The American Red Cross typically has a tough time keeping the blood supply strong during the winter months when inclement weather and seasonal illnesses can impact donors.

This year, the pandemic adds another challenge in keeping the blood supply strong, so the Red Cross is urging healthy people to make an appointment to give blood or platelets this month.

A woman wears a required face mask during the coronavirus pandemic while donating blood at an American Red Cross collection site. Submitted photo / American Red Cross
A woman wears a required face mask during the coronavirus pandemic while donating blood at an American Red Cross collection site. Submitted photo / American Red Cross

“We have seen an outpouring of support for people that want to come up and donate, but I think, initially, there was a little bit of a drawback because people didn’t really know what to expect,” said Sue Thesenga, an American Red Cross regional communications manager.

There are thousands of patients a day who rely on lifesaving blood donations — people like Leslie Johnson, whose story the Red Cross listed as an example. In 2005, a farming accident left Johnson with broken bones and massive bleeding. In the first 24 hours after the accident, she received 10 units of blood and platelets.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

A man signals he is OK while donating blood to the American Red Cross, a nonprofit that for a limited time is testing all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies. Submitted photo / American Red Cross
A man signals he is OK while donating blood to the American Red Cross, a nonprofit that for a limited time is testing all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies. Submitted photo / American Red Cross

“If blood had not been available when she needed it, she might not be here today. I might not have had my mom growing up. It’s my honor to be able to promote blood donation and help pay it forward to others in need,” Johnson’s daughter Emily stated in a news release.

The high school student hosted a blood drive last semester because she recognized the role of blood in helping save her mom’s life. As Leslie Johnson faces additional surgeries to address ongoing injuries from the accident, she may need more blood transfusions.

A man donates blood at a Minnesota collection site for the American Red Cross. Submitted photo / American Red Cross
A man donates blood at a Minnesota collection site for the American Red Cross. Submitted photo / American Red Cross

“By donating blood, it’s a very positive way that people can make an impact and help out. Right now, we’re testing all of our blood donations for (COVID-19) antibodies,” Thesenga said Friday, Jan. 29.

Antibodies are formed when fighting an infection such as COVID-19, but Red Cross officials caution that a positive antibody test result does not confirm infection or immunity and as such the Red Cross is not testing donors to diagnose illness, referred to as a diagnostic test.

RELATED:

“The Red Cross quickly pivoted and put all these safety precautions into place and the governor also called for blood donation as being essential to the health of our communities,” Thesenga said.

COVID-19 antibody test results will be available within one to two weeks in the Red Cross Blood Donor App or donor portal at RedCrossBlood.org, according to officials, and the test has been authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

RELATED: Demand for blood rises with elective surgeries, Red Cross tests donations for COVID-19 antibodies

“If you make a whole blood donation and your blood tests positive for antibodies, that plasma from it can go towards convalescent plasma. And it will also notify the Red Cross that maybe this is a potential donor who wants to make a convalescent plasma donation,” Thesenga said.

Convalescent plasma is a type of blood donation collected from COVID-19 survivors that have antibodies that may help patients who are actively fighting the virus. Plasma from whole blood donations that test positive for COVID-19 antibodies may be used to help COVID-19 patients.

RELATED:

“It’s so important, especially as we navigate this pandemic, to make sure there is blood available,” Emily Johnson stated. “Blood is such a meaningful gift to give.”

As a thank-you for helping ensure a stable blood supply, those who donate blood this month at an American Red Cross blood drive will receive a $5 Amazon.com gift card via email.

RELATED:

“I think people are really interested in knowing if they have the antibodies and to help out in any way that they can. And like I said, blood donation is essentially a very easy way for people to give back right now,” Thesenga said.

To protect the health and safety of Red Cross staff and donors, it is important individuals who do not feel well or believe they may be ill with COVID-19 postpone donation.

How to donate blood

To make a blood donation appointment for any upcoming blood drive, download the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment or for more information.

A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in at the blood collection site. Potential donors must have not donated in the last 56 days.

Those who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate.

(High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.)

Donors are required to wear a face-covering or mask. Blood drives will follow social distancing guidelines, including spacing out donor beds, waiting and refreshment areas. Donors and staff have their temperatures checked prior to entering a blood drive or donation center.

Red Cross blood drives

Brainerd

  • 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1, at Essentia Health Sports Center, 502 Jackson St.

  • 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, at Central Lakes College, 501 W. College Drive.

  • 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 9 at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1647, 309 S. Sixth St.

Deerwood

  • 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 11 and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Feb. 12 at Cascade United Methodist, 22781 Black Lake Road.

Pequot Lakes

  • Noon-6 p.m. Feb. 10 at American Legion, 4435 Main St.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.