Red Cross sees lows for blood donations

Four years after COVID-19 began spreading rapidly around the world, the pandemic continues to take its toll on the healthcare system.

“We've seen 300,000 fewer blood donors since the pandemic and part of that is because people's lives have just changed during the pandemic. People working from home,” said Desiree Ramos Reiner, head of external affairs for the Red Cross. “Students who simply take more online courses than on campus.”


What you need to know

  • The Red Cross is asking volunteers to flood their blood donation centers and drives as they face historically low blood donations
  • The organization said a big reason for the decline in blood donations is due to lifestyle changes people have made in recent years, particularly working and going to school from home.
  • Experts say it's not clear what the big solution is, especially as people have embraced the work-from-home model

Reiner said that in addition to a decline in the number of people donating blood, locations that once hosted Red Cross blood drives, such as some public schools, also have not reopened their doors for blood drives since the pandemic.

New Yorker Adam Sank said he now works from home and has previously donated blood to the Red Cross, although he doesn't remember where.

Victor Riccio, who also works from home, said he would almost expect the pandemic to take a toll on the number of blood donations.

“I wouldn't be surprised because people are staying home and don't want to leave their house,” he said. “People are getting a little lazier, so it's going to take more to get out there and give those donations.”

The phenomenon of working and studying from home, combined with fewer blood collection locations, has led to what the Red Cross says is a “critically low” number of blood donations, causing an emergency blood shortage.

“Hemoglobin transports oxygen throughout our body. Like a little Uber,” says Dr. Luisa Perez, internist at SOMOS Community Care. “And if we don't have enough of it, it can't get to many places. So it is very much needed.”

Dr. Perez said the shortage could have serious consequences for doctors who administer blood transfusions and for patients who need them, something she has experienced with her own patients.

“They are weak and can become dizzy,” she said. “I had a patient fall because… her hemoglobin was so low that she became dizzy and fell, hit her head and ended up in a coma.”

Experts have said it's not clear what the big solution is, especially as people have embraced the work-from-home model.

“I wouldn't give up working from home for the world, but I do hope people donate blood because I know how important that is,” Sank said.

Red Cross officials hope people at home will hear their call and help make a small difference by reducing the shortage one donation at a time.

“We're really asking people to take a moment and sign up to donate blood,” Reiner said. “If you cannot donate blood because you are not feeling well or because you are sick, ask one of your neighbors to donate blood.”

The Red Cross said it has had to limit the distribution of Type O blood, the most commonly used type for blood transfusion.

The organization will hold a blood drive on January 27 at Horace Mann High School in the Bronx.

Visit redcrossblood.org for a list of other blood donation campaigns.

This month, the Red Cross is also partnering with the NFL during National Blood Donor Month to help increase blood donations. People who enter will automatically be entered to win a trip for two to NFL 58 in Las Vegas.

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