Photo: Pictured above, Board of Directors Chair for the local American Red Cross chapter Kristi Kent (center) joins volunteers to register potential donors at the downtown Gadsden blood drive on Friday July 24. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)
By Emma Kirkemier, Staff Correspondent
American Red Cross hosted two blood drives in the Gadsden/Etowah County area.
The first blood drive was conducted at the Gadsden Downtown Civic Center on Broad Street last Friday, July 24, and the second was in Rainbow City at Christ Central Church on Highway 77 on Thursday, July 30.
Kristi Kent, Board of Directors Chairperson for the local chapter of American Red Cross, Gadsden office, said that there is currently a blood shortage.
The coronavirus has caused a slowdown in blood donation, she said, impacting both the capacity of blood drives to be conducted safely and the willingness of community members to donate blood.
“[The blood shortage is] more profound now because of the COVID, simply because when COVID first hit, we weren’t able to have many blood drives,” Kent said. “People are more reluctant to give, to come out and be exposed to other people, so I think that’s probably part of it.”
Kent, who was volunteering at the civic center blood drive, outlined the safety precautions taken for the safety of both donors and volunteers.
“Before they even enter, we have to take their temperature,” she said. “We have to ask the questions about COVID: Have they been out of the country? Have they been exposed to COVID? Have they had any symptoms of COVID? All of those things. Of course, [we’re] wearing masks, wearing gloves, staying 6 feet apart. We have to keep all the people who are waiting 6 feet apart; we have to keep the donor tables 6 feet apart.”
Kent specified that anyone with a temperature above 99.5 degrees is not permitted to give blood at Red Cross blood drives.
To help ease social distancing concerns, potential donors can make appointments for specific blood drives via the Red Cross app or website, at https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive.
Combating the shortage and navigating the safety restrictions, however, are many volunteers, coming out either to give blood or to help conduct blood drives. Kent said that while there is still a shortage, Red Cross is seeing an increase in blood donation.
An added incentive for giving blood is the COVID-19 antibody test. Kent said that when donors give blood, they are given a sheet of paper with a number to call so that “they can find out if they have the antibodies for COVID-19.” She explained that after donation, all donated blood in Alabama is sent to a central lab to be tested and then redistributed throughout the state.
“It goes to the lab to be tested so that we know if they’ve been exposed to anything or if there’s some reason we can’t take their blood or we can’t keep their blood,” Kent said. “And then we usually notify them too.”
Kent emphasized the importance of giving blood, especially in a shortage, as a way to help the community.
“Because we do have a shortage, you may have a family member that comes up that needs a blood transfusion,” she said. “You can always ask for Red Cross blood, too. You don’t have to take just whatever blood; you can request to have Red Cross blood.”
Kent has been involved in Red Cross for six years as a volunteer and as a board member. She has served as board chairperson for four years.
“To me, being a board person is more than just being a board person or saying you’re a board person; it’s being involved in volunteering and helping,” she said.