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Blood donations needed in hospitals as surgeries begin again



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The American Red Cross blood donation truck used to make regular stops outside Ballantine Hall to promote students to donate blood. The coronavirus pandemic resulted in the cancellation of many blood drives. IDS file photo and Ben Mikesell

When the pandemic began, the closing of businesses and schools also meant the cancellation of many blood drives. Red Cross spokesperson Rodney Wilson said the Red Cross drive cancellations equaled hundreds of thousands of donations lost across the country.  

Blood donation centers stayed open through the pandemic but saw a severe shortage in mid-March when stay-at-home orders began. Hospitals needed about 30% less blood than usual at the time because they were not performing elective surgeries, Wilson said. IU Health Bloomington had an adequate supply throughout the pandemic because of the lowered usage, said Rhonda Grimm, IU Health Bloomington laboratory-blood bank supervisor, said. 

As elective and nonemergency surgeries start up again, IU Health Bloomington Hospital will have a high demand for blood. The Red Cross is asking communities to meet that demand, Wilson said.  

“At this point, we’re going to start needing more of that blood supply, so now is an excellent time to start donating,” Grimm said. 

Another company asking people to donate blood is Versiti Blood Center of Indiana. The company had 52 local blood drives cancel by mid-March, which meant the loss of 1,336 units of blood, according to a Versiti press release. Both Versiti and the Red Cross send a portion of their blood donations to IU Health Bloomington Hospital. 

“People should not fear donating blood,” Grimm said. 

She said she knows the blood banks are working to protect everyone. 

To keep donors safe, the Red Cross is checking temperatures of staff and donors before they enter, wearing face masks, spacing beds out to follow social distancing, wiping down areas between each donor and providing hand sanitizer. Versiti is taking the same precautions at their drives and centers. 

As states open up more, Versiti spokesperson Duane Brodt said he expects more people will choose to leave the house to donate. 

“We’re wanting to get out,” Brodt said. “We could also schedule just an hour of time to roll up our sleeves and save lives.” 

Grimm said she thinks the pandemic will encourage even more people to donate as a way to help during the summertime, when many people forget about donating blood. She said someone doesn’t have to donate tomorrow to help with the need. If someone donates in the next month or two, it will help the supply keep up with the growing demand. 

Blood is only good for about 45 days, but blood banks work to not let anything go bad. Local blood could end up at a hospital with a need for blood across the country. 

Patients who have fully recovered from COVID-19 are being asked to sign up to donate plasma, which can also be done at a Red Cross or Versiti location. There are early-stage studies that suggest the antibodies in a recovered person's plasma can help someone who is currently fighting the virus, Grimm said. 

More information about making appointments or attending local drives can be found on Red Cross’s website and Versiti’s website.

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