Public health officials are facing a massive shortage of blood donations during the coronavirus outbreak, which could hurt the ability to care for millions of people who rely on those donations.
More than 2,700 American Red Cross blood drives have been canceled since the outbreak hit, resulting in 86,000 fewer blood donations, according to Dr. Pampee Young, the organization’s chief medical officer.
As more schools, workplaces, churches and college campuses close down in response to the pandemic, those institutions have had to cancel their blood drives. Urgent recommendations to practice social distancing have also resulted in fewer people donating blood at local centers.
“Issues with social distancing are making folks nervous about coming in,” Young said. But “the consequence is pretty serious.”
More than 4.5 millions people in the U.S. get a blood transfusion annually, with sickle cell disease and cancer patients needing blood and platelet transfusions regularly. And they can’t simply stop treatment during another crisis.
“All of these patients have to continue their treatment,” Young said. “It doesn’t stop in a pandemic.”
Unlike bars, cafes, gyms and restaurants, blood donation centers are not public gatherings, and therefore don’t need to be avoided during this period of distancing, Young said.
Government health agencies have echoed this. Not only is it safe to donate blood right now ― the FDA has said there have been no reported or suspected cases of transfusion-transmitted coronavirus ― but it’s also crucial.
“Part of preparedness includes a robust blood supply,” Brett P. Giroir, assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement last week.
“It is safe to donate blood … healthy individuals should schedule an appointment to donate today to ensure that blood is available for those patients who need it,” he said.
Red Cross blood donation centers have taken several steps to ensure that donating blood is as safe an experience as possible.
Staff members’ temperatures are taken daily, and donors also have their temperature taken before they enter the Red Cross facilities. To comply with social distancing measures, appointments are made so that fewer donors are in the facilities together, and once inside, the beds are spaced out to ensure limited donor interaction.
“We believe very sincerely that it’s safe,” Young said.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.