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Blood Banks In 'Dire' Need Of Donations Say Kansas Citians Can Still Help Amid Coronavirus Fears

LuAnn Hunt
The Community Blood Center is asking healthy people exhibiting no symptoms of respiratory illness to consider donating blood. COVID-19 quarantines have reduced the blood supply to critical levels.

COVID-19 quarantines are creating an unprecedented blood shortage across the U.S., and it's unlike anything blood centers in the Kansas City region have seen before.

“An unintended consequence of people taking shelter at home, of people not coming into work, is that they're also not coming to the blood drives. They're not coming to our donor centers,” said Chelsey Smith, spokeswoman for the Community Blood Center in Kansas City. “And that's resulting in a completely separate public health emergency.”

Smith described the situation as “dire,” much worse than seasonal blood emergencies that happen with some regularity, like when people are traveling over the Christmas holiday.

The Community Blood Center needs 600 units of blood each day to service 70 counties in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Most of that blood is collected at blood drives, Smith said. With those canceled to stop community spread of the new coronavirus, the center is relying solely on walk-in donations. 

Right now, the Community Blood Center is getting about half the units it needs to supply hospitals. Even though a lot of elective surgeries have been canceled as the health care system ramps up its response to COVID-19, Smith said those procedures only account for about 10% of the blood need.

“We still need to provide 90% of our regular blood supply to hospitals. That’s blood for patients who are going through chemo treatment. That’s blood for car accident victims who end up in an emergency room,” Smith said. “There are a multitude of reasons that people need blood, and none of them have to do with COVID-19.”

That’s why the Community Blood Center is encouraging healthy people who are not in any of the high risk categories for coronavirus to donate blood if they can. Smith said nurses are taking walk-in donor’s temperatures and keeping donors at least six feet apart. 

Donors can even wait in their cars if they’re not comfortable taking a seat in the donation center’s lobby, Smith said. They’ll get a text when it’s their turn.

But people who are sick or showing symptoms of respiratory illness should not come to a donation center under any circumstance. Smith said there are some rumors circulating that blood centers screen for COVID-19, but that isn’t the case. 

“Please do not come to our donor centers if you're feeling unhealthy because you are putting others in jeopardy,” Smith said.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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