The American Red Cross says the nation is facing its worst blood shortage in more than a decade, citing a drop in blood drives due to the pandemic.
The organization said on Tuesday that the "national blood crisis" is threatening patient care and forcing doctors to make tough choices about who is able to receive blood transfusions, and it's urging people to donate.
In recent weeks, the Red Cross — which provides some 40% of the nation's blood — has had less than a one-day supply of critical blood types and has had to limit blood product distributions to hospitals. It says that at times, up to one-quarter of hospital blood needs are not being met.
What's causing the shortage
There has been a significant drop in donations during the pandemic, and weather conditions and staffing limitations have caused ongoing cancelation of planned blood drives. There's been a 10% overall blood donation decline since March 2020, and a 62% drop in college and high school blood drives during the pandemic, it says.
This is not the first such shortage since the onset of COVID-19 — in April 2020, for instance, the federal government loosened restrictions on receiving blood donations from gay men due to what it described as an unprecedented shortage in the U.S. blood supply (critics argue the ban is based on stigma rather than science in the first place). But by declaring this a historic crisis, officials are upping the urgency.
"Winter weather across the country and the recent surge of COVID-19 cases are compounding the already-dire situation facing the blood supply," Dr. Baia Lasky, medical director for the Red Cross, said in a statement. "Please, if you are eligible, make an appointment to give blood or platelets in the days and weeks ahead to ensure no patient is forced to wait for critical care."
Incentives for donating
The Red Cross is asking donors of all blood types, but especially Type O, to make an appointment now to give in the weeks ahead. It's also seeking volunteers to help out at blood drives and transport blood products to hospitals.
It's asking donors to consider booking additional appointments in advance, as while "the availability of drives may be impacted, the need for blood remains constant." Blood can't be manufactured or stockpiled, it adds.
For an added incentive, the Red Cross is partnering with the NFL this month, which is National Blood Donor Month. People who donate blood, platelets or plasma will automatically be entered for a chance to win two tickets to the upcoming Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles, as well as a home theater package and a $500 electronic gift card to watch the game at home.
You can make an appointment to give blood or platelets through the Red Cross Blood Donor app, on the organization's website or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. There are also regional and community blood banks across the country.
Here's more on what to do before, during and after your appointment.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.