By BECKY KISER
About 20 percent of the blood donations to the American Red Cross come from drives hosted by high schools and colleges — and most of them are held in the spring.
As many schools and universities have closed their campuses because of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of blood drives and donations has dropped dramatically across the country.
"We absolutely understand that needed to happen (school closures), but that leaves us with a very big difficulty," says Jan Hale, Red Cross regional communication manager. "Where can these donors go? What location can we move them to since the high school's not available?"
A mobile donor center from Wichita was set up in Hays on Friday afternoon in the parking lot of Farm Bureau Financial Services on Hall Street.
"It was supposed to be an on-campus blood drive," said Madelyn Norris, president of the Fort Hays State University Red Cross Club.
With FHSU closed, Norris, who lives in Hays, was volunteering her time at the mobile drive, sitting behind a card table where she welcomed donors. "We've had quite a few people," she said.
Her first task, after donning latex gloves, was to take the temperature of each donor, making sure it was below 99.5 degrees. Then Norris had the donor use a generous amount of hand sanitizer before she knocked on the mobile center's closed door, signaling another donor was ready for the donation process.
In Kansas, 98 blood drives had been canceled as of Tuesday afternoon and the state has already seen a drop of more than 2,000 blood donations to the ARC, according to Bill Dinkel, account manager for Northwest Kansas Area 1.
Nationwide, there was a shortage of more than 200,000 units of blood.
"Every two seconds, someone in this country needs blood, regardless of what's going on," reminds Hale. "That has not changed and won't change."
The U.S. surgeon general, the CDC, and Kansas governor Laura Kelly have all made a plea for blood donations over the past week.
"Our response to local blood drives has been overwhelming," Dinkel said. "These are controlled events."
There are area blood drives scheduled during April in WaKeeney, Hays and Ness City. Locations for blood drives that were to be at schools in Ness City and Hays will be changed.
Workers at the March 20 Hays blood drive said there were several new donors that day.
"We always celebrate new donors," Dinkel said.
"It's a safe process and we're taking additional steps, both for the donor and our employees," noted Hale. Employees, considered essential workers by the federal government, take their own temperatures to ensure they're well with no fever.
Donors with a temperature above 99.5 degrees are turned away; those who can donate must use hand sanitizer before entering the area. Chairs are spread out for waiting donors and the donation beds are now placed feet to feet instead of head to head.
As always, at each blood drive and donation center, Red Cross employees follow thorough safety protocols including wearing gloves, routinely wiping down donor-touched areas, using sterile collection sets for every donation and preparing the arm for donation with an aseptic scrub.
Hale suggests making an appointment to donate blood which helps limit the number of people gathered at any one time. She also suggests confirming the appointment beforehand in case of any changes by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.
In Hays, the blood donation center, located at 208 E. Eighth, remains open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday.