The American Red Cross is now testing blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies with each blood draw.
A COVID-19 specific antibody test may indicate if an individual’s immune system produced antibodies to the coronavirus, even if they never experienced symptoms.
Interim Red Cross Regional Communications Director Christine Welch said individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 may have antibodies in their plasma that could provide another patient’s immune system the boost it needs to beat the virus.
Donated plasma is currently being used as a treatment for patients who are seriously ill with COVID-19.
Welch also said rising cases across the United States have increased the need for convalescent plasma, leading to a shortage of the potentially lifesaving blood product.
A recent blood donation drive in Lakeside saw multiple phlebotomy stations set up in the large Veterans of Foreign Wars hall, spaced about 10 feet apart.
Upon entering the hall, each donor was given a temperature check, advised on social distancing and required to wear a face covering or mask.
Registered Nurse Janet Wyss said they’re “seeing lots of first-timers since COVID began” in addition to regular donors.
At one table, phlebotomist Jo Beth Lytoe drew several test vials of blood as well as a regular pint of blood from volunteer donor Karen Frye, who said she makes it a point to schedule a donation for her birthday each year.
Wyss looked on as Frye moved on from the donor area to the snack station set up nearby while Lytoe packed up a series of vials for testing.
Wyss said all the blood drawn that day was being packaged for a main site in Pomona, where the individual vials of blood would be tested.
“They know within a week if someone tests positive for antibodies and will notify people,” Wyss said.
There is a limited time frame to draw blood from persons who test positive, Wyss said.
“Unfortunately, the COVID antibodies look like they’re not lasting long, we can draw maybe five to seven times from one person within the time while they have antibodies present. You’d expect them to last longer.”
Wyss said it feels good to oversee the donations coming in, that “you’re here because you want to be here” and that it is nice to work with people who want to help the community.
“You’re not sick, you’re a volunteer,” Wyss said.
Donors will be needed long after the COVID-19 pandemic has lifted. After cases subside and the need for convalescent plasma is less dire, red blood cells will still be needed to help trauma and surgical patients as always.
Welch said The Red Cross encourages eligible individuals to give blood to help patients in need.
To schedule an appointment to donate, she said, donors can use the Red Cross Blood Donor Application, visit www.RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.