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Sonoma County politicians organize blood drives amid donation shortage

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More than half of the blood drives across the Bay Area were canceled this month amid the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a shortage in donations that concerned two Sonoma County lawmakers and prompted them to organize two community blood drives.

Concerned by the shortage, state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, teamed with nonprofit Vitalant to organize two blood drives at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds Friday and next Tuesday. Appointments for both drives booked up within minutes of being announced.

“There is an urgent need to replenish blood supplies during the coronavirus and Sonoma County has stepped up big time to help meet the demand,” McGuire said in a statement. “While I am never surprised by our county’s generosity, we were blown away by the quick response.”

Vitalant tries to make giving blood as convenient as possible for donors by setting up drives at their place of work or at local schools, said Kent Corley, a Santa Rosa spokesman for Vitalant.

But as Sonoma County officials ramped up measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay home order, roughly 45 Bay Area blood drives slated for March were canceled. Corley estimated that equated to 1,233 units of blood Vitalant was unable to collect.

In Sonoma County, six drives were canceled and 125 units of blood went uncollected, he said.

Blood donation is considered an essential service, so Vitalant is still operating. Corley said the nonprofit has seen an increase in donations at its centers, but those don’t add up to the total number of donations they missed getting so far this month.

“When businesses close down and those drives are canceled, those employees … don’t necessarily think, ‘Oh, I need to give a donation somewhere else,’ ” Corley said.

Already, Vitalant is seeing more companies canceling blood drives scheduled for the coming months as well. For April so far, 37 blood drives have been scrapped, equal to 1,096 units of blood not collected across the Bay Area, Corley said.

While the county isn’t in an “emergency” situation needing blood immediately, he said hospitals still need blood on a regular basis to treat current patients, such as those suffering from trauma incidents. He wondered how long the existing blood supply would be able to sustain hospitals’ operations, worrying particularly about a shortage of O negative blood, which is the universal blood type often used in the emergency room.

“So far in our local hospitals, inventory has not been a problem — patients are getting the blood they need,” he said. “(But) how long might this last? … The longer this goes, the rougher it’s going to be to maintain an adequate blood supply.”

Health officials have emphasized it is perfectly safe to donate blood at this time. Vitalant also has begun additional safety precautions in light of the pandemic, including social distancing inside its centers and taking temperatures when people walk in through the door.

Donations are made by appointment only, and are scheduled to ensure there’s little overlap between donors.

“If people are looking for a way that they can take action and actually help the community, making a blood donation is actually the best thing they can do,” Corley said. “One donation can save up to three lives, so it’s a pretty valuable thing.”

Healthy individuals who wish to make a blood donation appointment can call 877-258-4825 or go online to vitalant.org.

For more stories on the coronavirus, go here.

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