Life South Shortage

LifeSouth donors will receive a COVID-19 antibody screening.

With students out of town, summer is already a challenging time for Gainesville blood banks. Now, COVID-19 proves to be an additional hurdle.

Fewer donors are participating in blood drives across the U.S. The American Red Cross is facing a severe blood shortage with nearly 2,700 drives canceled due to COVID-19, according to ABC News.

Like the American Red Cross, LifeSouth Community Blood Centers, based in Gainesville, is struggling to meet the need for blood. LifeSouth saw an increase in donations when the pandemic hit Gainesville, said Brite Whitaker, a spokesperson for LifeSouth. But since then, donations have dropped while the need for blood has increased.

While the center strives for 100 donations a day, it was averaging 60 to 75 donations, said Laura Bialeck, a community development manager for LifeSouth.

All donations of blood and plasma, a yellow liquid that holds blood cells, are sold to local hospitals, she said. Blood needs are changing every day and are dependent on patient usage. Last week, the center was seeking blood type O and B donations.

UF Health is in need of O negative blood, Bialeck said. O negative blood is a universal donor, meaning anyone can receive it. Blood centers are often in critical need of this blood type.

Donors also receive a COVID-19 antibody screening. The antibody screening detects the COVID-19 antibody, which appears whether the donor was symptomatic or asymptomatic, Whitaker said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t reported any cases of the virus spreading through transfusions because respiratory viruses don’t spread through blood.

“People may be uncertain about donating blood and may not realize that it is safe,” Bialeck said.

Patients who fully recovered from COVID-19 are eligible to donate, Bialeck said. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also encouraging healthy people to give blood.

LifeSouth started collecting plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients on May 22 to treat critically ill patients, Bialeck said.

The treatment, known as convalescent plasma therapy, transfers those antibodies to COVID-19 patients to help lessen the severity and length of the illness, according to WIRED. The FDA is overseeing clinical trials of the treatment method.

Though the method is still in its experimental phase, hospitals are requesting convalescent plasma for critically ill COVID-19 patients, Bialeck said.

LifeSouth staff is taking precautions to mitigate virus spread, she said. Employees and donors are required to get their temperatures taken. Only three donors can donate at the same time, and they must follow social distancing measures when inside the center or bloodmobiles.

However, bloodmobiles are parked at schools, businesses and churches, most of which are closed, Whitaker said. Other retail locations, such as grocery stores, are not the same for bringing in donors because shoppers aren’t encouraged to donate like students are at schools.

Bialeck said these are “hit or miss” blood drives, adding that bloodmobiles can’t be parked at certain locations, such as a Walmart, every day.

As more people go out and break quarantine, there have been more traffic accidents and traumas that require blood, Whitaker said. She also said there’s been an increase in demand from hospitals.

When elective surgeries, or non-emergency medical procedures, were postponed in March, demand for blood decreased by 30 percent, Bialeck said. However, elective surgeries resumed May 4 because of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order, which has increased donation needs.

The blood and plasma needs of UF Health Shands Hospital are being met because of community blood donors, UF Health Spokesperson Ken Garcia wrote in an email.

“We encourage community members to continue with blood and plasma donations to ensure we always have a ready supply,” Garcia wrote.