CHESTERTON — Uneasiness surrounding the coronavirus has resulted in a national blood shortage.

During Sunday’s blood drive at the Duneland YMCA in Chesterton, American Red Cross team leader Zakiea Cleveland talked about why prospective donors shouldn’t be fearful of contributing in the current time of need.

“It’s very safe to come in and donate blood,” she said in between donors. “We make sure we clean and sanitize after each and every donor, which is something we’ve always done, so we haven’t had to change any of our practices.

“If people have anxiety about donating blood, as long as you’re healthy and well, you eat a good breakfast at the time of donating, you shouldn’t have any problems.”

According to Cleveland, there is a 3,000-sponsor shortage resulting from numerous drive cancellations, which quantifies as a shortage of about 86,000 units of blood.

“We’re asking people to come out and donate with us,” Cleveland said. “Having blood is an essential need, to have it ready and on hand for our patients at the hospital.

“It could be Duneland, it could be a volunteer partner to step up to allow us to use their site. It would be great to see any organization with a large conference room, a gym, since high schools and colleges are closed because of the corona epidemic. We don’t have the sites to come in and sponsor a blood drive.”

Duneland YMCA CEO Dave Kasarda had heard of drives not taking place across the area. He was contacted Wednesday by a friend at the Red Cross who indicated that a church in town had canceled, prompting the need for a site.

“I said absolutely, we have a whole building that’s closed,” Kasarda said. “I just love the fact we can partner with an organization in a time like this to make these kinds of programs available.”

Giving blood is already a part of Rory Elinowski’s routine, so the existing need was all the more reason for the Valparaiso man to come out Sunday afternoon.

“I try to do it every eight weeks,” Elinowski said. “It’s almost near painless, quick, easy. It’s actually beneficial for your own health. That’s why I do it. It helps your body refresh its own blood supply, it keeps my levels in check. It also helps people that need it.

“I just feel like [the virus is] going to run its course. Obviously, we want to slow things down. If this saves people’s loves, obviously it’s worth it. It’s a risk that’s worth taking.”

Kelly Foster of Chesterton used her lunch break from Porter Regional Hospital, where she is a labor and delivery nurse, to donate.

“They gave me permission to clock off for this,” Foster said. “I think it’s been about five years since I donated blood. It’s hard to stay at home and feel like you’re not contributing, so I thought this was a good way to do that.

“I think it’s safe in our area to donate blood, minimize travel, going outside and visiting people. Definitely watch the news, listen to your local radio to see what’s going on in your specific area. If they say it’s OK to donate blood, you should absolutely come and donate blood.”

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a bit of a personal-professional tug of war for Foster, given her job.

“There’s definitely a little bit of fear, what could I bring home to my family, expose them to,” she said. “This is the first time something like this has happened and I have children.

“My initial instinct as a nurse is always to run to the fire and help people, so now I’m kind of torn. If given the opportunity to stay home, do I stay home or do I go in to work?”

As donors arrived and checked in, each had their temperatures taken to make sure they weren’t running a fever. No one could be in the gym if that was the case.

“We make sure everybody coming into the blood drive has been cleared,” Cleveland said. “We need to make sure you’re feeling healthy, so if you’re not feeling well, if you have a cold, the flu, you’re just under the weather, not sure what’s happening, you should not donate.

“We practice social distancing. People are six to eight feet apart to keep everybody safe, then we offer refreshments at the end of the donation to help keep you hydrated.”

Kasarda had the donor count at 79, noting that the church originally had about 30 signed up. There was a steady flow from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., so several walk-ins were turned away due to the necessary wait.

“I’ve been impressed with American Red Cross staff,” he said. “They very strictly observed the social distancing rules. It’s a very regimented system, nicely, but firmly, even to the point where you’re waiting in line for your turn. You have no fear of that, you just have to be cautious. The community’s really stepping up, which is really cool.”

The Duneland Y will host another drive April 7. Kasarda encouraged people to enroll in advance on its website. Cleveland said those wishing to donate who don’t know of a drive can go to americanredcrossblood.org and enter their ZIP Code to find a location in their area.

Email: jpeters@thenewsdispatch.com. Twitter: @JP8185

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