Winter storm, holidays and ‘tripledemic’ add to ongoing blood shortage crisis

A woman makes her way through Coney Island during a February, 2021 snowstorm. This weekend’s wintry temperatures could lead to rough weather throughout the city — exacerbating an already heightened blood shortage.
File photo by Erica Price

This weekend’s storm is hitting Brooklyn in different ways, and the New York Blood Center is calling for blood donors as the “tripledemic” of RSV, influenza and COVID-19 — coupled with the upcoming holidays — threaten an already unable supply across the five boroughs.

The past two years have brought chronic blood shortages nationwide, the first-ever national blood crisis in the United State’s. The region’s blood supply currently stands at a one-three-day supply, well below the ideal supply of five-seven-days worth of donated blood, according to officials.

Each December, school breaks, family vacations and travel make donating blood less of a priority for donors, creating an imperfect storm for organizations like the New York Blood Center. This year, the increase in cases of RSV, flu and COVID-19 are cause for even more concern, as fear of getting sick is causing donors with upcoming appointments to cancel, creating extra volatility in the blood supply.

“We are not sitting comfortably with a two-to-three-day supply,” said Andrea Cefarelli, senior executive director at New York Blood Center. “There’s no cushion there in case another emergency comes up.”

According to Cefarelli, the winter storm currently hitting New York is expected to shrink the precarious state supply even more.

Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency at 6 a.m. Friday, including a ban on commercial vehicle in chunks of New York State. In New York City, where on Friday morning the high temperature was still 55 degrees, officials warned residents to brace for temperatures to drop nearly 40 degrees by Saturday morning. Floodwaters, raised by the storm as well as a new moon, were already crashing down on vulnerable shoreline communities, officials said, urging residents to “make an emergency plan now.”

While residents make those emergency plans, so too are doctors and patients who may need important procedures over the next few days, and who may need to delay due to an absence of blood reserves.

New York Blood Center’s Brooklyn location at 30 Flatbush Avenue.NYBC

Cefarelli hopes all those looking to give back this holiday season might consider safely stopping by their local donation site, such as New York Blood Center’s new Brooklyn outpost, which opened earlier this year at 30 Flatbush Avenue. The organization, which previously drew blood from Brooklynites at pop-up sites, expects the Fort Greene location to bring in an estimated 10,000 blood donations annually, but Cefarelli said emergencies in the next few weeks are certain.

Weather isn’t the only thing keeping people indoors and away from blood donations sites. COVID-19 is far from over, with 90% of the country seeing a surge in cases and New York City fighting a trifecta of viruses. Numbers have shot up since Thanksgiving, with New York City’s seven-day average now at more than 3,600 cases — up from about 2,500 a month ago.

Only 10% of New Yorkers have gotten the bivalent dose of the COVID vaccine, and with flu and RSV cases also rising, the health care system could become overburdened. Flu cases have skyrocketed and are at their highest level in years. Cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, appear to have peaked in mid-November and are on the decline, though levels are still high.

All of this is cause for concern, Cefarelli said.

“The winter months are always a difficult time to maintain our blood supply, but new challenges like rising RSV, Flu and COVID-19 cases is making the need to build our inventory even greater,” she said. “We are encouraging all eligible, and especially first-time donors, to come out and spread holiday cheer with the greatest gift of all, lifesaving blood donations.”

To find a New York Blood Center location new year, upcoming blood drive dates or to schedule an appointment, visit donate.nybc.org. Walk-ins are welcome.