The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center’s stock of blood is sitting at close to a two-and-a-half-day supply. Under normal circumstances, this would be no cause for concern, said the center’s chief operating officer Elizabeth Waltman, but with a slew of blood drive cancellations in recent days, she is worried.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been this worried in my career,” Waltman said.

As health officials emphasize the need for social distancing, regularly scheduled events are canceled or postponed, and employees move to remote working situations in the wake of fear over a coronavirus spread, close to 50 local blood drives have been canceled and fewer donors are giving blood.

Peter Marks, the director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research issued an urgent call to action on Thursday, expressing concern that the country’s blood supply could quickly get depleted and surgeries could be canceled as a result.

In San Antonio on Friday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg declared a public health emergency after a previous emergency declaration expired and a local resident tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday. The San Antonio case is the first in the city not associated with repatriated evacuees quarantined at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Gov. Greg Abbott also declared the new coronavirus a statewide public health disaster.

Waltman is concerned that the depleted stock of blood will ultimately make doctors and hospitals have to defer surgeries and choose which patients are in more urgent need of blood transfusion.

Hospitals are not currently rationing blood, but if more drives cancel and donations don’t increase, that protocol could change, Waltman said. She said her center wants to build an inventory closer to 15 to 20 days of blood supply to take care of needs that might arise in a growing health crisis.

Speaking at a press conference to encourage South Texas residents to give blood, Mayor Ron Nirenberg declared giving blood an essential city function.

“We have to prevent disasters from occurring with regard to the medical community,” Nirenberg said. “This entire effort, and this call to action, is about ensuring that one of the essential functions of our medical system, being able to donate blood, and being able to receive blood if you are in need, continues.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg gets his temperature tested before entering the lobby of South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Center employees also sought to allay fears concerning safety, outlining extra protocol that had been implemented to ensure the process kept donors healthy.

Donation centers sanitize donor beds and screening rooms following donation. Center employees check the temperature of all employees before they come into work and ask donors who may have been exposed to coronavirus to self-defer. Before each donation, donors receive a mini physical, which includes a temperature check.

Should a donor discover they have coronavirus or feel ill following a donation, the donor can call a donation enter hotline. Donation centers can then recall the blood units before they get sent out for use.

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center has five locations in San Antonio and one location in New Braunfels and in Victoria. Donors can schedule appointments at one of the donor rooms by calling 210-731-5590 or visiting the center’s website. The center serves hospitals in 48 counties throughout South Texas.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.