With supplies that low, some hospitals aren't getting as much blood as they need, and nearly a quarter of requests are going unfilled, according to the regional Red Cross office out of Seattle.
That means doctors have to choose who gets life-saving blood transfusions and who has to wait.
Donors of all blood types are needed, especially those with type O blood.
Part of what's driving the crisis is a significant drop in blood drives at schools and colleges (which have decreased 62 percent during the pandemic, the Red Cross reports), and about a 10 percent decrease in regular donors, says Betsy Robertson, regional spokeswoman for the Red Cross.
"This is the first time in my history with the Red Cross we have ever referred to this as a national blood crisis," Robertson tells the Inlander. "We’re very concerned about the state of blood collections and the need to just get more donors out there giving product, this gift of life."
The Red Cross plans to host multiple blood drives at Spokane area campuses in March. Donors can schedule appointments here.
Vitalant, formerly the Inland Northwest Blood Center, is the sole provider of blood for about 35 hospitals in a 250-mile radius that includes the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene area, says Jennifer Hawkins, Vitalant's northwest regional director.
Vitalant has also seen a significant drop in donations, with stores hitting a low that hasn't been seen since early 2019, well before the pandemic.
Donors are encouraged to sign up for appointments as soon as possible at vitalant.org.
Those who donate in January can be entered into a raffle to win one of four $5,000 gift cards.
But importantly, Hawkins says that part of the concern with blood supplies is the need for ongoing donations.
"Please don't [donate] for the raffle or the T-shirt or whatever it is," Hawkins says. "I'm asking you to really understand the need in your community."
Roughly a decade ago, the Inland Northwest region had about 100,000 regular blood donors, Hawkins says. Last year that had dropped to about 30,000 donors, and currently Vitalant has only about 23,000 regular donors in this area, she says.
"Our baby boomers and older generations made blood donations a regular part of their world. They donated three or four times minimum a year," Hawkins says. "We’ve found our younger generations are not responding in the same way. They’ll respond once if it’s crisis mode, but they don’t continue to make it a part of their lives."
Regularly donating if you're healthy and able to helps the health system immensely, Hawkins says. If you're not sure whether you can donate, trained staff can help explain eligibility if you call 1-877-25-VITAL (1-877-258-4825).
Blood donations have a limited shelf life and are needed on an ongoing basis. They cannot be manufactured, and as they need to be tested and processed before they're used in a transfusion, when a crisis happens, those victims or patients rely on blood that's already been in regional banks for about a week, Hawkins says.
The Red Cross reminds people that transfusions can help everyone from mothers who suddenly have complications during childbirth like Megan Hall in Pullman, to victims of vehicle accidents like Braeden Simon of Yakima.
"We need our community to not just step up once," Hawkins says. "The blood donation need is every moment."