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Red Cross annual blood drive is back, providing COVID-19 antibody tests for donors

Red Cross workers assist patients before checking in for blood drive appointments at the Health, Wellness, and Athletic Center (HWAC) Jan. 26. Organizers set up the room with plenty of space between tables because of social distancing protocols, making sure they kept the environments safe and clean. (Reme Torbert)

The American Red Cross hosted its annual blood drive at Westminster College Tuesday in the Health, Wellness and Athletic Center (HWAC) from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m, performing COVID-19 antibody tests on all donations. These antibody tests inform donors whether they’ve had the coronavirus even if they didn’t experience symptoms or receive a positive test result.

Because of social distancing protocols, organizers limited the room capacity to four to six patients at a time. All volunteers had to schedule an appointment before arriving. 

If potential donors didn’t have an appointment but showed up, they were told to return later to see if the blood drive had time to fit them in. 

“All the appointments were filled, and mostly everyone showed up,” said Jean Wilson, team leader for Red Cross.

Although the blood drive occurs annually, this year it offers an extra incentive for donations. Donors can opt for a COVID-19 antibody test to discover whether they’ve been previously infected with the disease.

Antibodies are proteins created by the immune system to fight off future infections. Even if antibodies are detected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns it’s unsure how long immunity can last. 

However, it serves other purposes beyond satisfying donors’ curiosity. 

“Every time someone donates blood we are doing the antibody test right now,” Wilson said. “It benefits us because we can use your plasma for convalescent plasma for people who are really sick.”

Although the FDA has not yet approved convalescent plasma treatments for patients with COVID-19, those who have recovered from the coronavirus are encouraged to donate plasma to transfer antibodies to those currently infected. 

With every blood donation, two to three lives can be saved, according to the Red Cross. Wilson said they are always in need of donations, but noted the need has only worsened because of the spread of the pandemic. 

Despite the push for donations, organizers warn donors if they have symptoms of COVID-19 to not donate blood.

“They aren’t doing the antibody test to diagnose illness,” Wilson said. “In fact, they recommend you stay home and feel better for 14 days before donating blood.” 

The antibody test intrigued a few of the patients who they said they felt benefitted in two ways: They can help save someone’s life while also discovering whether they’ve had the coronavirus.  

“I decided to donate blood for people in need, and also noticed the antibody test along with the blood drive,” said John Brindle, a student at Westminster College. “The antibodies are good because it will give people peace of mind on whether they had it or not.”

Antibodies usually start to develop one to three weeks after infection. If an antibody test comes back positive, it doesn’t indicate a current infection so the donor can resume normal activities. 

It takes seven to 10 days after the donation is completed to find out whether antibodies are detected.  Donors can find their results on the Red Cross blood donor app. 

“I donate blood because I have a pretty common blood type,” said Grace Carico, another Westminster student. “Red Cross testing for antibodies is a good thing because it gives more people access to the test.”

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Reme Torbert is a senior communication major at Westminster College. He is specializing in video broadcasting and journalism, which meets the criteria for him wanting to be a sports analyst. He wants to talk sports and wants to use his passion about sports to inform others each day the ups and down you will go through as a athlete that can teach you things in life other skills can’t. He plays for the basketball team at Westminster College, and hopes to play professional basketball. After basketball is over, he hopes to take what he has learned about communications to the next level and make it a career.

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