Donating blood during the pandemic

Canadian Blood Services asks Canadians to keep giving to meet ongoing patient needs


Dr. Isra Levy, Vice President, Medical Affairs and Innovation at Canadian Blood Services, is calling on blood donors to book and keep appointments during COVID-19.

Dr. Isra Levy appeared on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning to talk about the need for blood during COVID-19 and measures to protect donors, staff and volunteers

Dr. Isra Levy appeared on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning on Mar. 23, 2020, to discuss the ongoing need for blood donation during COVID-19.

Dr. Levy explained that while the situation has stabilized following a spike in donor cancellations, it is important for donors to continue giving. Patients will continue to need blood products throughout COVID-19, including many cancer patients and those with blood disorders. He noted that widespread cancellation of group donations has increased the need for individual donors to book and keep appointments.

We are continually updating our COVID-19 page with detailed information about our response and our safety measures.

You can listen to Dr. Levy’s full interview here. Below is an edited transcript of his exchanges with host Stu Mills about safety measures in donor centres during the pandemic.

Stu Mills: What changes have you made to ensure that it is still safe for someone who comes to donate blood? Because certainly you have to break that two-metre barrier if you’re going to put a needle in my arm.

Dr. Isra Levy: Of course, you put a needle in the arm, our phlebotomists will be closer than two metres. But I think where we really have put a lot of effort into things is following that public health advice that we need to be one, preferably two metres apart. And we’ve moved our collection beds in areas where they were closer. We’ve moved our chairs in areas they were closer. And even before people get into our collection centres, both our staff and donors and volunteers, we have physical barriers asking people if they’ve got any symptoms. And if they do then we ask them not to come in.

Stu Mills: We had listeners write to us over the weekend, wondering why Blood Services staff weren’t wearing protective masks while working. What explains that?

Dr. Isra Levy: Blood Services staff are not considered essential health workers in the sense that they’re looking after ill people. They are people working in areas similar to grocery stores or pharmacists from the point of view of community exposure. So they would not be working if they are ill themselves. And because we do the pre-screening of people and ask people who may have any symptoms not to come into our centres, they won’t be exposed to people. So, they don’t need the equipment for their own protection. And in terms of the infection control procedures, we’ve enhanced the cleaning procedures above the norm anyway. So, people won’t be getting infected from the staff. And we really need that personal protective equipment in the hospitals and in the emergency rooms and in the intensive care units, and we know that there’s a problem there as well. So, the main reason is that we don’t need to. There’s no credible scientific organization that says that staff in a blood collection centre should be using PPE (personal protective equipment) either for themselves or the donors. And we also want to play our part in ensuring that the global health care, acute health care practitioner has access to what they need.

Stu Mills: There are credible, in some cases medical officers of health, saying that it’s helpful to presume one is carrying the virus and one is asymptomatic, and that one should carry oneself through their social interactions as though they might potentially infect someone. You can ask people about their travel history, but since we know there’s community spread, isn’t it possible that someone turns up feeling healthy and looking healthy, with none of the highlights in their background that would make you worry, and yet transmit it to one of your workers?

Dr. Isra Levy: It is unfortunately possible that community spread can happen, and we know it is happening. And we know, there’s very strong suggestion now that it’s happening from asymptomatic people. So those are all reasonable concerns. But the way public health deals with that issue is not by recommending that people wear masks, because masks don’t work very well in that scenario. Masks work best for people who are symptomatic to prevent them from spreading to others. Asymptomatic people, the science isn’t there.

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