The recent COVID-19 outbreak has created a critical shortage in blood supply that is needed by hospitals and medical facilities for surgery patients, trauma victims and patients suffering from cancer and chronic illnesses. Due to the immense number of blood drive cancellations at schools and businesses and a low donor turnout, blood banks have been left short handed.

Concerns for social distancing and fear of risking contracting COVID-19 are some of the reasons healthy, eligible donors have not ventured out to give blood.

Miller-Keystone Blood Center, which has a branch in Ewing, and the Central New Jersey branch of the American Red Cross in Princeton have made safety accommodations amid the coronavirus crisis to keep potential donors and staff healthy. At this time, there is no known risk of getting COVID-19 from blood donations or transfusions.

These local blood centers stressed that donating is safe and isn’t a “mass gathering.” They urge potential donors to visit their respective online scheduling systems to go through health screening questionnaires and make an appointment.

Cancelled blood drives across the country have resulted in approximately 355,000 fewer blood donations, creating a massive dent in supply. MKBC alone has seen almost 65 drives cancelled, totaling 1,800 donations, in the last week. In New Jersey, the Red Cross has suffered the loss of 189 drives, totaling 6,523 donations.

Both MKBC and the Red Cross have implemented recommended health procedures to create a safe and effective donor environment.

For the Red Cross, donation centers are not accepting walk-ins to abide by social distancing guidelines. Along with their normal safety protocol, they have moved to check staff and donors’ temperatures before entering a drive to make sure they are healthy, provide hand sanitizer before and during the donation process, space beds by social distancing recommendations and increased the disinfection of surfaces and equipment.

“We’re also looking at staggering donor appointments further apart to reduce the number of people at a drive at any one time,” said Alana Mauger, communications manager for Red Cross Blood Services in New Jersey. “These mitigation measures will help ensure staff and donor safety in reducing contact with those who may potentially have this, or any, respiratory infection.”

The Red Cross stresses that donors schedule their appointments ahead of time and if none are currently available to schedule one for a later date, as blood supply will undoubtedly still be needed.

With schools, colleges and businesses closed, many mobile drives were cancelled. Thankfully some organizations, like YMCAs in New Jersey, have permission to host blood drives, even though regular business is still closed.

The Red Cross will be hosting a blood drive on Friday, March 27, at the Hamilton Area YMCA-JKR Branch located at 1315 Whitehorse-Mercerville Road from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit the Red Cross online to make an appointment.

Lawrence Township manager Kevin Nerwinski, in a Facebook post March 24, announced that his municipality would also be hosting several blood drives in April in an attempt to fill the void of the ones that were cancelled. Nerwinski said more details would be released once the township figured out logistics.

MKBC has implemented similar protocols to manage donors safely and efficiently. By keeping donation chairs spaced according to social distancing, pacing the number of donors in a center at one time and disinfecting equipment and surfaces even more than before, MKBC shares that donating is a safe process.

They have also encouraged potential donors to complete their health screening questionnaires online to determine if they are eligible to donate at this time. This way the donor has a specific time to arrive and an amount of time that they will be in the center, allowing MKBC to minimize the number of people in the area.

“We just ask donors generally, if you’re healthy consider donating,” regional marketing manager for MKBC Holly Yacynych said. “If you’re not feeling well or if you believe you’ve been exposed or at risk, we would ask that you delay your donation.”

Additionally, they have expanded their hours of operation at their fixed sites, to accommodate adjusted work schedules. Some of MKBC’s mobile sites are still visiting businesses and even hospitals to allow healthy donors to give blood.

“We really want to encourage the community to come out and donate if they are healthy,” Yacynych said.

Potential donors who may have any risk factors of having COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 should postpone any donation plans.

“We understand that people have concerns right now about all aspects of public health, but want to stress that donating blood is a safe process and people should not hesitate to give,” Mauger said. “Blood drives are not considered ‘mass gatherings’ as these are controlled events with trained staff and appropriate safety measures to protect donors and recipients.”

MKBC supplies 29 hospitals in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, covering 15 counties in Pennsylvania as well as Hunterdon, Warren and Mercer counties in New Jersey. For updates on Miller-Keystone Blood Center visit, giveapint.org. Its local branch is at 400 Main Boulevard East, Suite 601 Ewing. (609) 883-9750

Donations from the Red Cross in Princeton are distributed to nearly 230 hospitals and trauma centers in the Red Cross Pennsylvania/New Jersey Blood Region. For updates on Red Cross blood drives nearby visit, redcrossblood.org and enter a zip code to find and schedule an appointment. Central New Jersey American Red Cross 707 Alexander Road, Suite 101, Princeton. (609) 951-8550.