Blood drive

Stephanie Mays was among about 70 people who donated blood during an American Red Cross blood drive Monday in Baker City.

The coronavirus pandemic is not deterring Baker County residents from donating blood.

The American Red Cross blood drive Monday at the Baker City First Church of the Nazarene attracted 110 people willing to donate a pint of blood.

A computer glitch meant a few dozen of those people weren’t able to give blood.

But local coordinator Myrna Evans was still pleased with the level of interest.

The roster of 110 willing donors follows a March 30 drive in Baker City — the first such event after restrictions and precautions related to the pandemic started — that attracted about 98 donors.

And that was 15 more donors than showed up for a January 2020 event, the last before coronavirus arrived. The 98 donors in March were the most that Evans had recorded since taking over responsibility for local blood drives from the retired Colleen Brooks in early 2018.

Although the Red Cross has had to cancel hundreds of blood drives nationwide due to the pandemic, Lisa Winter, a senior account manager for the organization whose territory covers all of Oregon, said volunteers have continued to show up for events that were scheduled.

Monday’s 6-hour event, from noon to 6 p.m., was the first in Baker City in which the Red Cross tested all donors for COVID-19 antibodies, which show they have previously been exposed to the virus, Winter said.

“When we take their blood, it’s just going to be a test we’re going to add to it and we’re going to do that through the end of October,” she said.

Evans said donors can check their test results through the Red Cross app or at redcrossblood.org within 7 to 10 days.

The Red Cross has been following several safety precautions at blood drives, including requiring donors, staff and volunteers to wear face masks. Hand sanitizer and masks were provided for the donors, and staff took the temperatures of all donors and volunteers.

Volunteers who administer the thermometer test change their gloves and sterilize their hands between each donor.

Those who have an elevated temperature — a common symptom of COVID-19 — aren’t allowed to donate.

“A lot of things to keep donors really safe and as well as the staff. We’re looking out for them as well,” Winter said.

The computer glitch that delayed the start of Monday’s drive prevented some of the 110 donors who had signed up from giving blood, as they had work or other commitments.

Evans was one of those thwarted. Her appointment was late in the day and the Red Cross staff had to cancel her donation and more than 20 others.

But Evans said all the donors were “extremely understanding and patient.”

The Red Cross collected 79 units of blood, only one unit short of the goal — a goal that was increased after the successful March drive.

“We’ve been getting more and more people all the time, so our goal keeps going up,” Evans said.

“We had very few, what they call deferrals, people that couldn’t give for like various medical reasons and we had almost no no-shows, almost everybody on the list came in,” Evans said.

She said many people who weren’t able to donate due to the computer problem said they would sign up for the next Baker City drive, scheduled for Sept. 15.

Evans said some donors she talked to feel frustrated about the things they can’t do to help during the pandemic, so the option of giving blood is attractive.

“People have really stepped forward,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

The Red Cross usually has five blood drives per year in Baker City.

Winter expressed gratitude and “kudos” to Evans for her work in taking over the blood drive from Brooks, who was involved in putting on the events for almost 35 years in Baker City.

“(Evans) started converting everybody to the online scheduling system and they sign up, she puts them in the system, she’s just doing amazing things to get donors through the door,” Winter said.

Many of the donors who showed up Monday are accustomed to baring a vein in their arm.

Addison Johnson, 79, has given 78 units of blood. He served in the military, where he began donating, and is now a “power red,” meaning he can donate 2 units of red blood cells at one event.

“I always have. It’s just been part of my lifestyle,” Johnson said of giving blood.

Wayne Dyke, 52, has also donated most of his life. He has donated more than 50 times, starting when he was 18.

“It’s just something I can do whether there’s a virus or not, somebody needs it,” Dyke said.

He has a personal motivation as well — both his parents needed blood transfusions during surgeries.

Chris Knoll, 47, has also donated for years. He was unable to for a time due to traveling outside of the U.S. but started up again last year.

“I started in high school, actually,” Knoll said. “They came to our school and started asking for donations.”

Knoll said his employers over the years have always supported him taking time off from work to give blood.

Similar to Knoll, Jocelyn Wellman, 18, started donating as a high school student.

“I was always terrified of needles, so I needed to get better,” said Wellman, who graduated from Baker High School on June 7. “And then I found out that I have one of the more rare blood types too, so I figured why not.”

Jocelyn’s donation inspired her mother, Kim Wellman, to donate again.

“I donated years ago,” said Kim Wellman, 53. “I haven’t donated for years but then my daughter started donating in high school and I thought, well I’ll get in on that. So, she got me back in on it.”

Carmen Stoker, 70, has donated four times while in Baker City and has donated in the past.

“I just figured somewhere down the line my family or myself might need help and I might be able to help somebody else,” Stoker said.

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