Blood supplies remain at a critical level in Rhode Island, and nationwide, with supplies at perhaps a fraction of what they should be, and blood collection agencies wary of their ability to provide adequate blood products in case of emergencies.

It’s the worst blood shortage in more than a decade, according to the American Red Cross.

In Rhode Island, the blood supply is at one to two days, when typically, it’s at seven days, according to Kara LeBlanc, Rhode Island Blood Center Marketing and Communications Manager.

The spike in COVID, the weather, and staff shortages are all contributing to the supply emergency, LeBlanc said. “It’s really just a perfect storm.

“…The concern is further exacerbated by seasonal decreases in donations during the holidays as people travel more and become busier, as well as weather and COVID-19 variants potentially further decreasing turnout.”

COVID is also forcing the cancelation of blood drives. LeBlanc said “two large size sponsors went back to remote” workplaces, canceling drives. 

“During this unprecedented time, adequate blood supply has been critically low,” said Phyllis A. Dennery, MD, FAAP, Pediatrician-in-Chief and Medical Director of Hasbro Children’s Hospital.Blood is essential in allowing us to provide the most advanced pediatric medical care to our young patients. Hasbro has the only Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in Rhode Island and is staffed around the clock. If we all do our part by donating blood, we will make a real difference to ensure that we are ready for any emergency.”

LeBlanc said blood supplies have never rebounded during the pandemic. She noted several factors contributing to the shortage: 

  • Donor fatigue from constant urgent/critical messages and a decrease in first time donors stepping up to help.
  • Working from home is the new normal, preventing many organizations from being able to host successful blood drives.
  • Almost 30 percent of donors who book appointments do not show for up for them. The center cannot replace those precious lost donations when trying to fill the appointments.
  • Fear of COVID-19 infections and new variants may be keeping donors away, despite the center continuing COVID safety measures and ensuring donors that COVID-19 cannot be contracted through blood donation or transfusion.
  • More donors calling to cancel appointments due to temporary COVID-19 quarantines. 
  • Many high schools and colleges, which accounted for close to 20 percent of RIBC’s blood donations, have not returned to hosting blood drives. 
  • Donor confusion over eligibility around vaccination status. In most cases, there is no deferral period to donate blood after receiving a vaccine as long as you are feeling well enough to give. 
  • Currently, there is no national surplus. Prior to the pandemic, a national surplus of blood products would be used to mitigate regional shortages. 

The Blood Center said it is taking extra precautions to help prevent the person-to-person spread of COVID-19. RIBC staff are vaccinated. People are not eligible to donate if they’re experiencing a cold, sore throat, respiratory infection or flu-like symptoms. People can donate blood regardless of vaccination status, and those who have recovered from COVID can donate if they are free of symptoms. Questions about eligibility can be emailed to RIBC’s medical team at medicalstaff@ribc.org.

Donors are being asked to book appointments through the RIBC website, www.ribc.org,  or by calling 401.453.8383. Walk-ins can only be accepted if safe social distancing allows at the time of arrival, the Blood Center said. 

The Aquidneck Island Donor Center is located at 688 Aquidneck Ave., Middletown Its hours are Monday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday, noon to 7:30 p.m.; and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.