How to Donate Blood

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As the coronavirus spread across the country, the nation’s blood supply faced a dire shortage. Blood drives were canceled when businesses closed, and many people feared going into donation centers.

Now, as hospitals resume elective surgeries and some Americans once again venture out of their homes, the rate of blood donations has yet to bounce back to previous levels.

Chris Hrouda, president of biomedical services for the American Red Cross, which collects about 40 percent of the country’s blood donations, calls it a “staggering” drop in supply.

“Our inventories have been cut in half,” Mr. Hrouda said. “We’re starting to get into a critical situation.”

As an incentive, starting June 15 and for at least several months thereafter, anyone donating blood, platelets or plasma will be tested for Covid-19 antibodies, to see if they’ve had the virus. (To be clear, this is a test for antibodies, not coronavirus itself.)

Here’s what you need to know about donating in a time of crisis.

How can I find a place to donate?

Check the A.A.B.B. (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks) locator, visit the Red Cross website, or call (800) RED-CROSS. If you live in New York City, contact the New York Blood Center. You can also find information through the America’s Blood Centers website or call (202) 393-5725.

If you can’t make an immediate appointment, don’t bow out! The nation’s blood supplies are likely to be in jeopardy for some time to come.

Who can give blood?

Almost any healthy person can, although requirements may vary by state. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration loosened some restrictions, including making it easier for gay and bisexual men to donate.

Talk to your local center about eligibility guidelines. In most states you have to be 17 years old and above; with parental consent, some states allow donors to be 16. You must weigh at least 110 pounds. There are no standing upper age limits.

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Dr. Claudia Cohn, director of the Blood Bank Laboratory at the University of Minnesota and chief medical officer of A.A.B.B., said in an interview earlier this year that normally, older Americans are the country’s best donors.

“They give a disproportionate amount of blood,” Dr. Cohn said. “Even though we think their risk is very low, we want to protect them if they want to be careful about going out.”

That means centers are asking younger people to step up and donate more than they usually do.

Can you get coronavirus by donating blood?

“This is not a blood-borne disease, that is clear,” Dr. Cohn said. “Blood itself is safe.” Coronaviruses in general don’t seem to be blood transmissible, as evidence from earlier outbreaks of SARS and MERS has shown.

How are blood centers ensuring donor safety?

“We completely understand people are hesitant,” said Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of biomedical services at the American Red Cross, earlier this year. “We want to reassure the public that we’re handling this with an abundance of caution.”

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 12, 2020

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Red Cross blood centers have ramped up ordinary procedures, with staff members masked, gloved and conducting extra temperature checks, on both themselves and donors. All surfaces are repeatedly wiped down and donors are spaced six feet apart.

“With centers taking extra measures to eliminate risk, it’s safer than going to the store,” Dr. Cohn said.

I was told to stay home. Can I still donate?


“The recommendations are to shelter in place except for essential things,” said Dr. Young. “Public health officials recognize that blood donation is essential and they’ve made an exception for it.”

Can I donate if I’ve had the coronavirus or Covid-19?

Yes, with some caveats.

Your donation might actually be extra-valuable. So-called convalescent plasma — drawn from donors who’ve recovered from the disease — contains viral antibodies.

“Antibody therapy holds promise for the treatment of current Covid-19 patients and it’s being tested now,” said Eduardo Nunes, a spokesman with the A.A.B.B. “Most centers prefer you to have been symptom-free for 28 days before donating.”

You must meet certain other qualifications; for more information see the website.

Christopher Flavelle contributed reporting.