TRAVERSE CITY — Shuttered drives, canceled events and stay-home warnings have blood banks nearing their last drops.
“Right now, the (American) Red Cross is facing a severe blood shortage due to the unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations we’ve seen during the coronavirus outbreak,” said Todd Kulman, external communications manager for Michigan. “The need for blood is constant — it doesn’t take a vacation for a virus or a holiday.”
Red Cross supplies about 40 percent of blood in the United States. But in the last few weeks, the nonprofit has seen more than 7,000 drives canceled. It’s spurred a loss of more than 200,000 potential blood donations.
It means COVID-19 could lead to a secondary slew of casualties — those unable to receive vital blood transfusions after surgeries, car accidents, childbirth or cancer treatments.
Most of Munson Medical Center’s blood supply goes to operating rooms and trauma patients, according to Dianne Michalek, vice president of marketing and corporate communication.
“You never know who might need a blood transfusion — it might be your neighbor down the street, or it could be a relative, a family member. It could be you,” Kulman said.
He said a blood transfusion is needed in the United States every two seconds.
It’s a regular need in northern Michigan, Michalek added, and local hospitals are often in need of donations and greater supplies.
The wake of the coronavirus leaves unprecedented concerns, however.
“The fear is that if we don’t have enough blood supply on hand locally, there aren’t a lot of options,” she said. “Resources we would normally tap into are also being used by other hospitals in the state that are experiencing the same pandemic we are.
“It’s not just a regional problem — it’s a national problem.”
Munson in Traverse City isn’t at critically low levels just yet, Michalek said.
But that could change quickly — even a handful of trauma patients could leave the hospital in dire straits.
She urges the community to come out.
“I think people are afraid to give blood right now, especially with the new executive order,” Michalek said. “By giving blood, one person could save three people’s lives.”
She and Kulman assure: Donation sites are sterile and safe.
Drives are still being held — and those willing to sponsor are welcome — but many favorite venues, like schools and college campuses, have shuttered amid coronavirus control efforts.
“We’re currently working pretty much around the clock,” Kulman said. “We’re adding drives as quickly as we can as we identify those sponsors who will host them.”
The Versiti Blood Center of Michigan also is continuing to accept — and welcome — blood donations, according to a release.
Versiti supplies blood to nearly 80 Michigan hospitals.
The organization is taking steps to ensure safety at donor centers and drives, like pre-screening staff and donors for any coronavirus symptoms, maintaining social distancing as much as possible and regularly cleaning donor-touched surfaces.
Red Cross has implemented similar protocols — staff and donors each have their temperatures checked before entering donation sites, and hand-sanitizer stations have been established. Only a limited number of people will be allowed in the waiting room at a time to maintain social distance.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be contracted via blood transfusion, Kulman said.
“What we’re telling donors is: Don’t be discouraged if there’s not an immediate appointment available — we’re still gonna need donors next week, two weeks from now, a month from now,” Kulman said. “This isn’t going to be cured in just a couple of days.”
See updates on the virus at www.record-eagle.com.