The U.S. Surgeon General on Thursday urged all healthy Americans, especially millennials and other young adults, to consider donating blood to help fight a potential nationwide shortage amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement,” Jerome Adams said at a White House press briefing in which he urged anyone who can to “give blood today.”
“You’ll feel good about it, and you’ll be helping your country and your community during this crisis,” said Adams, an anesthesiologist who served as Indiana’s health commissioner under now-Vice President Mike Pence.
Officials with the American Red Cross and other organizations in recent days have been encouraging Americans who are healthy and able to make appointments to donate blood, as social distancing measures undertaken to diminish the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus have led to widespread cancellations of scheduled blood drives across the country.
“Blood donors are needed now more than ever. We cannot wait for the situation to intensify further before taking action. The blood supply cannot be taken for granted and the coronavirus only heightens the need for a ready blood supply,” Kate Fry, chief executive officer of America’s Blood Centers, which represents close to 50 blood centers throughout the U.S. and Canada who collect close to 60% of the nation’s blood supply, said in a March 12 press release.
A widespread blood shortage “could impact patients who need surgery, victims of car accidents and other emergencies, or patients fighting cancer," the Red Cross said.
“We need people to start turning out in force to give blood,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
The need for blood is constant, and volunteer donors are the only source of blood for those in need of transfusions, officials said.
“It is safe to donate blood,” said Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D. Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Part of preparedness includes a robust blood supply. Healthy individuals should schedule an appointment to donate today to ensure that blood is available for those patients who need it.”
The Red Cross emphasized that U.S. health officials have “no data or evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by blood transfusion, and there have been no reported cases of transmissions for any respiratory virus, including this coronavirus, worldwide.”
The donation process is safe, Red Cross officials said, but additional precautions have been implemented according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anyone who has traveled to China — including its special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau — or to Iran, Italy or South Korea is asked to wait at least 28 days after their return to donate blood. Similarly, anyone who has come into contact with a person who has the virus, or is suspected to have it, is asked to wait at least 28 days after the contact before donating blood.
The Red Cross also emphasized the thoroughness of its safety protocols, “including wearing gloves, routinely wiping down donor-touched areas, using sterile collection sets for every donation, and preparing the arm for donation with an aseptic scrub. Furthermore, Red Cross employees are trained in universal precautions to help prevent the spread of any type of infection.”
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration , there have been no reported or suspected cases of transfusion-transmitted COVID-19, nor were any cases of transfusion-transmission ever reported for the other two coronaviruses (SARS, MERS-CoV) that emerged during the past two decades.
Furthermore, the FDA said, “routine blood donor screening measures that are already in place should prevent individuals with clinical respiratory infections from donating blood. For example, blood donors must be in good health and have a normal temperature on the day of donation.”
In a letter to the CDC dated March 12, Fry, along with Debra BenAvram, CEO of AABB, the association that accredits the majority of blood banks in the United States, and James Hrouda, head of Biomedical Services for the American Red Cross, emphasized that “maintaining a safe and adequate blood supply during this epidemic continues to be a critical public health objective.”
“While efforts to reduce non-essential blood component use, such as limiting elective surgeries, can reduce the strain on the blood supply, the impact of these blood management strategies is not big enough to make up for the loss of donors,” the letter said.
Blood has a short shelf life — up to 42 days for red blood cells but as few as five days for platelets — and “must be constantly and regularly collected from donors in the community” to maintain an adequate supply, officials said.
Blood centers are regulated by the FDA and must follow specific guidelines to ensure safe blood is available for patients at all times.
For more information on blood donation, visit redcross.org (English) or cruzrojaamericana.org (Español). For the latest information on the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, visit the CDC's website (English | Español). You can also follow all of our coronavirus coverage here.