South Texas blood supply at risk of collapse as Coronavirus concerns lead to drop in blood donations

Mayor urges community to give blood to prevent secondary public health emergency
March 14, 2020

stbtc_mayor_press_conferenceThe community blood supply is at risk of collapse as drives are cancelled and donations decline because of concerns about coronavirus, said officials from the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of BioBridge Global.

They joined Mayor Ron Nirenberg and local hospital physicians to urge blood donation as a safe action people can take at a time when many feel powerless. An increase is critical to prevent a secondary public health crisis caused by a depleted blood supply.  

“Today, we are also designating blood donation as an essential city function,” said Nirenberg. “That will be to ensure that blood donations can continue here in the City of San Antonio, unabated, as we work through the rest of this public health emergency. Just like you are considering your own work schedules and making sure you’re taking care of your children during the turbulence of the next few weeks, we also need you to consider your neighbors in need…. Your actions now really matter and can save lives.”

“We are seeing a perfect storm developing as our community works to prevent the spread of the virus with school closings, more employees working from home and other measures,” said Elizabeth Waltman, chief operating officer of STBTC. “An unintended consequence is that, both locally and nationally, blood drives are being cancelled and fewer people are donating.

“Without community action, projections show the blood supply will be depleted in less than two days, which means we could expect that blood would be rationed,” she said.  

In the last few days, more than 50 blood drives have been cancelled. Drives at schools, businesses, churches and other organizations provide more than 60% of blood.

“People who are bleeding because of childbirth, because of major surgery, because of traumatic injury – that number is not going to change because we’ve shut down schools and limited visitation at hospitals,” said Dr. Donald Jenkins, a University Hospital trauma surgeon and UT Health San Antonio professor.

COVID-19 is already causing critical blood shortages as people respond to social distancing messages by canceling blood drives and donations, said Dr. Leslie Greebon, University Health System Medical Director of Transfusion Services.

“We anticipate a major blood shortage in San Antonio in the next few weeks and for the foreseeable future,” Dr. Greebon said. “The entire country is in critical need of blood supply, especially in areas already hit with coronavirus.”

“We are likely to go through very long periods (possibly days to many days) without adequate resupply.  At a point, critical decisions on who we can treat with a limited resource will arise. We must be able to sustain daily transfusions for our patients.”

The shortage is a national emergency, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and the U.S. Military Defense Agency making an urgent appeal on Thursday for the public to donate blood. Dr. Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, reiterated that there have been no reported or suspected cases of transfusion-transmitted coronavirus and the virus poses no known risk to patients receiving blood.  

“Giving blood is safe action you can take to make a difference,” said Dr. Samantha Gomez Ngamsuntikul, associate medical director at STBTC. “People are not at risk for contracting coronavirus, either by giving blood or receiving a blood transfusion, and we’re taking every precaution to ensure our donor rooms and bloodmobiles are a healthy environment.”

Methodist Healthcare relies on the incredible work that the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center does every day to serve our patients,” said Palmira Arellano, vice president of communication and community relations. “During this national emergency, we will do everything we can to encourage our community, especially our employees, to continue to donate blood.”

Donors are asked to schedule appointments at one of seven STBTC donor rooms by calling 210-731-5590 or visiting SouthTexasBlood.org. Making an appointment reduces waits and avoids crowding in donor rooms, which are set up so only a few people at a time are in common areas.

In addition, blood drive sponsors are urged not to cancel drives. Typically, no more than a handful of donors and STBTC staff are gathered at one time during drives.

STBTC is taking additional steps to protect donors. It is checking the temperature of everyone, including staff members, who enters a donor room using an infrared, touchless thermometer. A fever is one of the key symptoms of the COVID-19 infections.

Donation beds and equipment are sanitized between donors, and hand sanitizer is available. Hard surfaces like door handles and light switches are being sanitized on a frequent basis. Staff members have been told to stay home if they are sick, or if they meet CDC criteria for travel or other exposure to the virus.

All potential donors are asked about recent travel and receive a mini-physical during the screening process before donating. Anyone with potential exposure to the virus with the past 28 days is asked to defer their donation.