Athletic department, American Red Cross host blood drive

Social distancing measures were implemented to keep staff and donors safe at USC Galen Center. (Photo courtesy of Christine Welch / American Red Cross)

Galen Center’s court was packed for the first time in nearly a month Tuesday, but not for the usual reasons. Donors showed up in droves for a blood drive that ran from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., hosted by USC Athletics and the American Red Cross.

American Red Cross external communications manager Christine Welch said that the blood could be donated to sickle cell patients, patients with bloodborne cancers, accident victims and patients undergoing organ transplants. The drive came less than a month after the Red Cross declared severe blood shortages in the Los Angeles area due to blood drive cancellations caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We had a great turnout,” Welch said. “Thank you to the Trojan community and the Southern California community for coming out and rolling up a sleeve to donate and help save lives.”

Though COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and not transmitted by blood, USC Athletics and the Red Cross still had to take extra precautions to ensure that donors and health care workers alike were following public health protocol — whenever possible.

“Everyone in the building is wearing masks,” USC associate athletic director Hatcher Parnell said. “We have our six-foot social distancing at check in, everything [is] spread out pretty well. There’s still the close touch when [donors] get their screenings but other than that, everybody’s abiding by the social distancing and [wearing] masks and gloves and [doing] everything that we’re supposed to be doing.”

Welch said that in a usual blood drive, the Red Cross takes several measures to ensure proper sanitation and safety such as disinfecting equipment, using facemasks, wiping down surfaces that have been touched by donors and changing out gloves frequently. 

Amid the pandemic, Welch said those procedures have been taken to another level. 

“There’s a number of new safety protocols that have been put into place for a few weeks now,” Welch said. “And that includes taking your temperature before entering the drive, screening for health symptoms — again, and that includes travel to coronavirus-risk countries … So there’s a number of safety protocols that are put into place to keep it a healthy and safe environment.”

Hatcher said the athletic department values helping the local community and that partnering with the Red Cross for the blood drive was a great way to do so. Athletic director Mike Bohn called it “the most important game of the year” in a statement announcing the drive on April 3, and the big screen at Galen Center during the drive portrayed that message as well.

“It’s something near and dear to our president [Carol Folt] and to my senior staff here in athletics,” Parnell said of assisting the surrounding community. “It’s one of those things that we’re really passionate about — helping the community — and in this time of need and the Red Cross needs blood, it’s the right thing to do and we’re here to assist whenever we can help save lives.”

Welch said that the partnership between the Red Cross and USC Athletics had been facilitated through the Red Cross L.A. humanitarian services branch of the organization. 

“We heard USC had a great space to hold a blood drive that would support social distancing, allow us to put the donor beds appropriately spaced apart, waiting areas, etc.,” Welch said. “So we appreciate the support of USC in opening their doors to provide the space and support a type of a blood drive where we can still put into place those safety protocols while still collecting blood in a great environment.”

Parnell said he hopes the event will spur businesses and other universities to follow USC’s footsteps amid the pandemic. 

“USC likes to be a leader in the community,” Parnell said. “And this blood drive kind of helps us do that. So, hopefully, other institutions, other companies, etc. see this and if the Red Cross comes a-knocking, hopefully they can step up as well.”