American Red Cross offering antibody testing to all donors amid blood shortages

Posted at 5:00 AM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 10:26:02-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are certain universal truths that remain.

One of those is the need for blood donations.

"Cancer patients are still fighting cancer. Car accidents are still happening, and people need vital blood products to save their lives. The only way that's available is if we roll up our sleeves and donate blood," American Red Cross of Missouri & Arkansas Communications & Marketing Manager Angie Springs said.

But with schools and businesses closed, a lot of drives have been canceled.

With demand for donors high, the American Red Cross is offering another incentive to give: antibody tests.

For a limited time, the organization will test all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies. The FDA-approved test lets donors know if they have been exposed to the virus that causes the disease.

The announcement was an impetus for at least one donor the 41 Action News I-Team spoke to at a Kansas City blood drive.

"I thought okay, it's time to go," Francie Grandanette, who has donated blood before, said, "It'd be great if I've actually had it."

Dr. Dana Hawkinson at the University of Kansas Health System explained why.

"If you get better, it is then assumed that because you have these antibodies in certain levels, you are now immune to the disease," Dr. Hawkinson said.

To be clear, that does not mean you won't get COVID-19 again. Wearing a mask and practicing social distancing must continue.

"Either you are immune, or if you do see the infection again, you will have less symptoms from that infection. So that is the hope here," Dr. Hawkinson added.

Right now it is unclear how long any immunity might last.

The four other strains of coronavirus could offer insight. Dr. Hawkinson said patients who were reinfected with those viruses anywhere from 4 weeks to 9 months after recovery had either mild symptoms or none at all.

At the University of Kansas Health System, 40 to 50 patients battling COVID-19 received plasma from people who had already recovered from the disease.

While it remains to be seen how much protection antibodies offer, the Red Cross is seeing a lot of people rolling up their sleeves.

The antibody tests may serve as an added bonus, but Springs also believes the desire to help is driving an increase.

"We have seen a ton of first-time donors, which is phenomenal that you're seeing people that are stepping up," Springs said.

Grandanette told a friend and her husband about the antibody testing, and the two decided to donate blood for the first time.

"I definitely think that that's a good way to get people to give blood," she said.

If you're interested in donating blood, you can enter your zip code on the American Red Cross website to find drives nearby. Be sure to check the site frequently as new drives are often added.