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Here's how you can get a free COVID-19 antibody test and help save lives

Nonprofit blood center offers test with blood donation
blood donation
Posted at 4:34 PM, Jun 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-05 21:16:33-04

Are you wondering if you've already had COVID-19? A nonprofit blood center with three locations in Northeast Ohio is offering a COVID-19 antibody test for free to those who donate blood.

Vitalant has locations in Middleburg Heights, Canton and Elyria, and at each location, Vitalant is offering that antibody test for those who donate as part of its standard screening on all blood donations.

According to the American Red Cross in Northeast Ohio, blood supply is at a critically low level, which is also the case in other parts of the country, in part because the pandemic has canceled community, school and church blood drives.

And, as hospitals resumed elective procedures, there has been a 30 percent increase in demand for blood from local hospitals over the past several weeks, according to Christy Peters, communications manager for the American Red Cross.

"Many of them are getting back into business as usual, and because of that, they’ve asked for more blood because obviously they’re doing more surgeries," Peters said.

Peters said the Red Cross is putting out the call for more donors to meet that need.

"If you donated back in March when we put the call out because of COVID-19, you are probably eligible to donate again, so we’d ask you to please come out in the next couple of weeks and make an appointment," Peters said.

The low blood supply is an issue Vitalant is dealing with, too.

"We are at less than two days’ supply of blood on the shelf, which is really the lowest we ever want to be," said Sarah Wering, marketing and communications specialist for Vitalant.

Wering said that Vitalant is offering COVID-19 antibody testing as part of its standard screening on all blood donations.

"This is a service to our donors and part of our way of saying thank you for stepping up early in the pandemic," Wering said.

Approximately two weeks after their donation, donors will be able to log into Vitalant's portal and find out their results.

"We do want to be cautious, if we say, 'Yes, you were positive for antibodies,'" Wering said. "Being positive for antibodies does not necessarily mean you are immune to COVID-19. It just means that at some point you had an infection of COVID-19 or were exposed to another coronavirus, which has caused these antibodies."

If you do have antibodies, Wering said, Vitalant highly recommends you continue to follow CDC guidance and advice.

The antibody test Vitalant offers costs the company approximately $10 per person, since Wering said the company made sure it's using one of the most accurate tests on the market.

"It’s win-win for the donors. They do find out whether they have been exposed to and have developed antibodies to COVID-19," Wering said. "But we also, in other parts of the country, are participating in experimental trials with something called convalescent plasma. So convalescent plasma is basically the plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients being transfused into current COVID-19 patients to help them recover."

That, Wering said, allows Vitalant to help identify a database of people who may be eligible to donate convalescent plasma in the future.

That said, blood centers are taking precautions to make sure people who come in to donate are not sick and that they and staff members remain safe.

"If you are currently ill, we ask that you do not come to a blood drive or to a donation center, whether it be with COVID-19 or the flu or just any other respiratory illness," Wering said. "Only healthy people are supposed to be donating blood."

Vitalant is also requiring all donors and staff to wear masks, since COVID-19 can also present asymptomatically.

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"Our donation centers and mobile blood drives are going through significant cleaning during the day and after each donor, and we are also practicing social distancing, both in our blood drives and in our donation centers," Wering said. "So we are taking all of the recommended CDC precautions to go above and beyond what should already be a healthy environment, because you’re not allowed to come in when you’re sick."

The Red Cross is following similar precautions, asking donors, volunteers and staff to wear masks or face coverings.

"We also are asking everyone to make an appointment," Peters said. "This helps us ensure that we’re following all the social distancing guidelines and we know how many people are going to be at the blood drive during each hour."

The Red Cross is also taking temperatures of everyone who comes in to donate and sanitizing materials and beds.

To make an appointment or go to a blood drive through Vitalant, visit the company's website or call 877-25-VITAL to make an appointment or look at a list of mobile blood drives.

To make an appointment or find a blood drive through the Red Cross, search by zip code on the Red Cross website, download the free Red Cross Blood Donor app to your phone or call 1-800-REDCROSS.

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