As with previous COVID spikes, the Omicron surge is straining medical staff and resources across Southern California. And the nationwide shortage of blood is also hitting Southland hospitals. Earlier this week, the trauma center at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center was forced to close for a few hours because of low blood supplies.
A trauma center shutting down was “the first time in our history,” says Marianne Gausche-Hill, medical director of LA County’s Emergency Medical Services Agency.
Gausche-Hill attributes the blood shortage to two factors: potential donors’ fears of getting COVID at donation sites, and the lack of staff at these sites.
“We know the entire health care workforce is being impacted by members getting COVID.”
She assures that donation sites are safe, and they run by appointment. Donors are kept socially distanced, and masks are required. Though all blood types are in short supply, the most needed types are O-positive, and the universal donor O-negative.
“[If] somebody comes in, they have a gunshot wound, they’re bleeding out, they’re going to die… we will give O-negative blood. They’re not going to get a blood transfusion reaction from that.”
Fewer blood donations mean more trauma centers could shut down. In a multi-casualty event like a natural disaster or car crash, fewer trauma centers could impact whether a victim lives or dies.
“There’s no other source of blood than healthy people giving it to save the life of another,” Gausche-Hill says. “[You] can potentially save a life, which in the end could be your own.”
One way to donate blood is through the American Red Cross.