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Local blood drive volunteers Steve Duncan, left, and Dot Woodruff wait to register donors Wednesday at the Family YMCA of Emporia Greensville during the final local blood drive of 2021.

The American Red Cross held its sixth and final blood drive of 2021 on Wednesday afternoon in the gymnasium of the Greensville-Emporia Family YMCA. If early sign-up numbers are any indication, the Red Cross should receive its highest turnout in months, if not all year, and it could not have come at a more important time.

In recent months, the American medical system has faced a critical shortage of blood donations which has only intensified. The Red Cross, in particular, is facing its lowest inventory levels in more than a decade, and the outbreak of the delta variant of COVID-19 during the summer curtailed the expected surge of blood donations.

”We’re in a severe shortage right now, especially O-type blood,” said Marla Watson, Mid-Atlantic Region Account Manager for Donor Recruitment. “So we are really encouraging all donors to come out and give during this time of giving, this holiday season.”

The good news was that the Red Cross was able to fill 77 of their 82 appointment slots for the November drive in Emporia. This left five slots open for any potential walk-in donors who had yet to make an appointment.

With the pandemic now an unfortunate fact of life, the Red Cross has adapted to conducting blood drives in these conditions. Regardless of vaccination status, masks are now a requirement in the donation area, and free masks are provided for those who show up not wearing one.

Before donation, patients are filtered to a “health history station”, where they are screened for any factors which would disqualify them from giving blood that day. These would include diseases such as HIV/AIDS, low hemoglobin levels, and certain medications such as blood thinners.

The vast majority of donors at Wednesday’s event were not newcomers, but were instead regular attendees who have given blood time after time for years at drives such as this. In fact, for logistical reasons, that’s how the Red Cross would prefer it.

“Everything is computer-driven these days,” said event coordinator Donnie Clements. “Normally, if you give one time, you’re considered in the system and we can look you up, get all the information we need, blood type, telephone number, et cetera.”

One of those regulars who showed up to give blood on Thursday was Ed Conner, who operates the Subway sandwich shop on West Atlantic St. Conner has routinely given blood for over three decades, having been inspired by a series of medical incidents close to home.

“I started in 1990 when my daughter was a little girl,” said Conner. “She had some seizures, and when she was in the hospital they tested her blood and she had the rarest blood type in the world. Even though I don’t have the same blood type, I decided to start giving blood in the hope that other people might give blood if she ever needed it.”

The Red Cross will return to Emporia for its first blood drive of 2022 on Jan. 19.