COVID-19 continues to strain blood supply in hospitals

Blood Drive Pk 2

MADISON, Wis. — The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching impacts beyond its death toll and putting unneeded strain on health care systems. The pandemic has also led to a worsening blood shortage throughout the country.

As the pandemic forced many people to work from home, businesses to close, and schools to limit their in-person activities, opportunities to participate in blood drives dropped too. Paired with a lack of workers available to staff the blood drives, many health care providers have seen major drop-offs in blood donations.

According to the American Red Cross, there’s been a 10% decrease in blood donations since the start of the pandemic and a 62% drop in college and high school blood drives due to the pandemic. College and high school blood drives made up roughly 25% of all donors in 2019.

Fewer blood drives, in turn, have led to less blood available for health care providers. Dr. Ann O’Rourke, a surgeon with UW Health and associate professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said those shortages have forced hospitals to tightly monitor their blood use.

“We’ve seen low supplies of blood for some time now, occasionally reaching levels we would consider dangerously low,” she said. “The pandemic has thrown a roadblock in our ability to collect blood for needed medical procedures and emergency situations.”

While all blood types are needed, experts said Type O-positive and Type O-negative are the most needed.

The pandemic has made matters worse, O’Rourke said, because the recent surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations paired with increased severity of care for non-COVID patients has stretched the need for blood to its limits

“It’s a double-whammy; low supply and high demand,” O’Rourke said. “We need people to get out and donate blood to ensure that there is blood for you when you need it.”

Anyone interested in donating blood can find a drive nearby by visiting the American Red Cross website.