blood drive events continue to cancel amid the COVID-19 outbreak and ill-informed rumors about the disease keep circulating on the internet.

Blood drives are being canceled across the country with the closure of schools, workplaces and college campuses in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, sparking a growing concern for America’s blood supply.

The Community Blood Center of the Ozarks is currently facing a limited supply of all negative blood types, and officials worry donation numbers will dramatically drop as health officials continue to push for social distancing and self-quarantining. Blood drives are not considered mass gatherings, officials said.

The center serves 44 area hospitals, including Freeman Health System and Mercy Hospital in Joplin, as well as Air Methods, an air medical transport service.

Chris Pilgrim, media relations representative for the center, said the center likes to have at least a three-day supply of blood on hand to meet emergency needs.

“I’m pleased to say that all of our hospitals today (Monday) are at full stock levels, and we are at a least a three-day supply of everything except for our negative blood types, which really aren’t that far behind,” he said. “The fear is that underperformance in donations and blood drives this week will drive those numbers down, and I can see a significant reduction by the end of the week.”

It takes the center about 200 donations per day to meet the needs of area patients, according to Pilgrim. About 7% of the U.S. population has O-negative blood, which can be transfused to patients with all types of blood — A, B, AB and O.

An estimated 400 blood donations have been lost in the past week through underperformance and the cancellation of drives that were slated in the coming weeks, according to Pilgrim.

“The one thing that we have learned from any disaster response — this went from the Joplin tornado to SARS and MERS to virus outbreaks — is to be nimble,” Pilgrim said. “Be adaptable to change and the overriding focus of our organization is to have enough blood to treat patients at our area hospitals.”

Mary Linderman, collections supervisor for the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks at Northpark Mall, said she’s noticed a drastic difference in the number of people visiting the mall. The Joplin Donor Center in Northpark Mall is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“Over the last week, it has been slower here,” Linderman said. “In this center, we have a goal of 10 a day. Here lately, it’s been kind of lower, and it’s really unpredictable here.”

The blood center has increased its sanitation strategies and is taking additional steps to enhance cleaning after each individual donor. Donors have the option to wear gloves during the electronic questionnaire and use hand sanitizer.

“We follow FDA and CDC guidelines, and the cleanliness of our systems,” Pilgrim said. “We’re taking steps to ensure donor safety, too, whenever they come to our center. We’re here to tell you that it is a safe place to donate blood, donating blood is a lifesaving activity and we have to have it. Blood donations cannot stop due to scares from this virus.”

American Red Cross

Cold and flu season has already affected the nation’s ability to maintain its blood supply, according to a news release from the American Red Cross. As the number of coronavirus cases grows in the U.S., the number of people eligible to give blood for patients in need could decrease further.

“Through Friday, about 1,500 Red Cross blood drives were canceled across the country due to coronavirus concerns resulting in nearly 46,000 fewer blood donations,” said Stacy Burks, executive director of the American Red Cross' Southern Missouri chapter. “The Red Cross is strongly urging healthy individuals to give blood or platelets and help keep patients across the country in mind.”

The American Red Cross has instituted safety protocols and asks those who have traveled in coronavirus outbreak areas, including China and Italy, to wait 28 days before giving blood. Anyone who has recently donated blood and doesn’t feel well days after are urged to notify the donation center.

“We’re checking the temperatures of staff and donors before entering a drive to make sure they’re healthy,” Burks said. “We have hand sanitizers for use before entering the drive, as well as throughout the donation process. We’re spacing beds apart where possible to follow the social distancing practices between blood donors."

Burks said if any organization or group is interested in hosting a blood drive to contact their local American Red Cross office. Anyone interested in donating nationally can visit to make an appointment or download the Red Cross Blood Donor app.

Myths and rumors

Officials are working to dispel rumors about the novel coronavirus because those can affect blood supply levels. False information about blood banks testing for the coronavirus as part of the donation process have been circulating around social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“We do a whole range of testing on blood donations as required by the FDA, but screening or testing for coronavirus is not happening,” said Kate Fry, chief executive officer of America’s Blood Centers, a North American network of nonprofit blood centers. The network oversees more than 600 blood collection sites.

Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the American Red Cross, told The Associated Press that screeners do not test for the coronavirus as part of the process. He also said there is no data or evidence that coronaviruses or respiratory viruses can be transmitted through blood transfusions.

“In the previous epidemics, pandemics and virus outbreaks we saw — SARS, MERS — there were no cases of transfused blood passing on a viral, upper respiratory infection,” Pilgrim said. “We’re not anticipating that to be the case. We want to ensure our donors and the general public that blood donation is a safe activity.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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