Home COVID-19 Updates Pandemic takes toll on blood supplies

Pandemic takes toll on blood supplies

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While COVID-19 cases have waned, area blood-supply levels remain critically low.

Because there is less than two days’ worth of stock, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is urging Texans to roll up their sleeves and donate plasma, said spokesperson Francine Pina.

About 600 donations a day are needed to rebuild reserves and support hospital patients, she added.

Roughly 400 donors daily visit the center’s seven locations.

The spike in need can be traced back to postponement of surgical procedures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pina said plasma demand from hospitals is 20 percent higher than it was a year ago, and because of that, the center is mostly requesting Type O blood donations.

That blood type is most commonly used for transfusions and trauma situations.

The center encourages donations of other blood types as well.

Because of the plasma shortage, University Hospital physicians decided to create an hourly timetable for when patients receive transfusions, while also determining whether medical procedures need to be delayed, said Dr. Leslie Greebron, director of transfusion medicine.

“We have to ensure we are triaging inventory of our precious resource to make sure it goes to the right people who need it at that moment,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic posed a plethora of challenges to the center’s supply this past year.

The organization was unable to host blood drives at businesses and schools, as most employees and students worked or studied remotely.

Collections from such events made up 60 percent of its stock, Pina said. Currently, that figure represents its donations from in-house, she added.  

The crippling February winter storm and annual holidays also slowed down plasma collections.

“People were not able to donate blood during the storm,” said Pina, who noted that no-shows have also been an issue. “(During holidays), people are out doing other things so they are not coming in to donate. They may seem like minor things, but we need to catch up (on donations).”

The center relaunched its mobile drive events in the fall, Pina said, and due to the drop in COVID-19 cases, it has been able to fill existing appointments and not extend hours.

To reward donors, the organization gave away a Fiesta medal in June to commemorate the longtime celebration’s return after its cancellation last year due to the pandemic.

An electronic gift card valued at $10 awarded to donors after each visit is redeemable with 100-plus retailers.

Vaccinated and unvaccinated donors are eligible to give blood as long as they are healthy, Pina said.

Unvaccinated guests, though, are required to wear face masks and practice physical distancing, she added.

“There is no waiting period after you have received (the COVID) vaccine to give blood,” Pina said. “The vaccine doesn’t interfere with a blood donation. It could be compared to getting the flu vaccine, as they still continue to give blood.”

For more on being a donor, visit https://donor.southtexasblood.org.

COVID-19 Hotline

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District has opened a COVID-19 Hotline for residents to ask questions about the virus. The hotline is available in English and Spanish. Residents can call 311 or 210-207-6000 and select option 8. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon Saturday and Sunday.

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