Managing The Blood Supply During Covid-19

Wednesday, March 18th 2020

The outbreak of Covid-19 has pushed the stockpile of medical supplies to the brink. Facilities haven’t been able to get masks or gloves because people are buying them en masse for personal use. But sanitation gear isn’t the only thing hospitals are going to be running short on. The blood supply could run dangerously low as well.

Decibel's Judy Maggio talked with Nick Canedo, vice president of community engagement at We Are Blood about how the outbreak has impacted their blood supply, how that will impact hospitals in the area, and what you can do to help.


Judy Maggio: First of all, give us the big picture. How has Covid-19 and the fact that so many people are social distancing now and working remotely and changing their way of life, how has that impacted your work there at the blood center?

Nick Canedo: We Are Blood is the blood center serving Central Texas and we supply blood to over 40 hospitals and clinics within Central Texas, so we're talking about places like Dell Children's Hospital, Dell Seton, St. David's North, St. David's South. So all the major hospitals in our area are relying on blood donations for patients who need transfusions to live.

We collect donations through mobile blood drives and our three donor centers and our mobile blood drives are relied upon to collect around half of the blood donations we need to meet the need of patients in our area and what we've seen over the past month and especially within the last few weeks are multiple blood drives being canceled as businesses are adopting work from home policies and new building access policies and communities are being asked to practice social distancing, which is limiting the amount of outings that everyone is doing in Central Texas.

We've lost at least 20 different mobile blood drives over the past few weeks, representing 800 to 1,000 blood donations that we need for our community and we're just right now urging the public to come out and donate blood. Visit us at WeAreBlood.org and donate at one of our centers or one of our still active mobile drives to kind of build up our stock and prepare for eliminating a secondary help for our crisis.

JM: I'm sure people watching are concerned about their own safety and I also am certain because I've been to We Are Blood that you have so many safety measures in place to sanitize and keep things clean there, so talk about the extra measures that you're taking there at We Are Blood so that people can feel comfortable if they come in and donate blood because I know this is going to be a big need as more and more people become ill in our community.

NC: Thank you for bringing that up. Yes, as a medical facility, we always keep a high standard for how we clean our facilities, but we have elevated those standards in the past few weeks to respond to peoples' concern about exposure to coronavirus. So right now, we're cleaning our donor center including our donor waiting room and our canteen area where people recover and have snacks before leaving after donating once an hour. But our donor beds and our interview booths where people participate in a self questionnaire and utilize one of our computers, those are wiped down after every donor. So we're trying to elevate those practices. We're also, at registration, where anybody walks into one of our donor centers or one of our mobile drives, they are instructed to utilize We Are Blood provided hand sanitizer before they start touching anything, before they sign in to register, before they get on one of our computers to participate in the questionnaire, and that way we're controlling that a little bit as well.

JM: As we record this, I think we've had about 10 cases in Central Texas and we know those numbers will escalate. What kind of demands will that make on the medical facilities that you provide blood to? I'm guessing this means more blood is going to be needed in our community?

NC: We're not particularly sure exactly how the demand will increase as more corona cases are confirmed in Central Texas, but what we do know is that we will no longer be able to meet the minimum threshold of what hospitals already need if we continue along that path that we're seeing with canceled blood drives and increased social distancing. That might dissuade people from donating blood. Just today, Mayor Adler talked about issuing a call for nonessential services, for people to stay from nonessential business, but we're within that sphere of what's defined as an essential business when it comes to being a healthcare organization. So people can think of us as a necessary essential service that they're visiting as much as visiting a grocery store or visiting your doctor.

Come in to donate blood. It's within that sphere rather than going to socialize at a bar or a restaurant. So that's really what we're trying to help people understand. Another concern that we've heard from the public is what if I have coronavirus and I don't know and I donate blood and that blood is used by somebody else? And what I can share to assure people that the FDA has found no evidence that the coronavirus is transmutable via blood transfusion, so not in specific around coronavirus, but the other thing is that a coronavirus is an upper respiratory viral infection and there has never ever been any cases of an upper respiratory viral infection being transmutable via blood transfusion either. So in specific and in general, we just haven't found that blood transfusion is a way that that is transmitted.

JM: It sounds like there's so many different ways you're keeping peoples' safety in mind and have thought about the different protocol and making sure that people know that it is a safe space, it is a clean space, it is a place that they can go to reach out and help the community during this really difficult uncertain time. Anything else, Nick, that you would like for people to know about the needs of your organization for the next several weeks and months as we start more and more of us staying home and working remotely?

NC: If you're feeling cooped up at home and you're doing the right thing by staying home and staying away from social outings but want to give back to your community and feel like you're making a difference, coming out and donating blood is a vital way to do that and a way that you can also feel that you're still protecting yourself. So donating blood now will make sure that our community is prepared for any further measures that the city, state, or national government needs to take, whether they want to recommend a quarantine or anything like that in the future, which would reduce our capacity to collect blood. That's really what I wanna hit home. Donating now will have a real impact for your community and will help keep Central Texas safe.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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