Blood Donor Shortage Amid Virus Causing Worries in Some Areas

“The last thing we want [hospitals] worrying about is having enough blood for trauma victims and cancer patients. That’s why it’s imperative that healthy individuals donate blood at drives and blood donation sites now.”

by Kianna Gardner, Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont. / March 12, 2020
A laboratory technician prepares COVID-19 patient samples for semi-automatic testing at Northwell Health Labs, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Lake Success, N.Y. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved faster testing protocols as the viral outbreak continues to spread worldwide. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. AP

(TNS) — Many Flathead County residents appear to be doing some soft doomsday-style prepping as grocery store outlets experience unusually high amounts of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other products being purchased.

The buying sprees come despite there being no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus actually in the state Montana as of Wednesday; however, one confirmed case of a Montanan testing positive in Maryland was reported Wednesday.

The valley’s Costco and other grocery stores throughout Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Kalispell, including Smith’s and Super 1 Foods have been intermittently running low on various products this week. Several locations, including the Smith’s in Kalispell and Costco have even had to place limits on how many packages of toilet paper people are allowed to purchase.

“We’ve sold out almost immediately after opening every day this week,” one Costco employee said on Tuesday.

Aside from toilet paper and hand sanitizer, other products that were running low in some locations throughout the week included isopropyl alcohol, cleaning wipes and water. However, frozen and canned foods — items one may consider purchasing should they wish to quarantine themselves for an extended period of time — appeared to be fully stocked throughout the Flathead.

This made dash for toilet paper and other products has rippled throughout the United States, according to reporting by major news outlets including the BBC and New York Post. But in the midst of this scramble, fears surrounding the coronavirus, or COVID-19, have prompted more serious side-effects elsewhere throughout Flathead County and Montana.

According to Erin Baker, donor recruitment manager for Vitalant, the outbreak has led to a shortage of people showing up to donate blood.

The company supplies 30 hospitals in the region with blood, including Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Typically, the Vitalant donation centers in Montana have to collectively bring in between 150 and 200 donations per day to adequately supply the 30 locations, but Baker said they are currently averaging 90 donations per day statewide.

“Regular life is being disrupted by this even though the virus isn’t in Montana, but the reality is blood is still needed every day,” Baker said. “It’s critical that we get healthy donors in, so people who need blood at these hospitals can continue receiving it.”

According to a recent press release from Vitalant’s Montana headquarters in Billings, hospitals will be extremely challenged if COVID-19 infections increase.

“The last thing we want them [hospitals] worrying about is having enough blood for trauma victims and cancer patients. That’s why it’s imperative that healthy individuals donate blood at drives and blood donation sites now,” said Dr. Ralph Vassallo, Vitalant’s chief medical and scientific officer.

Health officials say since the outbreak was deemed a “pandemic” by the World Health Organization on Wednesday, negative side-effects, including a drop in blood donations, may worsen.

OFFICIALS WITH the Flathead City-County Health Department say local health leaders have taken extensive measures to prepare for a possible outbreak. In a recent interview, health leaders urged the public to direct more of their concerns to battling influenza, but added that the county, Kalispell Regional Medical Center, North Valley Hospital and other providers have been monitoring the coronavirus situation closely.

“We are responding to this potential public health crisis by implementing our collaborative valley-wide emergency response and disaster readiness plans,” Michelle Kimball, emergency preparedness program manager for Kalispell Regional Healthcare, said in a recent press release. “As community partners, we are consistently evaluating new information and coordinating our readiness, communications and response planning.”

There is no shortage of local entities doing their part to provide up-to-date information regarding the coronavirus and ways to prevent the spread.

A recent press release from Glacier Medical Associates states “there is currently no vaccine to prevent this disease and so the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed.” To limit exposure they, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others, recommend people wash their hands frequently, remain at least 6 feet from others who are sick with fever and a cough and stay home if they are sick, among other methods.

The most vulnerable populations, according to the CDC, are older adults over the age of 60 and those with pre-existing conditions including heart disease. And although many outlets in Flathead County are waiting for state and county cues before launching any restrictions or stringent guidelines, some responsible for caring for the elderly, in particular, have implemented their own guidelines.

For example, starting this week The Springs at Whitefish will temporarily eliminate non-essential visitation at its assisted-living facility, remove reusable silverware that could be touched or coughed on by someone infected and will be screening staff and others, among other practices.

According to Fee Stubblefield, founder and chief executive officer of Springs Living, these restrictions and others will go into effect at all of the 20 Springs Living communities throughout Oregon and Montana.

“Our job is to limit the exposure to our residents who are the most vulnerable to this outbreak,” Stubblefield said. “This is what we do. We exist for moments like this and have always had protocols in place before this outbreak too for infectious and communicable diseases like the flu.”

Although Montana is not calling for specific tight restrictions yet, Stubblefield said “If we overreact, we are OK with that.”

Aside from assisted-living and nursing-home facilities, officials with the Montana Veterans Affairs Health Care System also recently took several steps to limit the spread of the virus.

According to a recent press release, all VA medical facilities will be screening for signs of respiratory illness and exposure to COVID-19. Officials are asking employees to stay home if they are experiencing fever, cough, or shortness or breath that they stay home, and if veterans are experiencing such symptoms, they need to call 877-468-8387 before coming into a medical facility.

For updates regarding COVID-19, go to https://flatheadhealth.org/novel-coronavirus-covid-19/

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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©2020 the Daily Inter Lake (Kalispell, Mont.)

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