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Blood donors needed to ease COVID-19-spurred supply shortage

Blood donations are exempt from stay-at-home order

March 20, 2020
woman donating blood uci medical center orange county california

With COVID-19 restrictions beginning to crimp the region’s blood supply, the UCI Health Blood Donor Center in Orange has expanded its hours of operation to six days a week to boost donations for its patients.

The call for more donations comes as the American Red Cross announced a severe blood shortage nationally due to widespread blood drive cancellations during the current novel coronavirus outbreak.

At the same time, the blood donor center is closing its Irvine location in UCI Irvine student center, which is being shuttered along with the much of the rest of the campus to prevent the virus' spread.

Donations of whole blood and platelets there have been a mainstay of UCI Health blood supplies for years.

Shortage could affect UCI Medical Center

Dr. Minh-Ha Tran, medical director of UCI Health Transfusion Services, expects the shrinking of the nation's blood supply to begin having an impact on UCI Medical Center soon. In anticipation, the medical center is postponing non-urgent procedures and surgeries to reduce demand for critical resources.

“Whole blood and platelet donations are now more crucial than ever,” he said. “Every day, UCI Medical Center patients require blood or platelets to help fight cancer, to replace what is lost in trauma or to treat a chronic disease. Your donation can make a huge difference in the life of someone here in Orange County.”

Blood donations are exempt from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order for all Californians to stay at home to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Californians can and should continue to donate blood, Newsom said Thursday evening in announcing the restrictions.

One donor = three lives 

Orange County and California are not alone in projecting a drop in blood supply. The COVID-19 crisis is causing severe blood shortages across the nation, prompting U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams to urge healthy people to donate blood, platelets or plasma.

“One person’s blood can save three lives,” he said during a presidential news conference at the White House on Thursday.

The American Red Cross has estimated that an unprecedented 4,600 of its blood drives have been canceled across the country over COVID-19 concerns, leading to 143,600 fewer units collected. Hospital transfusion services and blood centers nationwide are experiencing a similar drop off because fear about coronavirus is keeping people from donating blood.

Routine disinfection and screening intensified

Mindful of those concerns, the UCI Health Blood Donor Center has intensified routine cleaning and disinfecting of common areas throughout the center, and staff members who already are meticulous about hand hygiene are reminded to wash hands and use hand sanitizer after every donor encounter.

The center also has stepped up pre-screening of potential donors, and recommends that people avoid donating if they have symptoms of an upper respiratory infection or have traveled to certain areas outside the U.S.

Advance appointments are advised to ensure that the center is able to maintain COVID-19 self-distancing in the center’s limited space.

How to make an appointment

Healthy people who want to donate may schedule an appointment through the UCI Blood Donor Center website or by calling 714-456-5733. The center is located in Pavilion 3, Room 400 at the medical center, 101 The City Drive South, Orange, CA 92868.

Appointments for platelet donations are available Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Whole blood donation appointments are available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Why blood donation matters

The importance of blood donation cannot be overstated, according to the Red Cross. Along with the surgeon general’s admonition that one person’s contribution can benefit three people in need, other facts include:

  • Every two seconds, someone in the United States is in need of blood.
  • Only 5% of healthy people who are eligible to donate blood actually do so.
  • Although scientists are testing alternatives like hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers, these products are not readily available. There remains no replacement for donated blood and platelets.
  • Donating blood is a direct way to help your community, especially the during the current COVID-19 crisis.

Tran noted that all blood and platelet donations made at the center benefit only UCI Health patients.

“Donating blood,” he said, “is an easy and safe way to save a life.”