‘We need every donation we can get’: Pitt hosts blood drive to help blood shortage


Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer

The Swanson School of Engineering partnered with Vitalant to host a blood drive in Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall last Friday.

By Punya Bhasin, Staff Writer

While donating blood can seem daunting, Lauren Lin, a third-year medical student, said she highly recommends that students donate blood during the COVID-19 pandemic, for reasons other than just the free snack afterward.

“Several of the patients I have seen have needed blood in large quantities, and urgently, and so I understand how vital blood is to medical treatments and day-to-day hospital life,” Lin said.

The Swanson School of Engineering partnered with Vitalant, a national blood bank nonprofit organization that seeks to provide a safe and readily available supply of blood, to host a blood drive in Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall last Friday. The blood drive’s goal was to get students to donate blood in order to combat the many blood shortages hospitals around the area are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University hosts a blood drive nearly every month through various clubs and schools, including the American Red Cross club and Greek life, along with the Swanson School of Engineering. Community members at Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne and Chatham universities were invited to donate as well.

Dale Ellgass, a representative from the Vitalant blood bank, said there is a large need for blood due to the rising influx of patients in local and national hospitals. According to the Mayo Clinic, COVID-19 has caused many hospitals to survive on a one- to two-day inventory of blood instead of the normal two-week supply.

“Right now because of COVID, our blood collections are down, and trending down, so we could use every donation of blood we can get,” Ellgass said. “We need to get about 600 donations a day to supply to over 40 hospitals that we partner with, sometimes we meet this goal, but a lot of times we don’t.”

Besides blood donations, Vitalant was also offering to test the plasma from the blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies. Individuals who donated blood can go on the Vitalant website afterward and view their results confidentially. Many of the participants, including Lin, were curious to see whether they had the antibodies and thought this information could provide them better knowledge about maintaining their personal safety.

“It seems logical that if they are taking blood, they would also test our plasma for COVID antibodies, and I am curious to see if I have those antibodies,” Lin said.

Ellgass said people are fearful of contracting the virus, causing there to be a shortage of people willing to go in person to donate blood.

“COVID has definitely deterred people from donating blood because they have a fear of the safety guidelines not being followed, and even just going outside,” Ellgass said.

Students, medical staff and organizers followed safety precautions, such as wearing masks, social distancing and frequently using hand sanitizer at Friday’s blood drive. Philgoo Han, a Pittsburgh resident who donated blood, said he didn’t feel at risk for contracting COVID-19 because of all the safety guidelines at the blood drive.

“I was not too worried about the safety procedure for COVID being followed, because I thought that since medical professionals were organizing the event, they would ensure our safety more than anything,” Han said.

Vitalant supplies blood to about 40 hospitals in the surrounding area, and Ellgass said donating blood is crucial to having a functioning and well-supplied hospital in a community.

“We supply the local hospitals with blood products for all the different types of patient care including treating cancer patients, emergency surgical procedures and other medical procedures,” Ellgass said.

Lin said she wanted to help the shortage of blood as much as she could during this pandemic because of her work in the hospital.

“Part of the reason I chose to donate blood now, instead of in past years, is because I’ve read information that there are blood shortages right now, and you can see that even when I work in the hospital, and so I felt that now was as good of a time as any to donate blood,” Lin said.

Han, who has donated blood multiple times prior to the pandemic, said it was a way for him to feel productive during quarantine, and he felt good about helping his community.

“I felt that I should do something during quarantine that was productive, and I heard that it was close to where I lived, so I wanted to help out the community,” Han said.