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‘I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It’: Wisconsin Hospitals Face Blood Shortage As Coronavirus Cuts Donations

Schools, Churches And Businesses That Usually Host Blood Drives Are Closed

A blood donor squeezes a stress ball
Jim Rhodes of Bordentown, N.J., squeezes a stress ball, while donating blood at the Red Cross Blood Donor Center, in Princeton, N.J., Tuesday, Sept.13, 2005. Jose F. Moreno/AP Photo

Hospitals across the country are anticipating shortages of protective gowns, gloves and masks as the new coronavirus continues to spread. But there’s another medical necessity that’s already in short supply: At least 56 Wisconsin hospitals face concerning levels of blood and blood products, according to a news release from Versiti Blood Centers of Wisconsin.

Over the last week, Versiti has seen a steep drop in blood donations, the release said.

The schools, businesses and churches that usually host blood drives are closing to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Tom Abshire, Versiti’s chief medical officer, said it’s led to the cancellation of at least 75 blood drives in southeast and central Wisconsin.

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“I would say that this is an absolutely critical, dire situation that we’re in,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

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While the current COVID-19 outbreak might have slowed donations, the disease itself is unlikely to significantly affect the demand for blood products. Even as some Wisconsin hospitals have suspended elective surgeries, they’ll still need blood, Abshire said.

A donor gives blood at a Versiti donation center. Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin provides blood products to 60 hospitals in the state. Courtesy of Versiti

“You’re still going to need to treat trauma victims, emergency surgery, cancer patients that need blood products,” he said.

Versiti provides blood for 60 Wisconsin hospitals including Froedtert Hospital, Milwaukee’s Level I Trauma Center.

The problem isn’t exclusive to Wisconsin. According to Laura McGuire, external communications manager for the American Red Cross, more than 2,700 blood drives have been called off across the country. They would have brought in 86,000 donations, she said.

Gov. Tony Evers took to Twitter Tuesday morning encouraging healthy Wisconsinites to make appointments to donate.

Officials from both Versiti and the Red Cross said there’s no evidence that the new coronavirus can infect patients through blood transfusions. They also said they’re taking extra precautions to keep donors safe.

Red Cross donation sites are spreading out beds to keep donors farther apart and staggering appointment times so staff can adequately disinfect between donors, McGuire said. They’re also taking each donor’s temperature before allowing them in the door, she added.

“The need for blood is constant,” McGuire said.

There’s an expiration date of 42 days for red cells and five for platelets, McGuire noted.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a statement Thursday saying it’s safe to give blood and asked people to donate.

Wisconsinites can visit versiti.org/wisconsin or redcrossblood.org to find donation opportunities in their area.

“We’re kind of in a crisis situation right now, and we see the best of Americans sometimes in crisis situations,” McGuire said. “We’re just really asking for their help.”