APPLETON (NBC 26) — January is National Blood Donor month and blood banks say they're more in need of donations now than ever. The American Red Cross of Wisconsin says donations are currently at a historic low after seeing a consistent decrease in donors since the start of the pandemic.
“We’re down 10% percent of our donors actually coming in the door and this really started trending when COVID started in 2020,” said regional communications manager Laura McGuire.
McGuire says surges in COVID cases have forced many places to cancel blood drives, especially schools, which are one of the blood bank's largest suppliers.
“High schools and colleges supply about 80% of our blood," McGuire said. "We saw blood drive cancellations at schools and businesses, basically they were shutting their doors, we were not able to go in."
The pandemic has also put a strain on donations at the Community Blood Center in Appleton. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Todd Straus says the recent surge of the omicron variant has only exacerbated the blood shortage.
“Just like the rest of the nation, we’re also seeing some pretty low inventory levels of our blood," Straus said. "We have COVID which is running a pretty big peak lately and that takes out our staff, takes out our donors.”
The blood shortage means that blood banks aren't able to meet the supply their hospital partners need. The Red Cross tries to have a 5 day supply of blood on hospital shelves at all times, but now some of their blood products are experiencing less than a half a day supply. The shortage forces hospitals to make the difficult decision to delay care for certain patients.
“Some hospitals are getting put in that really unfortunate position of having to decide do they do elective surgeries, do they not do elective surgeries, and who gets the blood," McGuire said.
“There’s no substitute for a volunteer blood donor. So if we don’t have the blood that the hospital needs, they can’t do everything they need to do," Straus said.
That’s why blood banks are urging the public to donate. To incentivize donors, the Red Cross has partnered with the NFL, automatically entering anyone who donates in January to win a trip to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles or a home theater package to watch the game at home.
It's a process that only takes about 15 minutes - and it just might save a life.
“We're really asking the public to roll up their sleeves, to come in, give blood," McGuire said. "It’s regarding all of us to really come together to stop this crisis from happening.”