Ga. blood donations plummet as Red Cross adjusts to COVID-19 spread

The American Red Cross Georgia headquarters and blood donor center in Atlanta is scheduling appointments online and making adjustments to its procedures during collection as supplies drop in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Georgia is experiencing an alarming blood supply shortage after more than 200 blood drives were canceled in the wake of work and school closures due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The drop in blood donations is one of the many casualties of the COVID-19 outbreak, which has now claimed three lives in Georgia. As of midday Wednesday, the number of confirmed cases here stood at 197 spread across 28 counties, according to a state Department of Public Health website.

In Georgia, the cancellation of blood drives has meant the loss of more than 7,000 units of blood that would have otherwise been collected, according to the American Red Cross. Nationally, nearly 4,000 blood drives had been canceled as of Monday – causing a drop of more than 100,000 donations.

“We are in an urgent need,” said Ronnika McFall, spokeswoman with the Georgia chapter of the American Red Cross. We’re in desperate need for blood and the situation is very serious so we want to encourage healthy donors, if you’re feeling well and if you’re able to come out and donate blood, please do so.”

McFall said Wednesday that extra precautions have been added to an already tightly controlled process to ensure the safety of donors. For example, social distancing has even found its way even into blood drives when possible, with beds placed farther apart than usual, and donors, staff and volunteers are being pre-screened for a fever before being allowed to enter a blood drive or donation center.

She said blood donations are desperately needed to head off another potential health care crisis.

“The blood shortage that we have now could impact patients who need surgery, victims of car accidents and other emergencies or patients suffering from cancer,” McFall said. “One of the most important things you can do to ensure we don’t have another health crisis on top of the coronavirus is to give blood.”

State leaders have been urging healthy donors who can safely venture out to do so. Gov. Brian Kemp joined with the American Red Cross this week to issue a plea for blood donations and sponsors to carry through with their planned blood drives.

“As we continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we must ensure that we maintain the necessary blood supply to aid patients throughout Georgia and across the United States,” Kemp said in a statement Tuesday. “Those who are healthy, without symptoms, and eligible to give blood or platelets should consider doing so.

“America has faced its challenges before, and when we face them together, we come out stronger,” Kemp said. “I am encouraging all Georgians to support their neighbors and donate blood as they are able.”

It’s one of the many medical supplies that are becoming increasingly scarce as the state’s health care system struggles to keep pace. The state has ordered more than 100,000 masks, 10 pallets of medical face shields, 10,000 gloves, 25,000 gowns, 26,000 shoe covers and 1,000 goggles.

Testing for COVID-19 also remains elusive for many, with the few available kits often reserved for the most vulnerable patients. About 1,500 people have been tested in Georgia.

To give blood, download the Red Cross donor app on your phone or visit www.redcrossblood.org to find a blood drive or schedule an appointment.

Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.