The Red Cross declares national anemia. How to help: NPR

A woman arrives at an American Red Cross blood drive to help alleviate a lack of blood supply due to the coronavirus pandemic at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March 2020 in Las Vegas.

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Ethan Miller / Getty Images


A woman arrives at an American Red Cross blood drive to help alleviate a lack of blood supply due to the coronavirus pandemic at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March 2020 in Las Vegas.

Ethan Miller / Getty Images

The American Red Cross says the nation is facing its worst anemia in more than a decade, citing a drop in blood supply due to the pandemic.

The organization said Tuesday that the “national blood crisis” threatens patient care and forces doctors to make difficult choices about who is capable of receiving blood transfusions, and it urges people to donate.

In recent weeks, the Red Cross – which supplies about 40% of the country’s blood – has had less than a day’s supply of critical blood types and has had to limit the distribution of blood products to hospitals. It says that sometimes up to a quarter of the hospital’s blood needs are not covered.

What is the cause of the deficiency

There has been a significant drop in donations during the pandemic, and weather conditions and staff restrictions have caused ongoing cancellations of scheduled blood runs. There has been an overall decrease in blood donation of 10% since March 2020, and a decrease of 62% in blood withdrawals at universities and colleges during the pandemic, it states.

This is not the first such shortage since the beginning of COVID-19 – in April 2020, for example, the federal government loosened the restrictions on receiving blood donations from gay men because of what it described as an unprecedented shortage in the US blood supply (critics claims that the ban is based on stigma rather than science in the first place). But by declaring this a historic crisis, officials are increasing the urgency.

“Winter weather across the country and the recent rise in COVID-19 cases are exacerbating the already serious situation facing the blood supply,” said Dr. Baia Lasky, Medical Director of the Red Cross, in a statement. “Please, if you are eligible, make an appointment to donate blood or platelets in the coming days and weeks to ensure that no patient is forced to wait for critical care.”

Incentives to donate

The Red Cross is asking donors of all blood types, but especially type O, to make an appointment now to give in the coming weeks. It is also looking for volunteers to help with blood tests and transport blood products to hospitals.

It asks donors to consider ordering additional appointments in advance, as “the availability of drives may be affected, the need for blood remains constant.” Blood cannot be produced or stored, it adds.

For an added incentive, the Red Cross is partnering with the NFL this month, which is National Blood Donor Month. Individuals who donate blood, platelets or plasma are automatically given 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 match at home.

You can book an appointment to donate blood or platelets through the Red Cross Blood Donor app, on the organization’s website, or by calling 1-800-THE RED CROSS. There are also regional and local blood banks across the country.

Here’s more about what to do before, during and after your appointment.

A version of this story originally appeared in that Morning edition live blog.

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