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Blood drives canceled, but need will grow

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2020 8:53:56 PM
Modified: 4/1/2020 8:53:48 PM

When the COVID-19 pandemic started to become prevalent in the United States last month, volunteers throughout the country stepped up to donate after word got out that the Red Cross was facing a severe blood shortage.

“In times of crisis, we really witness the best of humanity,” said Mary Brant, communications manager for the Northern New England division of the American Red Cross. “A lot of people rolled up a sleeve to help those in need.”

While that influx in donations has been encouraging, more than 10,000 Red Cross blood drives were canceled in the weeks leading up to March 27 as schools and other community institutions that traditionally hold drives are closed to the public.

“Other civic organizations, other churches, other schools when they heard the message they were calling in and saying, ‘We could help you,’ ” Brant said.

However, Brant stressed that donations will continue to be needed as the new coronavirus spreads.

“The coronavirus, this is not going to be over immediately. None of us really know when it is going to be over. We are still in very uncertain times,” Brant said. “We want to encourage individuals to keep scheduled blood donation appointments and make future blood donation appointments.”

Potential donors are encouraged to go to redcrossblood.org to find a blood drive.

Rose Smith, who has organized blood drives in the Upper Valley since 1996 in memory of her son Daniel Somerville, who died at age 15 in 1993 after a battle with cancer, has a blood drive scheduled for May 18 at Tracy Hall in Norwich. While volunteers at Red Cross blood drives stress appointments, they also allow for walk-ins.

In light of the pandemic, however, the Red Cross is emphasizing the need to schedule appointments to better help the organization comply with social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Appointments have definitely helped make it more efficient for the donors especially. No one wants to sit for two hours and wait to give blood,” Smith said, adding that the blood drives she hosts in Norwich have pushed making appointments the last seven years with good results. “Especially now with the social distancing that would become even more important.”

Part of the Red Cross protocol requires employees and volunteers to wear and change gloves often; routinely disinfect surfaces, equipment and other surfaces that donors come into contact with; use sterile blood collection sets; and prepare donors’ arms with an aseptic scrub, Brant said.

Following recommendations from the CDC, the organization is checking temperatures of staff and donors before they enter a blood drive site, providing hand sanitizer for use throughout the donation process and requiring staff to wear basic face masks.

A Red Cross blood drive scheduled to take place in the community room at Harvest Hill, a long-term care facility at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital’s campus Wednesday (April 8) has been moved to the Carter Community Building Association, said Liz Swanton, community relations and volunteer specialist at APD. Harvest Hill has restricted visitors to the facility due to COVID-19. As of Thursday morning, all appointment spots had been taken.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which runs its own donation site, is also looking for more donors and has switched over to an appointment-only model.

“Please note, that although ‘donate now’ is being heavily advertised, we are asking that people schedule over the next few months to help sustain the blood supply, as we do not know how long this shortage will last with COVID-19 measures in place across the nation,” DHMC stated on its blood donation webpage. To make an appointment, visit dartmouth-hitchcock.org/blood-donor-program or call 866-403-6667 or 866-403-6667.

Smith, of Lebanon, also noted that about 75% of donors who come to the Norwich drives are over 60. People age 65 and older are more at-risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

While it’s too soon to say whether that risk factor will keep donors away in May, Smith emphasized that now is prime time for younger people to step up.

“We’ve got to find people who are willing to understand that their one-hour sacrifice has the ability to save lives,” Smith said. “My strong goal would be to get new donors at my drive.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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