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Blood drives continue during pandemic and may help COVID-19 patients
October 26, 2020
Despite limitations on public gatherings, blood drives have continued with the help of local businesses and people within the community.
Mindy Hendrix, donor recruitment account manager for Red Cross in the Carbondale area, said one of the biggest differences during COVID-19 has been the planning of blood drives.
“Blood drives used to be planned six months in advance. There would be a ton of promotion, a lot of people would get postcards and things like that,” Hendrix said. “We didn’t have that many cancellations and now post COVID-19, that’s every day. We kind of work a month out maybe, and that’s been elongated. So a blood drive pops up with a lot shorter notice than what they used to.”
Hendrix said the Red Cross had been taking safety precautions since March 17, including extra cleaning between every donor, having hand sanitizer, wearing gloves, requiring face masks, providing more space between every donor station, and taking temperatures.
After receiving blood donations, the Red Cross sends them to their laboratories and tests them for disease and COVID-19 antibodies. If an individual tests positive for antibodies, the Red Cross will contact them to see if they will donate convalescent plasma to help critically ill COVID-19 patients Hendrix said.
Donors who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the two weeks of donating have their blood stopped.
The staff that worked with them have to quarantine for two weeks, but this has only happened twice and none of the staff have ever gotten sick, Hendrix said.
Hendrix said the same amount of business the Red Cross blood drives receive has slowed down due to COVID-19 restrictions like social distancing.
“Our bloodmobile, for example, we used to be able to push through 60 units on a five-hour drive,” Hendrix said. “ Now we’re lucky to get 20 because of social distancing requirements. So that’s probably one of the hardest [differences].”
According to Hendrix, Red Cross is usually low in blood in the winter months with schools on break and 20 percent of blood donations in the nation come from students. But they surprisingly had a lot of people wanting to donate and help.
“We had to push appointments because if not we couldn’t maintain social distancing, and we were having to tell people they couldn’t donate if they didn’t have an appointment because our appointment slots were full and we can only take so many people per blood drive. So that was really rocky at the beginning. Trying to figure out how many people to send to blood drives and what blood drives worked and which didn’t just because of the unknown of how many people were going to come,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix said her and the Red Cross staff were pleasantly surprised by the turnout. They had a great group of support, but don’t know exactly how it actually evened out since they had so many blood drives canceled versus the ones that we got to replace them.
Hendrix said she is thankful to the Jackson County community for being active in helping with blood drives when needed the most.
The IDPH (Illinois Department of Public Health) released an online Blood and Plasma Collection Guidance on June 17th stating, “It is essential to continue collecting blood and blood components to support health care delivery.”
The guidance also lists a number of safety precautions that all blood drives must follow. It gives a set of steps to further educate staff and volunteers on how things should operate during COVID-19 including evaluating any staff/volunteers for symptoms, educating them about COVID-19, and making sure donors are six-feet apart.
Jennifer Freeze, district manager for donor recruitment in southern Missouri, southern Illinois, and northern Arkansas for the Red Cross, said the biggest change is finding businesses that will allow them to have blood drives.
According to Freeze, schools are crucial to blood donations.
“I know in the Carbondale area, a lot of [students] are all virtual so we’re having to find replacement blood drives for some of those high schools that are having to cancel their blood drives,” Freeze said. “Now since COVID-19 hit with all the safety requirements that places have, some of the hospitals have visitor restrictions […], we’ve had to cancel blood drives at some of the hospitals just because they don’t want outside visitors coming in to keep everyone safe.”
Freeze said the Red Cross has been working closely with places in Carbondale who’ve opened their doors and allowed them to hold blood drives.
“Southern Illinois University has been wonderful. They’ve still continued to let us have blood drives at the Student Center,” Freeze said. “Then we’ve got some local churches in the area that have been really great about opening their doors up to let us in and have blood drives. Just some community centers, the city of Carbondale has let us use the big auditorium that’s attached to city hall.”
Hendrix recommends downloading the Blood Donor app to get updates about new drives and test results. The Red Cross is having another blood drive at the SIU Student Center on Oct. 20th with the goal of 100 pints of blood. If the goal is met, blood can be given to 300 hospital patients in the area.
Staff reporter Jamilah Lewis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @jamilahlewis.
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