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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

National blood donation shortage could impact Northeast Ohio hospitals

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American Red Cross officials are calling on people to give blood as supplies have reached historic lows due to COVID-19 safety concerns.

The American Red Cross is experiencing its lowest number of blood donations in the past decade, according to officials.

Concerns about COVID-19 are keeping people from donating blood, and supplies are at historic lows, said Jim McIntyre, communications director for the northern Ohio region of the Red Cross.

“COVID-19 has really brought some exceptional challenges to donating blood in 2021,” McIntyre said. “There was surging hospital demand in the first half of the year, and now since August when the delta variant became prominent, donor turnout has plummeted recently.”

Blood donations often dip around the holiday season, as people may have busy schedules and school donation sites are not open during this time, he added. However, that issue is compounded this year by the decrease in donors due to people being more cautious about COVID-19, McIntyre added.

“And now with omicron, we don’t know how that’s going to affect the blood supply,” McIntyre said. “It’s just another element that has added to this complex situation.”

It is safe to donate blood, he said, as donation sites take COVID-19 precautions like masking and social distancing. Additionally, studies have shown the risk of transmitting COVID-19 through a blood transfusion is extremely low.

Blood donations are used in both essential surgeries, such as organ transplants and cancer treatments, as well as non-essential procedures, he said, so there is often a high demand for blood in hospitals.

“Because of the recent downturn in the number of donors, and the possibility of an increased demand for blood, there could be hospitals, here in Northeast Ohio and across the country, who may defer treatment for elective surgeries, down the road,” McIntyre said.

Last weekend’s deadly tornado outbreaks in several Midwest and Southern states are also adding to the nationwide historic blood shortage, as the Red Cross provided hundreds of donations to hospitals there, he said.

McIntyre encourages people to take time out of their holiday schedule to give blood – particularly those who are O negative, because anyone can receive this blood type, he said.

Northeast Ohio hospitals are already overwhelmed and deferring elective procedures due to an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.