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Jenna Sauter
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Amid what the American Red Cross is calling the worst blood shortage in over a decade, blood providers are issuing urgent calls for volunteers to come forward to donate.

“Right now, with as low as blood supplies are, with a daily need of 600 donors to fill the needs of 62 hospitals, we need donors of all blood types,” said Sue Thew, communications manager for Vitalant, a Scottsdale nonprofit that provides blood to 900 hospitals across the U.S., including 62 in Arizona.

In January, the American Red Cross declared its first national blood crisis, noting the number of people donating had dipped 10% since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. COVID-19 case surges due to the delta and omicron variants also have kept donors away.

In Arizona, school and business closures have forced thousands of blood drive cancellations, and blood drives remain 33% below prepandemic levels, Vitalant said.

Type O blood, which can be substituted for other types in emergency and trauma situations, is especially needed. The Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies also are urging more people of color to donate to help fight conditions like sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that disproportionately affects African Americans.

“African American blood donors are vital for many patients with rare blood types, like those with sickle cell disease, who depend on blood that must be matched very closely … to reduce the risk of complications,” the Red Cross notes on its website.

Platelet donations are also desperately needed. Almost half these donations are used for cancer treatments. Platelets help blood to clot; without transfusions, cancer patients may experience life-threatening bleeding.

With patients and hospitals having to reschedule surgeries that were postponed during the holidays or previous COVID-19 surges, blood use is skyrocketing.

“While some types of medical care can wait, others can’t,” Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the Red Cross, said in a statement last month. “Hospitals are still seeing accident victims, cancer patients, those with blood disorders like sickle cell disease and individuals who are seriously ill who all need blood transfusions to live.”

“We’re doing everything we can to increase blood donations to ensure every patient can receive medical treatments without delay, but we cannot do it without more donors. We need the help of the American people.”

One recent day at a Vitalant donor center in Tempe, Richard O’Connor was one of only a few people donating, as he’s done for the past 45 years.

“I think as a member of society, it’s your civic duty – it’s your ethical duty – to donate,” he said. “My parents taught me way back in high school that it’s an honorable thing, and to do it while you can.”

To schedule an appointment to donate, visit redcross.org or vitalant.org.

Cronkite News reporter Anna Stansfield contributed to this report.

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