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FAQ on Novel Coronavirus and Blood Donation

March 27, 2020 at 9:44 am
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March 16, 2020 — Update Regarding “Shelter-in-Place” Notice

A “shelter in place” order was issued this afternoon for San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda counties. We understand that this is a time of great uncertainty and so we want to assure you that, as a health care organization, we are taking every precaution to prevent the spread of coronavirus. As an organization that provides critical services, however, we also have a commitment to those we serve; and, per the mandate, we — and, by derivation, our donors (without whom we could not provide essential products to patients) — are exempted from the shelter in place.

While it may seem as if the world has stopped — and indeed, in certain sectors, it has — we as a community cannot forget about hospital patients in critical need. Even with a shelter in place in effect, individuals in our community — potentially even individuals we know personally — will continue to be in car accidents, need emergency organ transplants, give birth to babies in critical condition, and need chemotherapy. In short, there will still be lives that need saving. While the risk to most of us of leaving our house is mild sickness, the risk to patients if we stop showing up is potentially the difference between life and death.

We cannot lose sight of those who depend on blood donations. We know that asking you to leave your house at a time like this seems like a lot, but we want to assure you that there is no increased risk to contracting coronavirus from visiting a donation center or mobile blood drive, and that we are taking extra safety precautions and being extremely careful with our safety procedures so as to ensure the continued health of our donors. In particular, increased distancing between donors as well as extreme sanitation procedures in place at our donation locations makes them one of the safest public spaces to visit.

Remember that, like most respiratory viruses, the best way to keep yourself healthy is by washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your eye, nose and mouth with unclean hands. At this time, we are not advising those over the age of 65 and donors who are at higher risk to come in to donate, per government recommendation.

Donating blood is an ESSENTIAL service to ensure patient safety. Now is the time to step up and be a real hero for your community. We hope that you will join us in continuing to provide for those who need it most.

With our deepest gratitude,

Harpreet Sandhu
CEO/Executive Director, Stanford Blood Center

 

………..

SOURCES:

* https://www.sfchronicle.com/local-politics/article/Bay-Area-must-shelter-in-place-Only-15135014.php
“Everyone is to work from home, or stop working, unless they provide an essential service, which includes health care workers; police, fire and other emergency responders; and utility providers such as electricians, plumbers, and sanitation workers.”

Shelter in Place “Essential Business” activities exemption
https://www.sccgov.org/sites/phd/DiseaseInformation/novel-coronavirus/Pages/order-health-officer-031620.aspx

  • 10.a. For purposes of this Order, individuals may leave their residence only to perform any of the following “Essential Activities:”
    • 10.a.4 To perform work providing essential products and services at an Essential Business or to otherwise carry out activities specifically permitted in this Order, including Minimum Basic Operations.
  • 10.f. For the purposes of this Order, “Essential Businesses” means:
    • 10.f.1. Healthcare Operations and Essential Infrastructure;

 


 

Friday, February 28 marked the first case of unknown origin of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) within Santa Clara County, and a small number of additional cases have been confirmed since then. We would like to take this opportunity to provide some additional information about coronavirus and blood donation. Our hope is that people interested in donating blood consider all of the facts of the situation, namely that COVID-19 does not pose any known risk to blood donors during the donation process or from attending blood drives. We would like to encourage all blood donors to continue to uphold their commitment to helping local patients, who continuously depend on life-saving transfusions.

 

What is 2019 novel coronavirus?

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new strain of the coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in late 2019. The virus has spread globally, and there are currently a small number of cases within Santa Clara County.

 

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. These symptoms will vary person to person, though most individuals with coronavirus will experience mild to moderate symptoms that do not require hospitalization. Note that most individuals exhibiting these common flu-like symptoms do not have novel coronavirus.

 

How does it spread?

According to Stanford Health Care, the virus is believed to spread “by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” similar to the common cold or flu. Accordingly, the best way to prevent getting the virus is by washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with your mouth, nose and eyes when your hands are dirty. For more specific guidelines, see “How do I stay healthy?” below. Note that COVID-19 does not pose any known risk to blood donors during the donation process or from attending blood drives.

 

Why is it critical that I continue to give blood during this time? Is it okay to play it safe and hold off until the virus dies down?

Even with a shelter in place in effect, individuals in our community — potentially even individuals we know personally — will continue to be in car accidents, need emergency organ transplants, give birth to babies in critical condition, and need chemotherapy. In short, there will still be lives that need saving. While the risk to most of us of leaving our house is mild sickness, the risk to patients if we stop showing up is potentially the difference between life and death. We understand that this is a stressful time and want to assure you that we are taking your health and wellness very seriously. All of our practices are designed with this in mind, and additional policies around sanitation and increased distance between donors (to the degree possible) have been implemented as an extra precaution. (See “What measures is SBC taking to ensure donor safety” below.)

 

If your appointment schedule is filling up when I want to donate, should I walk into a center?

Firstly, thank you for trying to schedule! At this time, we are discouraging walk-ins so that we can better regulate donor flow and maximize social distancing. If you do decide to walk in, please be prepared for the possibility of an extended wait time to accommodate social distancing best practices. We encourage anyone who is able to make the next available appointment at sbcdonor.org or 888-723-7831. Even if that isn’t right away, you’ll still be helping maintain a steady supply of blood products for patients as they continue to need support in the coming weeks.

 

Is there a risk of getting coronavirus from donating blood?

COVID-19 does not pose any known risk to blood donors during the donation process or from attending blood drives. Please keep in mind that, since blood donors must be healthy and without fever on the day of donation, the risk of exposure to a sick person is extremely low at a blood drive.

 

What measures is SBC taking to ensure donor safety?

  • As always, all of our equipment during the donation process is sterilized, and most is single-use only.
  • Hand sanitizers are placed next to all donation chairs and in each history booth.
  • All donor areas, including the reception/waiting area, canteen, history booths and donation chairs are cleaned frequently.
  • We have increased the spacing between donation chairs to approximately six feet apart or more (to the extent possible) so that there is more distance between donors during the donation process.
  • SBC team members wear gloves while interacting with donors during the entire donation process.
  • SBC is continuing to strictly enforce the policy that team members must NOT report to work if they are feeling unwell.

 

What is done to ensure those donating are healthy and well?

  • Per our usual policy, anyone who comes to donate is required to be feeling healthy and well; donors are asked if they are feeling well on their donor history questionnaire as soon as they register and are not permitted to stay and donate if they report any symptoms of illness.
  • Before anyone is allowed to donate, they have their temperature taken confidentially in the history booth and are not permitted to stay and donate if they have a fever.
  • The day before their appointment, all donors are sent a reminder email that will include heightened language around ensuring they are feeling well the day of donation and asking that they not come in if they have any symptoms of illness.
  • The reminder email and a poster at registration informs donors that they are not able to donate if they have any risk factors for coronavirus, such as travel to a high risk country or close contact with a person with coronavirus in the past 28 days.

 

I feel healthy, but I’m worried that I have coronavirus but am asymptomatic. Is it still okay to donate?

We really appreciate your concern! The first thing to note is that respiratory viruses are not known to be transmitted by blood transfusion, and there is no evidence to-date that this coronavirus (SAR-CoV-2) can be transfusion-transmitted.

That said, routine blood donor evaluation will prevent individuals with respiratory infections from donating.  Blood donors must be healthy and have no symptoms of illness or fever on the day of donation (we take temperature on site, per our usual policy).  In addition, we are taking extra precautions for COVID-19 and have in place deferrals for travel to a high-risk region or close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.

In addition, if you ever do start to develop symptoms, we have a Post-Donation Callback Line that you can call after your donation, and we will immediately perform the appropriate follow-up. This goes for any illness.

If you are not experiencing any symptoms of illness and have not had any known exposure or high-risk travel, we would love for you to come donate! We and patients in our community hospitals that need blood transfusions appreciate your willingness to donate during this difficult time for all of us.

 

What countries/areas are currently on the list of “high-risk regions” that would constitute a travel deferral?

Please see this list of high-risk regions for our most updated travel deferrals. If you have visited one of the places listed, you will be deferred from donating for 28 days following your date of departure from the high-risk region. If in doubt about any recent travel you have had (overseas or domestic), give us a call at 888-723-7831.

 

How can I keep myself healthy?

Please use the following best practices for keeping yourself well:

  • Washing hands frequently with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Wiping down frequently touched surfaces like phones or keyboards with antibacterial wipes
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick with a respiratory illness

It is also important to stay home and minimize contact with others if you have symptoms of a respiratory illness like fever or cough.

 

Why are team members not wearing masks?

We have heard concerns about the potential risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission by asymptomatic donors or team members. Although the potential for and extent of transmission of COVID-19 from asymptomatic infected persons is not yet fully known, the CDC and other public health resources have stated that the risk of transmission is lower from asymptomatic people than from those presenting symptoms.

  • People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).
  • Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

The numerous health and safety guidelines we have in place at this time are based on leadership from our medical directors as well as recommendations and information provided by the AABB, CDC, FDA and local health departments. In accordance with their recommendations, we are not providing masks to donors or all team members at this time. Due to the shortage of face masks in the health care system at present, AABB is recommending that face masks be reserved for those healthcare professionals who are working with individuals who are suspected of having or have tested positive for COVID-19. Since our team members and donors are healthy, and the CDC does not recommend masks be work by healthy people, we are not providing masks at this time so as not to take away from those working on the front lines in greater need of masks. However, rest assured that we are monitoring the situation daily and will make any recommended changes immediately.

In the meantime, we are working to minimize risk wherever possible by implementing additional safety measures for team members and donors, including increased frequency of cleaning, and practicing increased distancing between donors and staff to the extent possible. We will continue to evaluate risks on a daily basis and will make adjustments wherever possible and necessary for the safety of our donors, team members and volunteers.

 

What should I do if I have or am suspected of having coronavirus?

If you have been diagnosed with (or are suspected of having) COVID-19, or if you have had close contact with someone diagnosed with (or suspected of having) COVID-19, please call our Resource Nurse at 650- 725-7336 to discuss your eligibility to donate. If you have recently donated blood and any of the above scenarios apply, please call our Post-Donation Callback Line at 650-724-9968 immediately so we can evaluate your previous donations.

 

What types of tests exist for COVID-19? What is the difference between an antibody test and nucleic acid test?

An antibody test will determine whether you have been exposed to the virus previously. A nucleic acid test will determine whether you have an active infection.

 

Are blood donors tested for COVID-19?

Not at this current time since there is no evidence of transfusion-transmission of this virus.

 

Can I get a blood test to find out if I have (or had) COVID-19?

The CDC has provided criteria to guide lab testing for COVID-19.  If you are concerned that you may have COVID-19, it is important that you are evaluated by a physician.  After reviewing your medical history, such as symptoms and possible exposures, a physician will determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.

 

If I have recovered from COVID-19, can I donate blood or plasma to help others?

Currently, there are national programs being developed to collect convalescent plasma for clinical trials from individuals who are fully recovered from COVID-19.  Stanford Blood Center is in the process of planning to participate in a convalescent plasma collection program.  If you had a confirmed COVID-19 infection and are fully recovered and are interested in donating plasma in this program, we will be providing additional information in the near future on how you may be able to participate.

 

Can plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 be used to treat patients with active infection?

One investigational treatment being explored for COVID-19 involves the use of convalescent plasma collected from recovered COVID-19 patients. It is possible that convalescent plasma that contains antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) might be effective against the infection. Use of convalescent plasma has been studied in outbreaks of other respiratory infections, including the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza virus pandemic, 2003 SARS-CoV-1 epidemic, and the 2012 MERS-CoV epidemic. Although promising, convalescent plasma has not been shown to be effective in every disease studied. It is therefore important to perform controlled clinical trials administering convalescent plasma to patients with COVID-19 to determine if it safe and effective.  Currently, Stanford is part of national programs to develop and initiate these clinical trials.   In addition, given the public health emergency that the expanding COVID-19 outbreak presents, the FDA is also facilitating access to COVID-19 convalescent plasma for emergency use in patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections.

Donors of convalescent plasma must meet the following criteria:

  • Prior diagnosis of COVID-19 confirmed by a laboratory test
  • Complete resolution of symptoms at least 14 days before donation
  • Negative results for COVID-19 using a molecular diagnostic test
  • Meet all standard criteria for donation

Stanford Blood Center is working closely with physicians at Stanford Hospital to implement the collection and transfusion of convalescent plasma to hospitalized patient with COVID-19 either for emergency use or in a clinical trial.

 

Where can I find updates regarding your policies on coronavirus?

See stanfordbloodcenter.org/novel-coronavirus, or for the most current travel deferral information, click here.

 

If someone can’t donate blood for any reason, are there other ways to help?

  • Absolutely! If someone has been deferred or can’t give blood for any reason, they can still make an impact in a number of ways:
    • Host a blood drive at a place of business, community organization or school. (Remember, blood drives do not qualify as large crowds or gatherings!)
    • Volunteer with us.
    • Help spread the word about the importance of donating.
  • Visit our website at stanfordbloodcenter.org/get-involved for more information.