Blood banks gear up for donations shortage, fallout from coronavirus

Liz Freeman
Naples Daily News

Southwest Florida blood banks are preparing for a fallout from the novel coronavirus that could mean fewer donors and a strain on blood supplies at area hospitals.

The Food and Drug Administration has provided advice to blood banks if they choose to defer blood donors because of COVID-19, according to a Feb. 4 notice.

“The potential for transmission of COVID-19 by blood and blood components is unknown at this time,” the FDA said.

“However, respirator viruses, in general, are not known to be transmitted by blood transfusions, and there have been no reported cases of transfusion-transmitted coronavirus,” the federal agency said.

Lee Health considered the FDA’s information on self-prescribed deferrals and believes its current screening questions will eliminate any risk of people who are sick from donating, said Jeremy Puckett, supervisor at Lee Heath’s blood center.

The first screening question to a potential donor is “are you well today” and that should weed out anyone who is not, Puckett said.

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Lee Health is already seeing a decline in blood donations with one canceled blood mobile drive event that was scheduled for Tuesday and a dip in people coming to the fixed donation sites at two hospital campuses, he said.

“The numbers are definitely down over the past week,” Puckett said. “I don’t know if it has raised a major concern at the moment.”

The sense is people may not want to come to the hospital and are being mindful of social distancing, he said.

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There have been two positive cases of COVID-19 in Lee County involving two elderly people who both had traveled internationally. One of the individuals, a 77-year-old woman, died at Gulf Coast Medical Center last week. The other, a 77-year-old man, is in critical condition at Gulf Coast.

There have not been any confirmed COVID-19 cases in Collier County, according to the state Department of Health that oversees who gets tested based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

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The FDA’s advice on blood donation says people should self defer for 28 days if they have traveled to any of the four countries with outbreaks or if they have been diagnosed or suspected of having COVID-19. The four countries are mainland China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

Donors who live with or have had close contact with someone suspected or diagnosed should also defer for 28 days, the FDA said.

“Based on the limited information available at this time, we suggest individuals refrain from donating blood at least 28 days after resolution of symptoms after a diagnosis of COVID-19 infection or 28 days after the date of departure from an outbreak area or the last possible close contact exposure to a person with COVID-19 infection,”’ the FDA said.

The AABB, the association of blood banks based in Bethesda, Maryland, is reminding healthy people to donate to minimize potential disruptions to the nation’s blood supply if the outbreak expands and reduces the number of eligible donors.

“We are asking potential donors, both current and first-timers, to make and keep appointments to ensure that a sufficient blood supply will continue to be available for all patients who need it,” Brian G. Gannon, chief of an AABB task force, said last week.

So far donations have not decreased at Community Blood Center that is part of the NCH Healthcare System in Collier, according to Laura Rosen, community relations manager.

 “It’s been pretty consistent with what we typically see this time of year,” Rosen said. “We’ve been having good drives.”

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The blood center has posted the FDA guidance on the 28-day deferral but has not had to turn anyone based on the COVID-19 advisory, Rosen said.

The 28-day deferral is a first line of precaution and the blood center can turn down a donor even after the 28 days based on answers to screening questions about how they are feeling currently, she said.

“If we have a concern, we could defer them,” Rosen said. “Our main goal is to have an adequate and safe blood supply.”

Officials at OneBlood, a blood center serving hospitals in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas says “now is the time to donate blood” to make sure there is enough.

“Blood is needed every day in our communities and it is imperative that a ready supply is available at all times,” OneBlood said in a statement. “If the coronavirus continues to spread, additional challenges may arise, which could potentially reduce the number of eligible donors.”