American Red Cross now testing blood donors for COVID-19 antibodies

The American Red Cross launched a new test today, given to those who donate blood.

South Bay resident Miguel Cortez has routinely donated blood to the American Red Cross since he was a teenager. For him, it’s a way to give back, especially now, in a time of crisis, when supplies are being depleted.
“As a teen, I went to my first blood drive and I felt then like I was doing something important and I’ve wanted to continue doing it,” said Cortez.
The American Red Cross now tests all donors for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in their blood.
"So that we could get an idea of how much of our donor population has been exposed to COVID-19. Also, it gives them an idea of if they have a potential for immunity,” said Dr. Ross Herron, a division chief medical officer for the nonprofit.
Officials say the Red Cross usually takes in 13,000 blood donations per day nationwide. But since March, there’s been a decline during the pandemic. 

Cortez said he wants to know of his level of risk. 

“It was important for me to see if I had any exposure prior to that. So this antibody test is giving me some reassurance,” he said.
Experts said offering the screening helps bring in donors which can replenish supplies, especially since elective surgeries are on the rise.
“I think it’s a good idea. I think it’s important the Red Cross maintain the quality and the sanctity of their donations and their blood samples,” said Dr. Mark Schwartz, a San Jose State University biotechnologist.
He said testing for antibodies in blood donations won’t lead to the overall infection rate among the general public.
“There is a tremendous amount about this virus we don’t understand yet, we haven’t researched. And I think when you are administering to people, again, most of whom are in some kind of trauma, we want to minimize the amount of variables we that we don’t know about,” said Schwartz.
For that reason, people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are prohibited from donating for 28 days since they were last symptom-free. The testing for antibodies continues for four months, after which the Red Cross will evaluate its findings.