Coronavirus pandemic: Red Cross' free COVID antibody testing provides incentive to donate blood

The Red Cross is giving $5 Amazon cards to all blood donors.
With more people undergoing elective surgeries, the American Red Cross is dealing with an urgent need for blood donations.

Now, they're offering a new service to donors: a chance to find out if they have been infected with COVID-19.

When the pandemic hit, the Red Cross played a lead role in identifying and collecting the convalescent plasma of those who've recovered from the virus to help severely ill patients. Now, for a limited time, the Red Cross is testing all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies, providing donors insight into whether they've been exposed to this coronavirus.

Pacific Division Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ross Herron said, "The goal is to find out how broadly the infection is gone through the population that we have as blood donors. And also, perhaps, to be able to recruit additional blood donors for convalescent plasma."

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Herron said samples pulled at the time of donation will be sent to a lab where it will also undergo routine infectious disease testing. The antibody test is FDA-approved and has a sensitivity of 99 percent. But, Herron said it's important to note a positive result does not confirm infection or immunity.

"One of the problems is that we'll be testing a healthy donor population," he said, "And so anytime you test the healthy donor population. There is a chance to get false positives. And so that would be one level of concern."

After seven days, the test results will be available in the Red Cross blood donor App or on the donor's secure portal online. It's an added perk for donating. Herron said now that hospitals are scheduling more elective surgeries, there's an urgent need.

"Blood drives that would be on the books and scheduled already,well, some of them have been canceled because they're not able to do it because of COVID-19," he said.

The Red Cross is giving $5 Amazon cards to all blood donors.

Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center has instituted many safety and infection control precautions, including temperature checks, social distancing and face coverings for donors and staff.
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