TUPELO • The new coronavirus may cause a secondary health epidemic in Mississippi because of a lack of blood donations.

“Not having enough blood to meet basic needs will cause another public health crisis,” said Jared Luent, marketing and communication specialist for Vitalant, a blood donation center in Tupelo. “We are down 20 to 30 percent in donations locally. Industrywide, we’ve seen 4,000 blood drives cancelled, which means 130,000 fewer blood donations due to the coronovirus.”

The virus spreads primarily through contact with an infected person when they cough or sneeze, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. Due to the nature of the virus, it is highly unlikely that it can be transmitted through blood transfusions, said Dr. Ralph Vassallo, chief medical and scientific officer for Vitalant.

To adequately supply patients in Mississippi, Vitalant needs to see 250 donors a day.

“Before COVID-19, we weren’t seeing 250 a day and the virus has negatively impacted us further,” Luent said. “People are staying home, people are scared.”

The blood donation center, located at 4326 S. Eason Blvd. in Tupelo, is asking individuals who have recently traveled to the European Union or any other country that has been placed on the travel ban to refrain from donating right now. Those who have lived with or been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus or is suspected of having it are also being asked to self-defer.

Everyone else who is able to is encouraged to donate.

“There is no substitute for blood,” Luent said. “We need people to donate regularly. Donating blood does not weaken or impact your immune system.”

The blood center is typically closed on Thursdays, but for the next three weeks, it will open Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s also open Monday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“If you are an O positive or O negative donor, we need you,” Luent said. “If you are A positive, we need you to donate platelets. Those are vital to the care of cancer patients.”

In a press release, Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton encouraged residents to donate blood.

“Many have asked how they can help during this time, and giving blood would certainly be a way to help and possibly save a life,” Shelton said.

Luent said some people may be hesitant to come to the center to donate because they’re being told to avoid public events and social gatherings.

“But blood donations aren’t gatherings,” he said. “They’re essential health care activities. We have less than a two-day blood supply of many blood types right now. Our need is not critical at this moment, but we are probably heading in that direction.”

To schedule an appointment, call (662) 842-8871 or visit vitalant.org for a mobile location. Walk-ins are also welcome.

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