How to give blood in Michigan during the coronavirus crisis

Patience and persistence in making an appointment will help in trying to donate needed blood for Michigan hospitals (Shutterstock)

Blood banks at the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor fell to just one day’s supply last week. And more than 200 Red Cross blood drives were cancelled in Michigan as of Tuesday morning. 

With health officials in Michigan announcing a shortage of blood during the coronavirus crisis, some residents say they too have been frustrated, with some unable to schedule donation appointments online. 

Ypsilanti resident Britany Affolter-Caine said she checked her local Red Cross donation center’s website several times last week, but couldn’t find any openings. Assuming there was a problem with the website, she decided to make a walk-up donation on Friday. To her surprise, she said, several people were already lined up at the door when she arrived.

All of them were told there were no appointments left and had to schedule for another time. The earliest appointment Affolter-Caine could make was April 8, she said.

“I think that this is a time where people are wanting to be able to do something, and (donating blood) seems like something they can actually do,” Affolter-Caine told Bridge. “If the Red Cross is struggling … I think it could have some long-term consequences.”

Todd Kulman, spokesman for Michigan’s Red Cross chapter, confirmed there are fewer blood drives available, but urged Michiganders not to be discouraged by wait times or the lack of immediate appointments.

“Make an appointment for next week or the week after,” Kulman said. “The situation isn’t going to change this week. The blood is still going to be needed next week and next month.”

Kulman said about 220 Red Cross blood drives were canceled in Michigan as of Tuesday morning, which means a loss of about 7,000 donations. 

The Versiti Blood Center of Michigan lost more than 4,000 blood donations, according to Versiti spokesman Zach Warren, with 146 blood drives canceled statewide.

Here are some answers to common questions for those who want to donate to hospitals during the coronavirus crisis. If you have additional questions for Bridge, send them to our reader help line at help@bridgemi.com. Please provide an email address and cellphone number if you are willing, in case we would like to follow up.

How great is the need for donated blood in Michigan right now?

The Michigan chapter of the American Red Cross needs to collect about 700 blood donations a day to keep hospitals stocked, Kulman said. The Versiti Blood Center of Michigan needs about 560 blood donations a day, according to Warren.

Why are blood drives being canceled?

There are nine American Red Cross blood donation centers and eight Versiti Blood Centers in Michigan. These centers are normally bolstered by “mobile drives,” Kulman said, which are pop-up events to receive blood donations in community centers like workplaces, churches and high schools.

But as businesses and schools have closed statewide in response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency orders, the number of viable sites for mobile blood drives has dwindled. On Monday, Gov. Whitmer issued a “stay home, stay safe” order mandating Michigan residents to stay in their homes until April 13. 

Why can’t I make an immediate appointment? 

The reduced number of donation sites has hampered the capacity to accept blood, Kulman said, leading to a smaller pool of immediate appointments. 

Michigan’s Red Cross and Versiti chapters are working to expand their reach, however. According to Kulman, Red Cross blood donor centers will be extending their hours, and some are considering hiring more staff or volunteers.

It’s a good idea to make an appointment a week or more in advance, Warren said, as the need for donations will only increase.

The challenge, Kulman said, is increasing the number of mobile blood drives. Kulman encouraged anyone currently sponsoring community center blood drives to keep them open.

“We’re working around the clock to increase our capacity to accept donations,” Kulman said. “Those drives that are available, we’re seeing an incredible outpour of donors.”

Am I allowed to leave my house to go donate blood?

Yes. Whitmer’s stay-at-home order allows residents to leave their homes for health care and volunteer reasons, which includes visiting blood donation centers and drives. 

How else has the blood supply been impacted by the crisis?

Some donors have expressed being hesitant to leave their homes and come out to blood drives, Kulman said, as well as fears of being infected through blood transfusions. 

To keep donors safe, both Versiti and the Red Cross have introduced several new measures. 

Anyone now entering a blood drive must have their temperature taken, including staff members. Beds are spaced six feet apart between blood donors, and people waiting in line will also be spaced in accordance with social distancing rules. All surfaces will be wiped down regularly, and Versiti will provide only packaged food and drinks. 

There are no reports or evidence that the novel coronavirus can be spread through blood transfusions, Kulman said. The Food and Drug Administration has also stated that, in general, respiratory viruses are not known to be transmitted through blood transfusions.

RESOURCES:

If someone wants to donate blood, what’s the best advice? Can I walk in if I can’t get an appointment?

Although walk-ins are usually accepted at Red Cross and Versiti donation centers, scheduling an appointment in advance is preferable. 

“We don’t want to discourage walk-ins, but scheduling an appointment allows for our drives to run smoothly and eliminates wait times,” Kulman said.

The best option is to make an appointment online, Kulman said, followed by calling 1-800-RED CROSS. Red Cross donors can make appointments online 10 to 14 days in advance using the expanded blood drive search engine tool

Red Cross donors can also use the Blood Donor app, available for free on the American Red Cross website, which identifies the most current available blood drives nearby and schedules and tracks donations. 

To schedule a donation with Versiti, Warren recommended calling 1-866-642-5663 or visiting the website, where donors can search for appointments according to location, date and distance.

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Comments

Robyn A Tonkin
Fri, 04/10/2020 - 9:56am

This situation highlights the Red Cross attitude towards blood donors. Even though blood donors are the most crucial link in the blood supply chain, the Red Cross treats you like a factor of production. You walk in, donate an incredibly valuable commodity for free, and your contribution to society barely gets acknowledged. You get a brief, insincere "thank you" from somebody, usually, and a dried out cookie and some water. Now, everyone is supposed to show up to a blood donation site, and ignore the fact that what they are doing is potentially unsafe, due to covid 19. If completely asymptomatic people are at the donation site, they can give you covid 19. If somebody comes in, and is asked to leave because their temperature is 100 degrees F. or above, but they have coughed or sneezed before leaving, the covid 19 virus can waft around as an aerosol for three hours, infecting newcomers. You're laying on a bed six feet away from someone who may be an asymptomatic covid 19 victim, and they are respiring. The Red Cross wants the blood--they get a lot of money for it-- even though the received wisdom they put out is that they don't, and they want to pretend that donors are safe in the environment they have created. I have had chronic bronchitis since early childhood due to growing up in the Downriver at the height of Detroit's industrial pollution era. I usually donate blood as often as possible, as it is good for me and good for the nation. However, during the covid 19 pandemic, I'm not doing it.