Harsh winter weather leads to steep drop in blood donations

For immediate release: January 19, 2024   (24-011)

Contact: DOH Communications

Blood banks urge donors to make appointments to help prevent Code Red emergency

OLYMPIA – Blood banks and organizations that serve Washington and the Northwest are close to calling a Code Red – a critical supply warning to hospitals and emergency departments that donated blood is running out fast.

A Code Red is declared after four consecutive days of emergency blood levels. It rarely happens due to a single event, but January’s cold weather caused a severe dent in emergency blood supplies beyond the usual donation slowdown during the holidays.

“It's typically something we don't declare more than once every year or two. Conditions need to come together like a ‘perfect storm’ in order to really jeopardize the blood supply,” said John Yeager, senior media content strategist at Bloodworks Northwest in Seattle.

Jennifer Hawkins, regional director of Vitalant in Spokane, said in seasonal terms, the holiday lull was not much different than in previous years. What makes the situation different now is that the cold weather and icy conditions make it harder for donors to make their appointments. “We have canceled most of our mobile blood drives due to extremely low temperatures, snow, and ice and closures around the Inland Northwest,” she said. “But patient need doesn’t go on a holiday, and we no longer have reserves to ride through the slow times.”

The American Red Cross in Washington also had problems resupplying collection sites because of road closures and icy conditions, forcing the cancellation of blood drives across the state. Additional challenges lie ahead as seasonal illnesses like the flu and COVID-19 keep donors from meeting their appointments.

The shortages are most severe in Type O negative blood, which is at emergency levels, but there is also great need for O+, A- and B- blood types. One pint of donated blood can save up to three lives, providing red blood cells, plasma, or platelets to people in need.

Blood banks urge volunteers to please book appointments to donate blood as soon as it is safe for them to do so. Bloodworks Northwest alone has 13,000 open appointments in January, so finding a time that is convenient should be easy.

Appointments can be scheduled at your convenience and take about an hour. Learn more details, including eligibility requirements, by visiting Northwest Blood Coalition members’ websites:

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