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With COVID and the holidays, supply running low of blood and convalescent plasma

Red Cross Western NY
Cathy Plewinski donates convalescent plasma at the American Red Cross' Cheektowaga Blood Donation Center.

Blood banks typically receive fewer donations during the holiday season, and with COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations across Erie County on the rise, medical facilities need donations more than ever.

Western New York-based blood bank ConnectLife is currently operating with a one to two-day supply of blood, which only has a 42-day shelf life.

“What someone may have donated in March or April is great and it helped supply the hospitals then,” said Amanda Farrell, ConnectLife’s director of donor recruitment. “But we need donors to donate consistently and regularly to make sure we have a stable supply on the shelves in our hospitals.”

ConnectLife’s donations stay local, supplying patients at partner hospitals like Erie County Medical Center and Oishei Children’s Hospital.

Cancellations of blood drives during the pandemic have taken their toll on supply. Past business and school drives accounted for about 50% of the blood ConnectLife collected regularly.

While those larger events have been cancelled due to public health concerns, ConnectLife has instituted new protocols to keep donors safe at ongoing donation sites.

“We strongly encourage donors to make appointments, because it will allow us that additional time to be able to clean and decontaminate thoroughly,” Farrell said. “But it’s important for people to know that blood donations are not mass gatherings. It’s safe to donate blood. And also, COVID cannot be transmitted through blood at this time.”

The American Red Cross’ Western New York region is not in a blood shortage thanks to its larger national network. But Western New York region External Communications Manager Katie Potter explained the organization is in need of blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 – known as convalescent plasma.

“There’s actually a shortage situation emerging in that realm – convalescent plasma donation – because the demand is simply outpacing the supply right now,” Potter said.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, convalescent plasma contains antibodies that may help people currently fighting COVID-19. Under an emergency authorization, it’s used to treat hospitalized patients, while its effectiveness continues to be studied.

Like ConnectLife, the American Red Cross is encouraging donors to make appointments so the flow of people can be managed and allow more time for sanitization at donation sites.

People interested in donating blood can find more information at connectlifegiveblood.org and redcrossblood.org.

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