Rae Woodhouse last donated blood about four years ago. But after she received an e-mail request for donors from Canadian Blood Services last week, she made an appointment and gave blood the next day.
“With everything going on in the world, there’s a lot of things we could be doing to help out. And this seemed like an easy enough thing for me to do,” said Ms. Woodhouse, a third-year medical student at Queen’s University.
The blood-donation agency has seen a “dramatic” influx of Canadians willing to roll up their sleeves, said Graham Sher, chief executive officer of Canadian Blood Services (CBS). The organization made a public call for donors on March 16 after seeing a spike in cancellations due to concerns over the new coronavirus. Since the request, the organization has seen not only a return of its regulars, he said, but an increase in first-time donors and visits from individuals who have not donated in a long time.
On Wednesday, the national blood inventory had returned to levels consistent with what they were a few weeks ago, Dr. Sher said.
According to CBS, COVID-19 can’t be transmitted through blood because blood cells do not have binding sites for the coronavirus that causes the illness. The binding sites for the virus – that is, the proteins that allow the virus to attach and invade a cell – are located in the respiratory tract and digestive system, it says.
Nevertheless, donating blood during a pandemic requires special precautions. As they arrive, donors are asked to use hand sanitizer offered at the entrance of the clinics. They’re asked to stand within strategically placed squares of tape on the floor as they wait their turn. Chairs are spaced out, pamphlets that are given to donors are recycled after each use and staff wipe down collection beds and surfaces after each donor.
Dr. Sher emphasized that there is a need for Canadians to continue donating blood to maintain a healthy inventory, and encouraged donors to book appointments not just now, but in the weeks and months to come.
“Let’s all think of this as a marathon, not a sprint,” Dr. Sher said, explaining that blood has a short shelf life and cannot be stockpiled.
From the time it is collected, red blood cells can last about 42 days, while platelets have a shelf life of seven days. On Thursday, Canadian Blood Services had five days worth of O-negative blood, a key measure of the national blood inventory as this blood type is compatible with all patients. By comparison, during the rise in donor cancellations, it had only enough O-negative blood to last about three days or less.
While the suspension of elective surgeries at hospitals across the country has slightly reduced demand, he said, blood is still needed for other uses, such as for trauma, bleeding and cancer patients.
For some donors, giving blood is just one of many ways that they’re trying to support others.
In Ottawa, Stephen Lorne, a first-time donor, said his local clinic was fully booked and the earliest appointment he could make was the middle of next week. Lorne said he saw donating blood as something meaningful he could do during the pandemic, even though he is squeamish of needles and getting blood work done can cause him to pass out.
“If the system is all concentrated on dealing with the coronavirus and people are paranoid about going out and giving blood, then I just started imagining what that means for people with other [health] problems,” said Mr. Lorne, who works as a technician for film and TV commercials. “My industry is temporarily dead, so it’s not like I don’t have the time. If I’m going to do it, this is the time.”
As a medical student, Ms. Woodhouse is helping to co-ordinate fellow medical student volunteers to provide child care for health-care workers. She is also helping to source personal protective equipment for health-care staff.
After donating blood on Wednesday morning (his 156th donation), Wes Schollenberg of Winnipeg planned to bake oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and carefully deliver them to the doorsteps of neighbours and family members. He also intended to drop off that day’s newspaper, after reading it, to a 90-year-old woman who lives across the street.
Helping others alleviates his boredom and helps him cope, he said.
“Regardless of how bad things are, there are so many people who have it much worse,” he said.
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