The American Red Cross is calling on the public to continue contributions of critical blood donations; however, multiple donor services staff members have raised concerns about the lack of personal protective equipment to protect themselves and donors from exposure to the coronavirus.
The staff on the front lines who are collecting America’s crucial blood supply are provided gloves, red scrubs, hand sanitizer and disinfectant to keep themselves and the donation sites sanitized, but there no masks.
At a Red Cross center in the northeast, the chairs where donors wait are spaced at least six feet apart, as well as the beds that donors use while providing their blood.
Staff members, volunteers and donors have their temperatures taken, usually outside of the donation site, and anyone with a temperature of over 99.5 degrees is turned away.
Donors give blood at an American Red Cross blood drive in Boothbay, Maine during the coronavirus pandemic (David Stires)
One worried Red Cross staff member who spoke to Fox News on the condition of anonymity said she loves her job, but because staff and donors cannot possibly stand six feet apart during the blood collection, she fears that she and her colleagues are exposed to COVID-19.
“That’s what is so scary about this virus,” the staffer said. “You are contagious before you know you have it.”
She also expressed concern for the donors, and the volunteers – who are tasked with greeting donors, checking them in and taking temperature readings.
The staffer said the number of volunteers is dwindling because many are elderly and are at risk for the virus.
This Red Cross staffer said she became especially alarmed when she worked at a recent blood donation event where someone in the same building tested positive for COVID-19.
Her doctor insisted she got tested for the virus since she has an underlying health condition and works in the healthcare field. She is awaiting the results, at home in self-quarantine, which she said gives her plenty of time to think.
“If I’m clear and I go back to work, I’ll bring enough masks, at least for the people I’m working with,” she said, though she would prefer to see the Red Cross provide the recommended N95 masks at the front of the room, for all volunteers, donors, and staff. “They aren’t supplying facial masks, and they aren’t telling us not to wear them, but we’re considered essential, that should be up to them to supply them.
“We’re in the disaster relief business,” she said, “we need the relief.”
The American Red Cross told Fox News in a statement that “in alignment with CDC and AABB recommendations, Red Cross blood collection staff currently do not wear face masks today.”
“We do want to emphasize that Red Cross staff complete a health check before coming to work each day to ensure they are feeling well,” the statement continued, pointing out the shortage of protective equipment, including face masks.
“As a humanitarian organization, the Red Cross is extremely mindful of the broader needs of frontline healthcare workers in the medical community and does not want to further add to demand that may decrease availability for those fighting the spread of coronavirus in hospitals across the country.”
Other staff members who spoke to Fox News said they fear that volunteers, blood collection staff and donors will begin to experience symptoms of the virus, and therefore will need to stay home.
They warned that a shortage of staff will decrease the blood supply across the country.
One Red Cross staffer offered a strong statement about what he calls “an epic failure of leadership.”
“The Red Cross specializes in responding to natural and man-made disasters, and yet it absolutely failed to prepare for this pandemic, something experts have been warning about for decades,” he said. “CEO Gail McGovern and the other leaders of the Red Cross not only failed to protect front-line workers but also jeopardized the U.S. blood supply, putting the lives of millions of patients who need blood at risk.”
The organization has already seen one coronavirus-related death of a staff member in Missouri.
Local media reported identified the staff member as 31-year-old Jazmond Dixon.
In a statement to Fox News, the Red Cross said the staff member at Biomedical Services in St. Louis worked “in an administrative role and had worked from home” in the days prior to her death.
“In her role, her exposure to others was minimal, and she did not interact with blood donors or members of the public,” the statement continued. “Our hearts and greatest sympathies go out to the family and friends of this employee during this difficult time.”
In an internal email, obtained by Fox News, the American Red Cross notified staffers on Thursday they would start to provide masks “intended for particulate matter, dust or other debris” beginning on Monday.
The email acknowledged that “these masks are not sufficient to provide full protection against the transmission of the COVID-19 virus”.
According to the email, the Red Cross plans to purchase and provide surgical masks for all staff and volunteers at some point, but there is no timeline.
“We may have to wait for healthcare workers dealing directly with COVID-19 confirmed patients to receive them before we are able to acquire the numbers needed,” it said.