’Blood can’t wait’: OBI urges blood donations amid COVID-19 concerns

Sierra Rains
This file photo shows Oklahoma Blood Institute staff at the center's Ardmore location. Blood donations are urgently needed as donation have fallen sharply, officials with the Oklahoma Blood Institute said.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, potential blood donors are not showing up in the numbers needed to maintain the Oklahoma blood supply and according to officials, thousands of blood units are potentially being lost per day.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute depends on at least 1,200 donors per day to supply the inventory needed for patients in more than 160 hospitals, medical facilities and air ambulances statewide.

However, hundreds of blood drives across the state have recently been postponed or canceled, said OBI Marketing and Media Manager Heather Browne.

“They’re coming so fast, the cancellations, that it’s really hard to keep a continuous number,” Browne said, regarding the current number of donors per day. “I would just say a good answer is 100 (donors per day), resulting in a potential loss of thousands of units.”

Despite concerns surrounding the coronavirus, Browne said it is completely safe to donate blood and enhanced cleaning practices are being implemented at all donor centers and drive locations.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, no cases of COVID-19 have been transmitted through blood transfusion and respiratory viruses, like COVID-19, are generally not known to be transmitted through blood transfusion.

“Donors are always healthy. We screen them before they give blood. They get their temperature taken, they have to be healthy that day,” Browne said. “So a blood drive is basically the safest place you can be during this time because of our cleaning practices, as well as the people who are coming in and are healthy.”

The Mercy Health Love County Hospital and Clinic held its last blood drive Monday until at least May 1. Laboratory Services Director Kelvin McMillan said 11 people showed up for the drive.

While that’s a normal turnout for Mercy Health, McMillan said they really needed a larger number in order to counteract the effect of other blood drive cancellations across the state. “Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas are canceling them everywhere,” he said.

Browne said blood is only shelf stable for around 42 days, so all units are currently being sent to hospitals across the state. Donors are needed everyday to help maintain that supply for individuals with life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, traumatic injuries and in general emergencies.

“What we’ve been saying is ‘Blood can’t wait’. Don’t let this health concern become a crisis,” Browne said. “We need to maintain that supply for those patients.”

Like many area organizations, Mercy Health will not be holding anymore public functions in order to protect the public and staff members from the illness. This decision will be reassessed on May 1.

“Blood drives attract such a large number of people, which we don’t want to have all at one place,” McMillan said. “They don’t want anybody coming in with the virus and because there’s such a lag time between when you get it and when you show symptoms for it, that’s part of the reason why it’s spreading.”

Some area locations, however, are still planning to hold smaller blood drives. From 2 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. on March 24, individuals will be able to donate blood at Mercy Hospital Healdton, located at 3462 Hospital Rd., in the community room.

“We’re quite below what we’d like to be so we’re trying to insert blood drives with partners who are able to and are willing to host these blood drives,” Browne said. “We’re really thankful to them right now for stepping in and stepping up.”

Individuals can find blood drives still happening near them by visiting the OBI website, at obi.org, and entering their zip code. Browne said the ones that are canceled are being taken off the list.

For those who can’t make it out to a blood drive, Browne said OBI is highly encouraging any healthy adult to make an appointment at their local donor center.

“Everybody coming in at once isn’t going to be helpful next week necessarily so just kind of seeing that steady flow of donors constantly is what we’re looking for,” Browne said.

Appointments can be made by calling OBI at (877) 340-8777 or visiting obi.org. The Ardmore donor center is located at 1420 Veterans Blvd. and can be reached at (580) 226-2220.

“For everybody to work with OBI and figure out how they can be there to donate-- we’re going to have to support our blood supply or we’re going to be in bad shape,” McMillan said.