Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Los Angeles, California

How to help amid a national blood shortage

The American Red Cross announced on Tuesday that the nation is facing a blood crisis – the worst one in over a decade.

The low blood supply poses a “concerning risk” to patient care, the organization said in a statement, adding that doctors will now have to make difficult decisions about who can receive blood transfusions and who will have to wait.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the main contributor to the shortage, a concern that was also flagged soon after the emergence of the virus in the U.S. in March 2020. There’s been about a 10 percent decline in the number of people donating blood since the start of the pandemic.

“There’s just been such an upending of the normal rhythm of our lives,” including those who treat blood donation as a regular practice, said Dr. Baia Lasky, medical director for the Red Cross. “It’s just really hard to get back into the swing of things,” adding that some may not want to go out into public spaces, if they don’t deem it as essential.

Blood drive cancellations and limited staff, too, have affected donor turnout. Recent winter weather across the country and the spikes in COVID cases are also making access to donation cites harder.

“Blood cannot be manufactured or stockpiled,” Lasky said. Blood has a short shelf life. “It’s really the blood on our shelves that we have today that saves lives today.”

How to help

  • Make an appointment to give blood. Blood and platelet donations are critical to prevent delays in vital medical treatments. Donors who are Type O are especially urged to donate. Find a location near you and sign up for an appointment by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
  • You can volunteer. The Red Cross needs volunteers to support blood drives around the country or help transport blood to hospitals.
  • Host a blood drive. Find a location in your community, recruit volunteers, and schedule donors. Registration and more information about how to approach this process can be found here.

The Red Cross said, in recent weeks, it has had less than one day’s worth of critical blood types. At other times, up to one-quarter of the blood needs of hospitals across the country were not being met.

A wide variety of patients – who require blood transfusions for surgeries, transplants and chronic illnesses – depend on these blood donations, Lasky said. It’s also important for people to “recognize that they may need blood one day,” she added.

“You never know when you’re going to wake up and find yourself needing blood, regardless of why – whether it’s a surgery, a trauma, a diagnosis, a devastating diagnosis,” Lasky said.

The urgency over a low blood supply also renews scrutiny over the restrictions around who can give blood. In April 2020, the Food and Drug Administration eased limits on donations from gay and bisexual men, among other groups. While LGBTQ groups welcomed the change, they said the continued restrictions overall still stigmatize gay and bisexual men.

The Red Cross and the NFL also partnered this month to urge people to donate. Those who make a blood, platelet or plasma donation will be entered for an opportunity to win a getaway to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. Donors will also have a chance to win a home theater package that includes a $500 e-gift card.