The American Red Cross announced Monday it will begin testing all blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies as a service to donors.

The testing of all blood, platelet and plasma donations for the antibodies will indicate whether individual donors have been exposed to the coronavirus. The addition of the antibodies testing comes as the Red Cross says there is an urgent need for blood donations as hospitals resume surgeries and treatments that require blood products.

“One of our main hopes is testing for COVID-19 antibodies provides our donors some insight into whether they may have been exposed to the virus,” said Mary Brant, communications manager for Red Cross Northern New England Region. “It’s about giving our donors some peace of mind and to know if they have these antibodies or not.”

Donations that test positive for COVID-19 antibodies can still safely be donated and used in medical procedures, according to the Red Cross. The Red Cross also has a convalescent plasma donation program that allows people who have fully recovered from the coronavirus to donate plasma to help current COVID-19 patients.

Donations will be tested using samples pulled at the time of donation and sent to a testing laboratory where they will also undergo routine infectious disease testing. Results of the antibodies test will be available seven to 10 days after the the blood donation is made and are shared with the donor through the Red Cross donor app or donor portal.

“As an organization dedicated to helping others, the Red Cross is pleased to provide more information about COVID-19 to our valued donors,” Dr. Erin Goodhue, executive medical director of direct patient care with the Red Cross Biomedical Services, said in a statement. “If you are feeling healthy and well, please schedule an appointment to not only help saves lives but also learn about your potential exposure to COVID-19.”

The Red Cross will report the number of positive tests to state and federal health agencies, but names and other personal information are not included with the numbers, Brant said.

A positive antibody test is presumed to mean a person has been infected with SARS-Co-V-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, at some point in the past, but does not mean they are currently infected, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibodies start developing within one to three weeks of infection.

People who have positive results on an antibody test but don’t have symptoms or have not been around someone who may have COVID-19 are not likely to have a current infection, according to the CDC. They can continue with normal activities, including work.

The CDC warns that until scientists have more data on whether antibodies protect against reinfection with this virus, everyone should take steps to protect themselves and others, including social distancing.

The Red Cross is using a test authorized by the Federal Food and Drug Administration that is specific to COVID-19. All donations will be tested and donors do not have the option to opt out, according to the Red Cross. The COVID-19 antibodies tests will continue through summer.

Brant said there remains an urgent need for blood donations. To meet the needs of hospitals, the Red Cross needs to collect 13,000 blood donations a day. As the coronavirus spread across the country, thousands of blood drives were canceled in the matter of two weeks.

“That equates to hundreds of thousands of blood donations going uncollected,” Brant said.

In recent weeks, the demand for blood has grown by 30 percent as hospitals resume elective surgeries, Brant said. In Maine, churches, schools and other organizations stepped up to sponsor blood drives, allowing the organization to meet the immediate need for blood, she said.

For those who can donate blood, making a donation will look a bit different because of extra safety precautions. Red Cross staff and donors must wear masks and have their temperature taken. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms is asked to stay home.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.