It’s a rainy, chilly Tuesday in Fairfield, Calif., the spring blooms drooping under the March wet. The forecast mirrors the national mood amidst the COVID-19 pandemic: a sober longing for warmer, brighter days.
Inside the American Red Cross Solano County chapter office, the outlook is undeniably more optimistic. In place of the normal tables and chairs are padded beds, techs bustling about in red scrubs, glass vials, plastic tubing, gauze and the ubiquitous red blood drop stress balls. The office’s Red Cross inhabitants have made room to welcome a new team and a lifesaving service: a blood drive.
Spearheaded by Solano County Disaster Program Manager Vincent Valenzuela, the drive was organized in response to the ever-present need for blood donations. With the COVID-19 outbreak forcing many communities to shelter in place, the Red Cross has cancelled approximately 7,000 scheduled blood drives, resulting in nearly 200,000 fewer blood donations. Someone within the US needs blood every two seconds, regardless if there’s a pandemic; the need is constant.
“My thought was ‘why not host a blood drive (at the Fairfield office)?’” said Valenzuela, sitting in his office while waiting to give blood. “We have the space, we have the means to host a drive here, so let’s make it happen.”
And happen it did: donation slots filled quickly once registration opened online. Despite the grey skies and a late start, the drive was soon up to speed and collecting much-needed blood.
While donors may have initially been hesitant to leave their homes during the current “social distancing” mandate, the Red Cross added additional measures to ensure safety. Donors’ temperatures were taken as soon as they entered the office; anyone with a fever was sent home. Jugs of hand sanitizer were visibly stationed around the room. Donor beds, situated further apart to allow for social distancing, were wiped down with sterile wipes after each donation. Even the ever-present red blood drop squeeze balls were encased in a new latex glove for each donor.
These additional precautions, in step with the FDA-mandated measures already in place for blood donations, have allowed the Red Cross to continue blood procurement at drives like Fairfield and many new drives being added across the country every day. Efforts to reassure the public that it is indeed safe to venture out to give blood is clearly paying off as evidenced by the growing demand for more opportunities to give. Potential donors are requested to persist in their search for an available drive in their area, even if they must adjust the date and search radius parameters.
By day’s end, the Fairfield drive had taken in nearly 30 units of lifesaving blood, potentially saving up to 90 lives. As donors lingered in the canteen area, sipping apple juice and nibbling Cheez-Its, they chatted as strangers united in a new, shared reality: the challenges of working from home, or not working at all; the best nearby grocery stores to procure eggs; the unseen elephant in every room: COVID-19.
While there are not yet answers to the many unknowns posited by the pandemic, there is reassurance in the ability to be of service to others. Please join the Red Cross by being of service to your community, your neighbors, your loved ones by giving blood – now and often. For more information and to search for a blood drive in your community, please visit RedCrossBlood.org.