116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Blood centers across the country were one of many places that felt the ripple effects of COVID-19.
Factors related to the pandemic, including canceled blood drives and lowered donor turnout, led to a critically low blood supply nationwide earlier this year.
There is no substitute for blood, and these products have a limited shelf life, meaning the supply must be constantly replenished by donors for patients nationwide who need emergency care or who have a major surgery.
As warmer months approached, area blood centers were raising the alarm about the need as they faced summer’s typically low donation period.
What’s happened since
Things have improved for regional blood centers as they’ve seen their donation numbers increase in recent weeks. Officials largely attribute that to a call for more donations from the public after Memorial Day weekend.
However, officials continue to expect summer will be a challenging time for collecting needed supplies, particularly as more Americans travel or resume other activities that were left behind last year during the pandemic.
“We are still seeing a severe blood shortage,” said Josh Murray, communications director for the American Red Cross Nebraska-Iowa Region.
Some blood centers found solutions throughout the past few months. The DeGowin Blood Center at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which directly supplies the Iowa City hospitals, received a good response after its plea for donors, said Kerry DuBay, donor center supervisor.
DeGowin also created new approaches for collecting blood donations.
“The whole year, we kept adjusting,” DuBay said.
Mobile blood drives at high schools, colleges, businesses and other organizations typically are the biggest source of collections for blood centers across the region, but the pandemic meant many of those events were canceled.
DuBay said DeGowin was able to keep blood drives going throughout 2020 by hosting satellite locations for several weeks or hosting smaller community events.
The factors that drove collection rates to new lows earlier this year still have a lingering impact. Blood centers warn there’s still a high need as they work to rebuild supply.
“Hospitals are conducting more procedures and treatments that require transfusions, and that is keeping our supply low,” Murray, with the Red Cross, said. “It is likely this will continue throughout the summer.”
In May, ImpactLife reported its lowest supply of certain blood types since the pandemic began.
Blood center officials said they only had a one-day supply of O-negative red cells — the first blood type used by hospitals for traumas and other emergency care — on hand. It also only had two- to three-day supplies on B-negative and O-positive.
ImpactLife — formerly known as the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center — supplies donations to 120 hospitals in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin. The blood center needs to collect 3,600 donations a week to maintain a five- to seven-day supply of all blood types and components.
Despite the upturn, blood center officials still expect to fall behind in the coming weeks, particularly around Labor Day and as kids go back to school.
ImpactLife anticipates it will collect just 2,500 donations the week of Labor Day, and about 2,800 donations in the weeks leading up to the holiday, said Kirby Winn, communications director.
“We will need our donor centers and mobile blood drives to perform above projection for those weeks, or we will find ourselves back in the same position we were in right after Memorial Day,” Winn said.
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