Dramatic drops in blood donations by younger and first-time donors in South Texas, combined with a rapidly growing population and the current surge of COVID-19 cases, have left the region facing an unprecedented blood shortage, community and medical leaders said at a news conference Friday.
“We are here today to declare a blood emergency in San Antonio, Bexar County and the metro area,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.
Blood centers and the hospitals they serve aim for a seven-day supply of blood at any given time, with three days at the minimum.
South Texas Blood & Tissue, the supplier for more than 100 hospitals in 48 counties in the region, had a two-day supply on Friday, but just a half-day of critically needed type O-positive, said Dr. Samantha Gomez Ngamsuntikul, Associate Medical Director at South Texas Blood & Tissue.
“During the pandemic, we have seen a 60% drop in donors age 16-19 and also a 30% drop in first-time donors,” she said. “New donors and young donors are the key to having a sustainable blood supply.”
More than 1,200 blood drives were canceled in 2020 and drives added last year were fairly small, as remote learning and concerns about the pandemic have hampered collections at schools, universities and businesses across the city. That limited opportunities for younger people and new donors to give, she said.
The need for blood is up an average of 15% from pre-pandemic levels, mainly because of the area’s rapid population growth.
“This is unprecedented,” said Dr. Leslie Greebon, Medical Director of Transfusion Services at University Hospital. “This level of shortage, I have not seen in my 10-plus years in medicine.
“And my predecessor, who practiced here for over 40 years, says he never experienced this level of shortage.”
Dr. Joyce Schwartz, Blood Bank Director at Methodist Hospital System, called it “truly a life-or-death situation.”
“There is no substitute for blood, and in the past few months our hospitals have experienced a severe shortage of blood,” she said. “Our patients are dependent on blood donors showing up every single day.”
Patients’ needs for transfusions – the most common procedure performed every year in U.S. hospitals – will continue to grow, the mayor said, noting that the demand will not end with the end of the pandemic.
“Five new hospitals were announced this past year,” Nirenberg said. “We can’t wait until these new facilities are open to address our chronic blood shortage.”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said all members of the community should to give blood – but especially younger people.
“It’s hard for us to reach you today, but it’s important for younger people to step up,” he said.