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Bags of blood are collected on a table and prepared during a blood drive.

THE ISSUE

The Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank, which serves as the primary blood supplier to hospitals in central Pennsylvania, indicated in a Sept. 18 Facebook post that the local blood supply has fallen “to historically low levels.” One of the primary problems is that bloodmobiles — large buses used to gather donations at locations that are convenient for donors — have been “off the road and in the garage since March,” according to the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank, because of the need for COVID-19 social distancing. Bloodmobiles typically account for more than 60% of all blood drives, the organization said.

When the blood supply is this low, it’s a threat to all of us.

The Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank indicated earlier this month that it typically has more than 900 units of Type O blood available for delivery to 26 regional hospitals, including those in Lancaster County. But its supply has tumbled to less than half that number.

“Multiple massive transfusions required us to send over 200 pints of blood in just 24 hours,” Josh Searfoss, the blood bank’s laboratory director, said. “Our already low supplies are now lower than we have ever seen.”

That’s ominous news.

The good news is that many of us have the ability to do something about it. Healthy people as young as 16 are generally able to donate.

We’ve known since the start of the pandemic that it’s still safe to donate blood, as long as some basic precautions (masks, social distancing) are followed by everyone at the donation site.

A big problem blood banks have run into, however, is that many people’s regular routines have been changed by COVID-19. Perhaps we donated regularly at the workplace, but now we’re working remotely. Many college students who might have donated at campus drives now are studying remotely, too.

Many retirees and older Americans — traditionally among the most reliable blood donors — have understandably spent 2020 staying away from social settings in order to guard their health.

And many of us donated in convenient bloodmobiles, which — again understandably — now are sidelined in favor of more open environments. Places of worship, community centers and fire halls are proving to be more vital than ever as host sites for blood drives that are picking up the slack from the temporary loss of bloodmobiles. But we have to get ourselves out to them. Sometimes, half the battle is just getting back into that routine of putting things on the calendar.

And it’s urgent that we do that because the low supply of blood is more than a local problem.

“We are facing a national blood supply issue,” said Kate Fry, CEO of America’s Blood Centers, an organization that represents blood centers throughout the United States and Canada. “Blood centers around the country are experiencing a significant decrease in donations.”

With that being the case, area hospitals won’t necessarily be able to turn elsewhere for emergency blood supplies.

We must get the local blood supply back to sufficient levels before winter, when the unpredictability of the weather can further stymie blood donations.

Fear remains another factor that is keeping some people from donating.

It need not be.

As we wrote in the beginning weeks of the pandemic and will emphasize again, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can’t be spread through blood, and there is no COVID-19 danger in the act of donating blood.

“Furthermore, donation centers and drives have been made even safer than they already were with procedures that take the novel coronavirus and its ability to spread into account,” we wrote in a late March editorial. “Donors are now spaced at least 6 feet apart. ... Workers who draw blood have their temperatures checked regularly. All donation areas receive extra disinfection.”

The Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank adds that donors who arrive without a mask will be provided one. (Though, at this point, you really shouldn’t be going out in public without wearing a mask.)

In addition to making a blood donation that can save lives, you might also learn something about the coronavirus as part of the process.

“Donors are offered the option to have a COVID-19 Antibody Test at all blood drives,” the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank indicated. “Donors who test positive for the antibodies may be able to help local patients who are currently suffering from COVID-19.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adds that “antibody test results are especially important for detecting previous infections in people who had few or no symptoms.” While it’s not yet known what the presence of antibodies means with regard to future or lasting immunity, medical experts are learning more on that topic as the weeks pass.

Donating blood is not difficult. More information can be found on the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank’s website, which 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.

Donors must be 16 or older, weigh at least 120 pounds and be in good health. (Donors who are age 16 will need parental consent.)

After the process is complete, donors can relax for 10 or 15 minutes and have some refreshments.

If you are able to donate blood, please consider doing so. We must replenish and maintain the local blood supply so that we don’t allow this pandemic to do even greater damage to the health of Americans. 


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