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All Red Cross blood donations will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies

The Red Cross says they hope that testing for COVID-19 antibodies will provide its donors with insight into whether they may have been exposed to this coronavirus.
Credit: AP

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — On Monday the American Red Cross said they began testing all blood, platelet, and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies with the hopes that the testing will provide donors with insight into whether they may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

An antibody test screens for antibodies in the blood, which are formed when fighting an infection, like COVID-19. An antibody test assesses whether your immune system has responded to an infection, not if the virus is currently present.  

A positive result typically means you have been exposed to coronavirus, most likely COVID-19 as the other strains of coronavirus are less prevalent. While experts say antibodies likely indicate you now have some protection against COVID-19, there is insufficient scientific evidence proving such.

According to a press release, the antibody test the Red Cross is using is authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and may indicate if the donor’s immune system has produced antibodies to the coronavirus, regardless of whether an individual developed symptoms. 

For the next few months, Red Cross blood, platelet and plasma donations will be tested using samples obtained at the time of donation and sent to a testing laboratory, where the samples will also undergo routine screening and infectious disease testing. A positive antibody test result does not confirm infection or immunity.

“We recognize that individuals and public health organizations desire more information about COVID-19, and as an organization dedicated to helping others, the Red Cross is fortunate to be able to help during this pandemic," Mary Brant, Communications Manager for the Red Cross Northern New England Region said in a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine.

“As a humanitarian organization and member of the broader health community, the Red Cross has adapted our services to help meet the needs of this extraordinary time,” Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services said in a statement. “We recognize that individuals and public health organizations desire more information about COVID-19, and as an organization dedicated to helping others, the Red Cross is fortunate to be able to help during this pandemic.”

The Red Cross is emphasizing the urgent need for blood donations as paused procedures and treatments begin to resume. Many blood drives continue to be canceled across the country due to the pandemic and gathering restrictions, resulting in shortages. 

According to the Red Cross Northern New England Region, in recent weeks, hospital demand for blood products has grown by 30% after sharply declining in early April amid the rapidly changing and complex public health crisis.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer of MaineHealth, has been leading the effort in Maine with the Red Cross's "Distance Saves Lives" blood drives. They are held in Portland at the Portland Elks Lodge every Wednesday through July 1.

The Red Cross says donors can expect to get their antibody test results back within seven to 10 days. 

Donations given before June 15, with the exception of convalescent plasma donations, will not be tested for antibodies. Eligible individuals can give blood donations every 56 days.

The testing will be done on a limited basis, and the Red Cross says they expect to offer it throughout the summer months and "will evaluate over the coming months if we are able to continue testing dependent on available funding and the evolving needs of the pandemic."

With the announcement, the Red Cross is expecting an increased interest in blood donation appointments. 

Walk-in donors may not be able to be accommodated at Red Cross blood drives due to social distancing, so they are asking that all donors schedule an appointment in advance. To schedule an appointment to give blood, click here, use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

All donors are required to wear face coverings.

There are five Red Cross blood donation centers in the Northern New England region that supports Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Click here to find a blood drive near you. 

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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