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How can I help? Donate blood

If members of your community are looking for ways to help during the COVID-19 pandemic, direct them to these blood donation FAQs


The American Red Cross has announced a severe blood shortage due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Blood drives around the country are being canceled and donors are no-showing or canceling their appointments.

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By Emily Pearce

Many citizens in our communities have been sent home from work. Many are asking, beyond practicing social distancing in an effort to flatten the curve and washing their hands, “how can we help?”

The act of doing nothing can be difficult. I have struggled with this over the past few weeks after medical students were deemed “non-essential” and I was sent home from the hospital. Having spent well over a decade as an EMT and paramedic, the thought of not being active on the front lines, and contributing to reducing the spread of this virus has been difficult for me, especially as I watch my friends and family continue in their healthcare jobs.

While social distancing means it’s not the best time to bring homemade food to a local fire, EMS or police station, there is a way for community members to help. As life continues, so do unexpected accidents and illnesses requiring emergency surgeries. The American Red Cross has announced a severe blood shortage due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Blood drives around the country are being canceled and donors are no-showing or canceling their appointments.

Here are a few FAQs to share with your community.

Is it safe to donate blood?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is encouraging anyone who is well to consider donating blood, despite social distancing measures being put into place. Blood donation centers have been provided with recommendations from the CDC about how to keep donors and staff safe, including “spacing donor chairs 6 feet apart, thoroughly adhering to environmental cleaning practices, and encouraging donors to make donation appointments ahead of time.”

The American Red Cross is asking that people delay donating blood for at least 28 days if they have traveled to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Iran, Italy or South Korea, or have been diagnosed with or have had contact with anyone with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.

Can I donate blood?

Almost all healthy people who are feeling well can donate blood. You must be at least 16 years old and weight at least 110 lbs to donate whole blood, which is the most common type of blood donation. There are very few reasons that you would be turned away for blood donations, and most of those reasons are not permanent, so if you have been deferred from donating blood in the past, you might still be eligible to donate blood now.

You cannot donate blood if you:

  • Have a cold, flu, or other general illness – wait until 24 hours after you feel better to donate blood
  • Are taking certain medications
  • Have traveled to a malaria-risk country in the past 3 months

Depending on the type of blood donation, you can donate blood at varying frequencies:

  • Whole blood: every 56 days
  • Power Red: every 112 days, up to 3 times/year
  • Platelets: every 7 days, up to 24 times/year

The FDA revised its guidelines on Apr. 2, 2020, reducing the deferral period from 12 months to 3 months for the following donors:

  • Males who have had sex with another man
  • Females who have had sex with a man who had sex with another man
  • Those with recent tattoos and piercings

Where can I donate blood?

Find a donation center in your area through the Red Cross website.

What to do before donating blood?

  • Eat iron-rich foods (red meat, fish, poultry, beans, spinach, iron-fortified cereals, or raisins), avoid fatty foods.
  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Be well hydrated: drink at least an extra 16 oz of water before your appointment
  • Make sure you bring at least two forms of identification and your medication list to your appointment

Spread the message: Stay home. Wash your hands. And donate blood.

This unprecedented pandemic is something we will get through together, and that includes through the selfless support of everyone, whenever possible.

Emily Pearce, BS, EMT-P, FAWM, DiMM is a paramedic and third-year medical student at the University of New Mexico. Emily has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and has been involved in EMS since 2008. She has worked as an EMT-Basic in rural Virginia, a search and rescue paramedic for the National Park Service in Grand Canyon National Park, and a prehospital educator and researcher at UNM.