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Coronavirus Sparks Rising Need for Blood and Plasma in Southwest Washington

Coronavirus Sparks Rising Need for Blood and Plasma in Southwest Washington

A Red Cross staff member assists a blood donor in June 2020 at Vancouver Blood Donation Center near Vancouver Mall. Photo courtesy Red Cross.

In the Oregon-Washington region, approximately 515 blood donations are needed each and every day to meet the needs of patients who are undergoing critical medical treatments. “Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion,” Mike Drake, executive director of Red Cross SW Washington Chapter, shared with me. “That someone may be a car accident victim, a child battling cancer or a mother experiencing childbirth complications.” And every day, donors take an hour out of their day to provide that blood for perfect strangers.

When COVID-19 hit Washington state, local Red Cross Chapters experienced a significant disruption to these lifesaving services.

As Governor Inslee’s Stay Home Stay Healthy order took effect to protect against the spread of the virus, “virtually all [blood] drives were cancelled because facilities were closed,” Drake said. The Red Cross Vancouver Blood Donation Center near Vancouver Mall remained open as a crucial service, but with more than 80% of blood donations made at blood drives hosted by volunteers and partner organizations, the region’s blood supply was in real danger of severe shortage.

A blood drive at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Vancouver Stake Center, located just off Mill Plain, on April 16, 2020. Volunteers, Red Cross staff and donors took special care to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by taking each donor’s temperature before entering the building, wearing masks and keeping physical distance. Photo by the author, a longtime blood donor who donated at this drive.

Because the need for blood is constant and will not pause during an outbreak, Red Cross personnel took action right away to prevent a blood deficiency in the region, and the result was positive. Not only did community organizations make blood drive locations available, but at the same time, the demand for blood drastically declined in March and April due to the halt of non-emergency medical procedures. “We thought there was going to be a shortage but it didn’t happen,” Drake said. “We put out the word and people responded. We worked with cities and agencies and people made all sorts of places available.” Several businesses stepped up to host blood drives in space not being used, such as Golden Corral Buffet and Grill and Compass Oncology. Other organizations such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were longtime blood drive hosts, and opened doors of new and different locations for blood drives during the COVID-19 crisis. “Thanks to the donors responding to the call to donate blood or platelets, the Red Cross was able to meet immediate patient needs during the first two months of the pandemic . . . The need was filled,” Drake said. “It was a real positive story.”

But as Washington is now phasing open and non-emergency medical procedures are happening, the need for blood is on the rise. Already, the hospital demand for blood products has grown by 30%.

“On May 27, the American Red Cross issued an urgent need for blood donations to prevent another blood shortage as hospitals resume surgical procedures and patient treatments that were temporarily paused earlier this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Drake said.

Convalescent Plasma and COVID-19

Red Cross SW Washington Chapter’s Bloodmobile. Photo courtesy Red Cross.

In addition to the constant need for regular blood donations, individuals who have been most personally affected by the virus have a unique opportunity to be part of pioneering efforts in the battle against coronavirus by giving convalescent plasma, a component of blood that is collected from patients who have recovered from an infection and who therefore have antibodies that might help fight that same infection in others. “Historically, convalescent plasma has been used as a potentially lifesaving treatment in some situations when new diseases or infections develop quickly, and no treatments or vaccines were available yet,” Drake said. “Some information suggests that convalescent plasma could help some coronavirus patients, especially those who are seriously ill. Each convalescent plasma donation can produce between two to three units that can be provided for multiple patients.” The process of plasma donation is a similar process to regular blood donation, with a few important differences. “Plasma is donated using an apheresis process,” Drake said, “which means blood is drawn from one arm and sent through a high-tech machine that collects your plasma and then safely and comfortably returns your red cells and platelets back to you, along with some saline. Because of this process, donating plasma does take longer than a regular whole blood donation and takes place at a participating Red Cross Blood Donation Center [rather than at a volunteer blood drive].”

Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and subsequently fully recovered are eligible to donate plasma for this specific purpose. Eligible donors who complete the online Donor Request Form at RedCrossBlood.org/plasma4COVID will receive an appointment to donate convalescent plasma at a Red Cross facility.

To donate regular blood, go to https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive to make an appointment at a blood drive near you (see upcoming dates below for currently scheduled local drives), or at the Red Cross Vancouver Blood Donation Center. Appointments are currently required to help maintain physical distancing.

Upcoming Local Blood Drives

June 5, 2020

Golden Corral
10 am-4 pm
11801 NE Fourth Plain Blvd
Vancouver, WA 98682

Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church Vancouver
1-6:30 pm
12513 SE Mill Plain Blvd
Vancouver, WA 98684

June 9, 2020

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
1-7 pm
7101 NE 166th Ave
Vancouver, WA 98682

United Methodist Church
12:30-5:30 pm
103000 NE 199th St
Battle Ground, WA 98604

June 12, 2020

YMCA
12-5 pm
11324 NE 51st Cir
Vancouver, WA 98682

June 15, 2020

Cascade Park Community Library
12-5 pm
600 NE 136th Ave
Vancouver, WA 98684

June 16, 2020

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
1:30-7:30 pm
10509 SE 5th St
Vancouver, WA 98664

June 18, 2020

Mackay Sposito
9 am-2 pm
1325 SE Tech Center Dr. Suite 140
Vancouver, WA 98683

June 23, 2020

Compass Oncology
10 am-3:30 pm
1498 SE Tech Center Place
Vancouver, WA 98683

Clark County US VA Medical Center – Building 14
10 am-3:30 pm
1601 E Fourth Plain Blvd
Vancouver WA 98666

June 24, 2020

Cascade Park Community Library
12-5 pm
600 NE 136th Ave
Vancouver, WA 98684

June 26, 2020

Chick-fil-A
11 am-4:30 pm
16320 SE Mill Plain Blvd
Vancouver, WA 98684

Nikki Klock became co-owner and editor of Vancouver Family Magazine in September 2006. She grew up mainly in the Northwest and graduated from Utah Valley University. She is an avid reader and insists that a book is (almost) always better than a movie. She has lived in Vancouver with her husband, JR, and two daughters since 2003. Check out Nikki's Editor’s Picks here.

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