The New York Blood Center (NYBC) is in urgent need of blood donations after New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the closure of schools, restaurants and places of worship in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). With blood donations so urgently needed, many are wondering how they can safely donate blood without putting themselves at risk. Anton Media Group spoke with Andrea H. Cefarelli, the senior executive director of donor recruitment and marketing at the New York Blood Center, about how the blood center is ensuring the safety of their donors, while continuing to save lives through blood donations.
“After we lost all of our blood drives, [which] started to cancel in early march and have continued to cancel through all of April and even into May, we transitioned to an all donor center collection operation,” Cefarelli said. “We doubled our capacity at our 19 donor centers. By doubling the capacity, we are better able to manage the donors per hour at our centers.”
In the wake of coronavirus, the NYBC has had to make necessary changes to their daily operation in order to ensure they are keeping both their donors and staff safe during this time. The blood center has increased their daily hours of operation from two days a week to seven days, which helps to space out their donors.
“In addition, we moved to appointments only,” Cefarelli said. “We have always welcomed walk-ins at both our blood drives and our donor centers. But in this situation we are appointment only so that we can control the spacing of our donors. In addition, we are taking the temperature of the blood donors before they start the donation process as an extra precaution.”
Along with extended hours of operation and controlling the number of people donating at one time, the blood center will also be taking the temperature of their staff members prior to their shift, as well as disinfecting the blood collection sites more frequently.
The NYBC has several locations on Long Island and in New York City and frequently runs mobile blood drives. Due to the coronavirus, many of these mobile blood drives have been canceled putting a severe decline in the amount of blood that is available.
“Seventy-five percent of the blood that New York Blood Center collected prior to this was at mobile blood drives, at high schools, churches, colleges, fire houses, those were all canceled,” Cefarelli said. “The loss in March was catastrophic. We had a dramatic loss, something like 25,000 potential blood donations were lost due to canceled blood drives, so our blood supply is very low.”
On March 24, the NYBC announced they will be the first blood center in the nation to collect blood plasma donations from people who have recently recovered from COVID-19. This treatment, known as convalescent plasma, will be used to treat other patients who have an advanced form of the virus. The patient will be transfused with the donor’s plasma and the goal is to use the donor’s antibodies to help clear the virus more rapidly.
“We’re proud to partner with leading medical institutions from New York and beyond in developing this potential treatment,” Dr. Beth H. Shaz, chief medical and scientific officer at the New York Blood Center, said. “If this treatment proves to be effective, we are prepared to quickly scale our process and activate our network to serve hospitals nationwide.”
The New York Blood Center will collect the donations, process the plasma for infusion and maintain a bank for hospitals to treat patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections. Qualified donors will be referred to NYBC by area hospitals and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve patients for the treatment on a case-by-case basis.
As of publication, the New York Blood Center strongly urges individuals who feel healthy to make an appointment at a nearby donor center to give blood, platelets and plasma. The NYBC is not offering walk-ins at this time, donors must schedule an appointment by calling 1-800-933-2566 or by visiting www.nybc.org/coronavirus. For additional information regarding coronavirus precautions at the NYBC, visit www.nybloodcenter.org/donate-blood/covid-19-and-blood-donation-copy.