Blood drives cancelled through June; new “pop-up” sites being organized

Social distancing has led to at least a temporary suspension of mobile blood drives.

Image courtesy Bloodworks Northwest

Image courtesy Bloodworks Northwest

As Washington plans to cautiously reopen in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a crucial resource is now running dangerously low — blood.

“There was a slight decline” in the need for blood “as selective surgeries were put on hold,” said Meg Hall, a Bloodworks Northwest regional recruitment manager, referring to Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 19 order. “However, the last couple days, the hospitals are ramping back up, and we are now actually right back to the level of need the hospitals had… prior to the COVID-19 pandemic starting.”

That “level of need” is around 900 units of blood per day, which goes to supply the 100 hospitals from Southeast Alaska to Southern Oregon that Bloodworks Northwest partners with.

Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the traditional blood drive format, which accounts for around 60 percent of the blood the nonprofit collects. Hall said that the social distancing guidelines led to her organization canceling all of its mobile blood drives through June, though that deadline could easily be extended, she added.

Instead, Bloodworks Northwest is setting up “pop-up donor centers” around the state in the hopes of recovering the blood they now miss out on collecting during normal drives.

According to a May 6 press release, some of the larger-profile centers include T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, and the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.

“All the sports teams were gracious enough to say, ‘Hey, we understand the need… we’re on hold for our days jobs, and we have large, indoor spaces,’ which is what’s required for social distancing during blood donations for both staff and donors,” Hall said.

However, smaller venues are also hosting pop-up donor sites, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Maple Valley (26800 236th Pl., near Four Corners). It will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays for the last two weeks of May; this is currently the closest pop-up location for Enumclaw, Black Diamond, Maple Valley, and Covington residents to visit.

Bloodworks Northwest also continues to operate its 12 “brick-and-mortar” donation offices with extended days and hours. These include the Federal Way Center at 1414 S. 324 St., the Bellevue Center at 1907 132nd Ave. NE, the Tukwila Center at 130 Andover Park E., and the Central Seattle location at 921 Terry Ave.

However, despite these new pop-up centers, there are signs a blood shortage is right around the corner; Hall said she recently saw a report showing Bloodworks Northwest was short a couple hundred units of blood when filling a hospital’s order.

“We have a little bit on inventory, so we’re OK right now, but that is not sustainable,” she continued. “We have to find ways to get more donors to turn out… We have pop-ups going, but not all the appointment slots are filled up.”

Hall added that red blood cells can only be stored up to 42 days, and platelets for five, meaning that a constant supply of blood in crucial.

O-negative blood, the universal donor blood type, is especially important now, she continued.

“If people know that they’re O-negative, then they really need to find ways to donate,” Hall said.

Appointments are now required to donate blood in order to support social distancing and minimizing wait times.

To find a pop-up donation center near you or to schedule an appointment, even on the same day, you can call 800-398-7888.

If you have O-negative blood, you may make a special appointment by calling the same number or emailing schedule@bloodworksnw.org.

Bloodworks Northwest stated in its May 6 press release that “there is no risk of contracting coronavirus from the donation procedure,” adding that its staff wear cloth masks or a face shield, sanitize donation areas, and use hand sanitizer. “Bloodworks has posted information addressing questions and concerns for blood donors at bloodworksnw.org/coronavirus.”


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