As people across the Midwest and Northeast were urged to stay indoors amid freezing cold temperatures this week, hundreds of blood drives were canceled, leading the American Red Cross to experience what it said was an “emergency need” for blood.
A polar vortex brought record cold to Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and other Midwestern states ― with temperatures dropping to –50 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill in some areas ― leading to schools being closed and communities rushing to provide help to homeless people.
About 450 Red Cross blood drives were canceled across 30 states this month, largely due to winter weather, the nonprofit said. An estimated 14,000 blood donations were not gathered as a result ― with this week alone accounting for 75 percent of the uncollected donations.
What’s more, the federal government’s partial shutdown also affected donations in recent weeks, as about 30 blood drives hosted by federal offices were canceled during the shutdown, leaving more than 900 donations uncollected.
“The need for blood doesn’t stop for winter weather,” American Red Cross spokesperson Jessa Merrill said in a press release, urging people “unaffected by this winter weather” to donate blood. “This month’s historic cold and snowy weather has caused blood drives from the Midwest to the East Coast to be cancelled and thousands of blood donations have gone uncollected.”
The organization also warned on its website of the safety threats posed by the “dangerous cold” and “life threatening” wind chills in some areas, recommending that people stay indoors.
Even before the freezing weather hit this week, the group faced a nationwide blood shortage after the winter holidays, with only a three-day supply in its inventory, lower than the five-day stock recommended, Virginia NBC affiliate WWBT reported.
Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood, according to the Red Cross. Blood donations can help surgery and transplant patients, burn victims and people battling leukemia, cancer and more.
The group has often experienced blood shortages, with the worst ones tending to hit in winter and summer months. When the Red Cross had a nationwide shortage in summer 2016, it offered $5 Amazon gift cards to motivate people to show up to donation sites.