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Coronavirus closures stretch blood supplies thin

LifeShare area blood drives

In the wake of schools and businesses closing due to the coronavirus outbreak, one victim of the current crisis is the blood supply.

Tiffany Ybarra, account manager at the LifeShare Blood Center in Beaumont, said that many of their blood drives, most scheduled months in advance, are being canceled. With schools closed, one of LifeShare’s best sources of blood has been cut off, leaving blood supplies running thin.

Ybarra said that, as of Wednesday morning, LifeShare had supplies of O-positive and O-negative blood that would last less than a day, and supplies of total blood that would last around 1.2 days. LifeShare strives to maintain a 3-day supply, that means collecting between 75-100 units a day. On Ybarra said LifeShare collected 65 unites on Tuesday and 47 on Monday.

“On some days we’re collecting half of what we need,” Ybarra said. “People came to give in our blood center yesterday, and that was very helpful, but we were at Sam’s yesterday and only drew one unit. People were just not making the time for that.”

Benjamin Prijatel, senior director of blood operations at LifeShare, said the closures are really hurting supply.

“One in five LifeShare donors are teenagers, and we’ve lost all high school drives for the next month, in addition to colleges and businesses,” he said. “A lot of our blood goes to cancer patients and people who are having heart surgeries. While hospitals are reducing some of their elective procedures, in the short term those are procedures that can’t wait. Unfortunately the supply of donors has dwindled and the demand has not.”

The key to gaining back donations will be outreach and information, Prijatel said. Donors should know the need for blood is real and that LifeShare practices the strictest hygiene and sanitary procedures.

“Even as we’re doing social distancing, most of our blood drives are less than 15 people,” Prijatel said. “Like a take-out from a restaurant, most of those 15 people aren’t there at the same time. It’s usually just a couple donors and a couple staff. You can still donate blood, and if you’re concerned about that 10-person limit, you’ll likely be in a less than 10 person environment.”
There currently is no evidence that the coronavirus can be spread through blood, Prijatel said.

“Donating blood is completely safe for the donor,” he said. “The most dangerous thing about donating blood is getting up and down from the bed, that you’re careful and don’t trip and fall.”

Those interested in donating blood can still attend blood drives or donate at the LifeShare center at 4305 Laurel Ave. in Beaumont. Donors must be feeling well and healthy and must not be taking antibiotics or blood thinners. Donors should bring a photo ID and weight at least 110 pounds.

The youngest age to be eligible to donate is 16, and 16-year-olds must have a parent or guardian sign a consent form. Staff will perform a mini-physical and take donors’ blood pressure, temperature and pulse, as well as conduct a finger prick test.

Anyone with questions about whether their medications prevent them from being eligible to donate are invited to call at 409-838-5289

“We have the best donor base in the country and our folks respond especially when they know there is a need,” Prijatel said. “The No. 1 thing we’re doing is letting people know there is a need by educating our donors about where we are in our current situation, and that includes also letting people know that donating blood is safe.”