Blood donation was a rather surreal experience yesterday. On its surface, it was like most of my donations, but everything seemed different.
It started with the e-mail reminder of the donation appointment, which I didn’t bother to read but Lynn did. The advice has changed: now you should eat a salty meal the day before donation, because giving blood costs you about a gram of salt. Who knew? Not that it was a chore for me to eat such a meal: I can be quite salty when I want to.
Blood collection organizations must be required to have difficult names. I used to be a donor with Bonfils (Bon-fees — it was the last name of a wealthy family which took this up as one of many causes), but Bonfils was absorbed a year or two ago by Vitalant, which looks like Vy-tuhl-ant to me but which they like to call Vy-talent, maybe because it’s a vital talent to donate blood, I don’t know.
Whatever their name, the blood people come to Gunnison once every two months when they aren’t stopped by bad weather and/or worldwide viruses. They didn’t come in March, but they did in May, and they were here on schedule again yesterday. The appointment reminder urged us to keep our appointments “because the need for blood is constant.”
Attendance at the drives has been down the last couple years. People who worked for Gunnison County used to turn out in droves, and they had a competition among departments to see which could bring the most donors. Presumably the winner was the coroner’s office, a department of one, and Frank Vader always donated. Now, though, most of the county donors have faded away.
There’s also no advance notice for the general public. A notice used to appear in the newspaper the week before each blood drive, but that hasn’t happened for years.
So it was a surprise to walk into a place that was humming with activity yesterday. Chairs were more widely spaced, perhaps making it look bigger than usual, but there were definitely a lot more people than I’ve seen at a blood drive in a long time. Here was the surreal part: I didn’t recognize any of them.
Lots of donors keep regular appointments, so even if we don’t exchange names, we recognize one another month after bi-month. But the only “regular” I saw was Melanie, finishing up as I started. I said hi to a nurse I know from the hospital who was there to donate, along with a couple of her co-workers, but most people, including the technicians (phlebotomists?), were unknown to me.
I didn’t get a very clear explanation for why all but a couple of the technicians were new to this drive (other than that one regular transferred out of the Pueblo area, from which this team originates), but I did get an explanation for all the new donor faces: Vitalant was offering free antibody testing for covid as part of your donation.
Usually we just get t-shirts, and as an experienced professional in that field, I can tell you it costs a lot less to hand out t-shirts than blood tests.
And while a large percentage of the people I know feel they have had covid, even if their symptoms lasted a day or two, and now the relatively tossed-by-the-wayside Center for Disease Control is estimating the U.S. has only identified perhaps 10 percent of the total infected population, I’m going to predict my antibody test comes up negative.
(Lynn, sadly, will have to base her results off mine, because she once again flunked the iron test and wasn’t allowed to donate. I had iron to spare and should have given her some.)
Gunnison Valley Hospital’s infectious disease specialist, Jodie Leonard, talked about testing both pre- and post-virus at the county’s Facebook presentation on Monday. In general, Colorado is doing quite poorly on the pre- (which is really in-the-moment, but that takes longer to type) testing front, despite the governor’s vow months ago to be on the leading edge of this attack prong.
While Ms. Leonard was confident in Gunnison’s ability to test as necessary, noting we are provisioned for up to 35 tests per day, six days a week (although they might start skipping Saturdays, a poorly attended day), she said a lot of other rural counties are only testing once or twice a week.
As a whole, depending on which metrics one is looking at, Colorado ranks 48th or even 50th in testing. Ms. Leonard said it’s very difficult for counties without state guidance on enforcement, and there’s not a lot of enforcement going on for testing or contact tracing.
Of course, then there’s the bottleneck for testing test results, and it’s taking nine to 13 days to get results back, which is how we ended up with 10 positives in one day that was really well after the fact, especially now that the CDC has decided the quarantine period ought to be 10 days rather than 14 and that people ought to be able to return to work 24 hours after symptoms disappear.
Take rumors for what they are, but word is going around town that two restaurants have closed, presumably temporarily, because an employee tested positive at each. But if the restaurant closes nearly two weeks after the employee took the test and presumably hasn’t been at work that entire time, I’m not clear what we’re accomplishing. Quarantining the rest of the staff out of an abundance of caution? Requiring a deep clean? All that? But in the meantime, the places were open from the point of test to the many days later that results arrived.
At a previous Zoom presentation, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab pointed out — despite all the optimism you hear all over the news almost daily — that researchers have been working on a vaccine for AIDS for 30 years without success. He is putting his faith in testing rather than vaccines, predicting that “soon” (scientists have a different, longer timeline than the general public, just so you know) there will be tests that give you results in 15 minutes.
We clearly aren’t there yet. Or anywhere close.
Both he and Ms. Leonard doubt the probability that we will develop herd immunity to this virus, because it seems the antibodies are dissipating in a matter of months, and no one yet knows if the antibodies really make one immune in the first place.
Ms. Leonard said as a matter of knowing who might have had the virus, antibody testing is interesting information, but unlike, say, measles antibodies where you can count how many of the little guys are in someone’s system, corona antibody tests just tell you yes or no. “It’s not very interpretative, diagnostically,” she said.
So. I donated blood and am getting tested for antibodies, results of which will be available in two weeks or longer. A lot of other people signed up to give blood, apparently encouraged by the offer of the free antibody test. People are waiting for their donated blood; hopefully they will keep this in mind and come back again, even if the only thing in it for them is a free t-shirt.