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Nationwide blood shortage due to COVID-19 surge hits home on Central, South Coasts

The blood collection centers on the Central and South Coasts operated by the non-profit group Vitalant are reporting donations have reached critically low levels as a result of the pandemic.

Fewer donors going to centers, and pandemic reducing the number of community blood drives.

Michael Harbert is about to do something he’s been doing regularly lately.

He’s giving blood at a Ventura blood donation center.

"I'm healthy, and A, it's the right thing to do, and B, I feel good about it," said Harbert.

But, organizations which collect critically needed blood say they need many more people like Harbert. We’re facing the biggest nationwide blood shortage in a decade.

"We really are in an urgent situation right now," said Susan Noone, the Regional Director for Vitalant Central Coast. "We like to have a supply of about four days on hand. Right now, we have less than a two day," said Noone.

The more than seven decade old non-profit agency operates four major blood collection centers on the Central and South Coasts.

Noone says the COVID-19 surge is having a number of impacts. Fewer donors are visiting the centers. A new wave of business shutdowns has made it harder to organize community blood drives. And, the centers have had to operate short-staffed because of employees getting sick with the virus.

She says there is also some fear about going to donate, and also confusion, especially if someone had COVID. Noon says you can check guidelines online, as well as register, but in most cases if you don’t have an active case of the virus you can donate.

COVID-19 isn't transmitted though blood, and can't be spread that way.

Dillon Francis of Ventura is a regular donor.

"This facility is so well run, I had no nerves about it," said Francis. Every time I've been here, I've felt safe."

Harbert says he just started giving during the pandemic. The military veteran says it feels good to know that he’s supporting first responders, as well as people facing health emergencies.

And, Harbert has something special to give. He has Type O negative blood, which is the most versatile for transfusions. But, only about 7% of the population has it. He says it feel great to make a difference, and hopes other will step up to do something which is so quick and easy, but can save lives.

Vitalant has four blood collection centers on the Central and South Coasts. They’re in Ventura, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo.