There is nothing to be afraid of here. The place is full of space. Hand sanitizer. Rubber gloves and people in medical gowns. There’s a deep clean every night.
But what should make anyone nervous about the Bloodworks Northwest blood centers is what could happen in the days ahead, when the blood supply — currently stable — starts to thin out.
“We’ve met the supply demands for now,” Bloodworks Northwest President and CEO Curt Bailey said on Friday. “But we don’t know what’s going to happen in three weeks or a month. We don’t know what’s ahead.”
Days after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee closed schools statewide on March 11, Bloodworks Northwest stopped on-site school and corporate blood drives and bloodmobiles, which meant a 25% drop in donations “right out of the gate,” Bailey said.
And because of social distancing, Bloodworks is scheduling fewer appointments at its 12 donation centers around the region. The decision has halved the number of appointments they are able to take per day.
“When the schools closed, that’s when I realized that COVID-19 was going to wreak havoc on the blood supply,” Bailey said. “When I realized, OK, this is different. And if this continues, the blood supply will collapse without intervention from the community.”
Bailey reached out to mayors, fire departments, large employers and governments, urging them to ask people to donate blood.
They did, and it worked, he said. The community responded — but Bloodworks Northwest had to ask donors to make appointments. No more walk-ins. Doing so allowed staff to take the extra safety precautions needed, on top of the stringent screening process.
“We’re just trying to build resilience,” Bailey said. “That is what the game is now.”
To that end, Bloodworks Northwest is brainstorming ways to keep donations coming.
One thought is to segment workers according to their locations, so that they don’t have to travel close together in the bloodmobiles for long periods of time. They would man pop-up donation centers where small numbers of donors could gather and give safely.
That could happen soon, Bailey said.
“As of right this moment, I feel confident that there is a safe blood supply,” he said. “That has not always been the case, and it may not continue. Things change every day, every hour, every minute.”
For that moment, though, things were running smoothly, and donors were coming in, keeping 6 feet apart.
Stuart Baker, 31, was donating platelets, which meant a longer donation time than giving whole blood. He made an appointment two weeks ago, after he heard that schools and businesses were not hosting drives. And he wasn’t worried about safety, what with the sanitizer, gloves and social distancing.
“It isn’t much different than going to the grocery store,” said Baker, an environmental scientist for Snohomish County. “Maybe a step better. And a little bit of discomfort is worth the contribution.”
Gavin Sisk, a medical photographer, walked the block from Virginia Mason Medical Center to make a donation on Friday.
“I felt a little bit of Catholic guilt,” Sisk explained of his decision to donate. “It’s impossible to get rid of.”
But there is also a sense of need, especially for his blood type — B-negative. Less than 2% of the population has B-negative blood, according to the Red Cross.
“The rarest,” Sisk said. “So I feel a real sense of need. And I’m just hearing the news that the levels are low.
“And really,” he added, “there’s nothing to prevent me from giving.”
Said Bailey: “Everyone is a first responder when it comes to the blood supply.”