As if fighting the COVID pandemic wasn’t challenging enough, hospitals are now facing a critical shortage of blood.

The shortage has forced the American Red Cross to limit blood distributions to hospitals in recent weeks, according to a recent news release from the Red Cross.

The blood shortage, “is a major threat to the well-being of the community,” said Dr. Nicolas Restrepo, quality and patient safety officer for Valley Health, parent company of six regional hospitals.

Because of the critically low supply, Restrepo said that as of Monday that the Red Cross can no longer tap into its reserve of blood donations to offer emergency relief to hospitals.

America’s dire blood shortage is another casualty of the rising coronavirus case counts, Restrepo said.

“From a supply chain standpoint, blood is at a critically low level,” he said.

The Red Cross, which supplies 40% of the nation’s blood, often petitions the community for donations around the holiday season when it’s low on support and in January during National Blood Donor Month.

But it’s worse this year.

“In fact, on certain days, some hospitals may not receive as much as one-quarter of the blood products requested,” the news release said. “Blood cannot be manufactured or stockpiled and can only be made available through the kindness of volunteer donors.”

The situation especially affects hospitals like Winchester Medical Center, which is a regional destination for critical care and wouldn’t normally divert patients elsewhere because other similarly equipped hospitals may be hours away.

“This hospital does not have the ability to divert like other hospitals do,” Restrepo said.

Valley Health, which also draws from the INOVA Blood Donor Services, will help organize area blood drives in the coming weeks to ease the problem, he said.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross asks people willing to donate blood to make an appointment at redcrossblood.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

“The Red Cross has experienced a 10% decline in the number of people donating blood since the beginning of the pandemic and continues to confront relentless issues due to the pandemic, including ongoing blood drive cancellations and staffing limitations,” the release says.

All blood types are needed, especially types O-positive and O-negative, as well as platelet donations, it says.

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