Blood banks concerned as donations from minorities decrease during COVID-19 pandemic

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Justina Williams from Raleigh lives with the ups and downs of sickle cell disease.

From birth to adulthood, defects in her blood block oxygen and the flow of cells to her vital organs -- leaving her hospitalized and in pain.

"It feels like shredded glass going through your body. It's really excruciating," Williams told ABC11. "I was in the fetal position crying at the top of my lungs."

The 27-year-old recently graduated with her master's in social work and said stress from that event triggered a blockage.

She is one of 100,000 black Americans in the United States who make up most sickle cell cases.

Hispanics are the second-largest group. Both groups rely on regular blood transfusions through donated blood from blacks and Latinos. But historically, donations among these two groups is low.

Black Americans make up 13 percent of the population.

Only 1 percent of those donate, according to the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross said that since COVID-19, blood donations by black Americans have dropped 50 percent.

"There is some fear and reticence to come out and donate," Dr. Yvette Miller, a medical officer with the Red Cross told ABC11. "Through that little moment of pain, you can save up to three lives."

Miller said that besides fear, there is a lack of convenient access to sites, and some minorities assume they are not healthy enough to donate. She added that the importance of donating hasn't resonated with younger people.

"The message that we're getting out is that blood donation is an essential service and that we are doing everything that the CDC recommends in keeping the donation site safe for people to come out and donate," Miller said.

On June 2, UNC-Chapel Hill will host its annual Carolina Blood Drive at the Dean Smith Center, the ninth-largest blood drive in the country. Organizers said they will follow the CDC's social distance, cleaning and mask guidelines as people donate. It's a gift of life that will help people like Williams who are trying to stay healthy and alive.

"I would hope that after seeing this, people would go and donate -- especially African American and Hispanic people, because this is a life-threatening disease," she said.

the American Red Cross encourages community members to make appointments to donate blood to ensure a readily available supply for patients who still rely on transfusion. Donors of all blood types are needed to roll up a sleeve at the 32nd annual Carolina Blood Drive 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 2 in the Dean E. Smith Center.

All presenting donors at the Carolina Blood Drive will receive a commemorative T-shirt and free food. Free parking is available at the Smith Center or donors can ride with Chapel Hill Transit to the Smith Center.

Blood and platelet donors can save time at their next donation by using RapidPass to complete their pre-donation reading and health-history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation, before arriving at the blood drive. To get started, follow the instructions here.or use the Blood Donor App.

To find blood drives in your area go to the Red Cross here: or the Blood Connection here.
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