There are certain medical visits (like non-essential dentist appointments), that you might want to put off until the pandemic passed. But is it safe to donate blood right now? Marcus Plescia, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, says that not only is donating blood safe to do right now, but it’s essential.
“People are scared to go to the doctor’s office right now and I really think that’s an unfounded fear. Most of these doctor’s office right now, you sit out in your car until they text you to tell you to come in so nobody’s in the waiting room,” he says. “Everybody there is fully masked up, doctor’s offices are usually very well cleaned. I would think that the blood donation sites are in a position where they can adopt those exact same kinds of measures, but I think people are still scared.”
Back in March, nearly 2,700 Red Cross blood drives were canceled across the country resulting in some 86,000 fewer blood donations. A study published in The Lancet in July found that “this trend was compensated by a reduction in demand for blood because of a decrease in elective surgery and medical treatment.” The study reports that the blood supply has remained steady overall when examining it through a supply-and-demand lens, but that could change. For example, older people tend to donate more frequently and reliably, but they may be reluctant to go to an appointment during this time.
Dr. Plescia says having a secure blood supply is extremely important.
“It’s such a core piece of any capacity or preparedness for hospitals and emergency settings,” he says. “And it’s just important to make sure that there’s an adequate supply of that, so that if somebody is in bad shape, they’re able to get the help that they need.” This is especially true when it comes to medical emergencies and operations.
“There are a lot of situations where people lose blood and being able to replace that with a donor’s blood is life-saving,” he says. “Sometimes things can go a little wrong. Somebody can lose quite a bit of blood during the operation and that’s not a problem if there’s readily available, donated blood to be able to give them. But if there’s not, you can give people intravenous fluids to some extent, to make up for that, but there comes a point where you’ve got to replace the blood because the blood is what carries oxygen around in your body and fluids can’t do that.”
When making your appointment, you should easily be able to access COVID-19 safety precautions being taken at the donation center. “It’s in their interest to make sure that people feel safe and secure if they come in,” he says. You should aim for a place where you won’t have to be sitting in a waiting room with a ton of people. Also, double-check that they have a universal mask policy. “If you went to a place to give blood and the people working there were not wearing masks, I would leave immediately if I saw that,” says Dr. Plescia. They should also be doing some sort of symptom screening.
As far as safe indoor environments go, you shouldn’t be too concerned about blood donation centers.
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