THE ISSUE: “The American Red Cross says it’s facing its worst blood shortage, leading the organization to declare its first ‘national crisis,’ ” LNP | LancasterOnline’s Enelly Betancourt wrote in an article that appeared on the front page of Thursday’s edition. Blood supplies have never been this low, and the phrase “national crisis” is not being used lightly, explained Lisa Landis, an American Red Cross Greater Pennsylvania Region spokesperson. Factors contributing to the shortage include pandemic-related cancellations of blood drives, staffing challenges and wintry weather. “This is serious. It’s a big deal,” Landis said.
Health officials regularly issue requests for blood donations. Maintaining adequate blood supplies is critical if the health care system is to continue treating patients and responding to emergencies.
But when Red Cross officials deploy the phrase “national crisis,” it’s not just a stunt.
They want our attention for a serious reason.
And they should get it.
The confluence of events that has led to this crisis is not surprising. COVID-19, with the surge of the omicron variant, has again filled our hospitals with patients and pushed our health care system to the brink. Many Americans who are sick or worried about catching the virus during this surge are venturing out less; this includes both the donors and the volunteers needed to staff successful blood drives. And when the weather turns freezing or icy, additional people are disinclined to go out.
For nearly two years, the pandemic has changed our daily routines, forcing the Red Cross and other blood banks to work harder to find donors.
“Perhaps we donated regularly at the workplace, but now we’re working remotely,” we noted in a September 2020 editorial. We also pointed out that retired and older Americans, who are traditionally among the most reliable donors, were staying away from public settings to guard their health before the availability of vaccines.
“It’s been a roller coaster since March 2020,” Landis told LNP | LancasterOnline. “We put out multiple calls for more donors throughout the pandemic because donor turnout was low.”
The blood shortage involves more than just the Red Cross, which provides 40% of the nation’s blood supply. The Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank, which serves Lancaster and 10 other counties, typically has 930 units of O-positive blood on hand. On Tuesday, it had just 471 units, Betancourt reported.
The challenge is to get the word out to all potential donors. And the good news is that many people are eligible, and the process is safe.
Betancourt’s reporting answered some key questions about COVID-19 and donating blood.
Those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 are eligible to donate.
“Being vaccinated for COVID does not preclude anyone from donating,” Landis told LNP | LancasterOnline. “We just ask that the person has not been diagnosed with COVID in the previous two weeks.”
A Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank spokesperson told Betancourt that vaccinated donors are immediately eligible to donate blood if they aren’t experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.
Meanwhile, donors who had COVID-19 are eligible 14 days after the onset of the virus if their symptoms are resolving and they have been fever-free for at least 48 hours, Betancourt reported.
Beyond that, as we’ve written in past editorials, fear needn’t be a factor for potential donors, who must be 16 or older, and weigh at least 110 pounds (Red Cross guideline) or 120 pounds (Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank guideline). Donors who are age 16 will need parental consent.
The Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank’s website summarizes a donation as “a safe and easy process which takes approximately 45 minutes.” That 45 minutes includes registration and a “mini physical.” The actual time to donate one pint of blood is much shorter. After the process is complete, donors can relax for 10 or 15 minutes and have some refreshments.
Fewer than 10% of Americans donate blood on a regular basis, even though about 37% of us are eligible. We’ll need more eligible people to step up and donate in order to get through this shortage.
What we’re already facing with COVID-19 will become a greater crisis if the health care system doesn’t have the blood supply it needs to meet patients’ needs.
— Those interested in donating through the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank can call 1-800-771-0059 or go to cpbb.org.
— To schedule an appointment to donate through the American Red Cross, call 1-800-733-2767 go to redcrossblood.org.
— Appointments to donate blood at the Lancaster General Health Blood Donor Center at the Suburban Outpatient Pavilion at 2104 Harrisburg Pike, Suite 202, in Lancaster city can be made by calling 717-544-0170 or going online to LGHealth.org/GiveBlood.
COVID-19 testing center
We’re encouraged that Lancaster County and Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health have coordinated to reopen a community COVID-19 testing center, starting today.
We could quibble that Lancaster County officials have been as slow to respond to the omicron surge as the Biden administration, which was caught flat-footed by a national shortage of at-home, rapid-test kits.
But some response is better than none, and this new availability of drive-thru testing helps to fill a void as cases and hospitalizations rise here. And we must note that Lancaster General Health officials have stepped up throughout this pandemic.
The site is the Lancaster County Public Safety Training Center on Champ Boulevard, off the Salunga exit of Route 283, in East Hempfield Township. It will operate from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. (It will not be open this Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.) The site is expected to remain open through the end of February.
Please note that appointments are required. They can be scheduled via the MyLGHealth mobile app and website, or by calling 717-544-5941.
Testing is only for patients who are symptomatic, though a physician’s order will not be required.
And the testing is not free for all.
“The cash price for COVID-19 testing is $57.24,” Lancaster General Health’s website notes. “For patients with health insurance, LG Health will bill the patient’s insurance company. A patient’s final out-of-pocket cost will vary based on the specifics of their insurance coverage, coinsurance, copays or deductibles. For patients without health insurance, LG Health will assess the situation. Patients may be eligible for assistance with the cost of COVID-19 testing.”
We wish cost wasn’t a potential barrier for anyone. Equal access to health care, especially for those who are most vulnerable, is especially crucial during a deadly pandemic. That’s one lesson, of many, that those who guide our federal, state and local responses to health crises must learn from America’s subpar response to COVID-19.