There’s a national shortage of blood — donate now and get a free COVID antibody test

Jun 18, 2020

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Three months into the U.S. coronavirus lockdown, some of us no doubt have wondered if we’ve already gotten COVID-19 without knowing it. (Others of us have gone ahead and been tested for COVID-19 antibodiesthrice.)

Coronavirus testing, either for the disease itself or for the antibodies, hasn’t been easy to come by. And unless you have a doctor’s note ordering the test, you usually have to pay out of pocket for the test.

But the American Red Cross now offers a unique incentive for blood donors: Give blood, get a complimentary COVID antibody test. (Thanks to TPG reader Adam H. who first brought the fact to our attention.) A Red Cross representative confirmed to TPG that the initiative went into effect Monday, June 15.

“Free antibody testing for a limited time,” the organization states on its website, citing an urgent need for blood and platelet donations. “For a limited time, the American Red Cross will test all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies as an additional health service to our donors. This testing will provide critical insight into whether donors may have possibly been exposed to this coronavirus.”

Donors can look for their COVID-19 antibody test results within seven to 10 days, either via the donor app or their Red Cross account online. Other results can be viewed as well, including temperature, blood pressure, pulse check and iron levels.

The Red Cross uses a COVID-19 antibody test authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the organization warned that donors should not utilize blood-drive facilities for free COVID-19 diagnoses. “If you feel unwell for any reason, please postpone your donation,” the website warns. “Individuals who believe they may be ill with COVID-19 should not present to donate until they are symptom free for 28 days and feeling well and healthy.”

There’s another factor to consider in your pursuit of a free COVID test: Blood donations are accepted through the Red Cross by appointment only — and you may not be able to get an appointment at all.

Despite the national shortage of blood, all of the blood drive locations within 50 miles of Austin, TX, were booked full through early July. For New Yorkers, a zip code search shows that the nearest blood donation centers accepting appointments this week are deep in New Jersey. A San Francisco search yielded similar results, while Los Angeles has one lone appointment for June 18: 12:30 p.m. at the YMCA on S. Sepulveda.

Sometimes websites aren’t up to date. So I called the Red Cross hotline at 1-800-RED-CROSS to confirm that there were no appointments available in Austin. Sure enough, the next available appointment isn’t until July 28. And even if I waited until then to donate blood, I would still have to wait about a week for my test results.

So yes — you can now get a free COVID-19 antibody test through the Red Cross. But if you’re in any kind of a hurry, you’ll get quicker results going through a standard clinic. And if you have the ability to donate blood, please do so through other, more timely channels. (For my fellow Austinites, We Are Blood has three brick-and-mortar locations throughout the city, including a central location on North Lamar by Uchiko and Tacodeli.)

If you’ve already had and recovered from COVID-19, your antibody-laden plasma is in high demand: Please consider donating to help current patients fight the disease. (Look here for a list of locations accepting donations.)

Unfortunately, ignorance and discrimination still taints the blood donation industry. While all modern blood donations are thoroughly screened for more than a dozen diseases including HIV and hepatitis C before use, gay, bisexual and pansexual men are still banned from giving blood if they have recently had sex with another man, due to outdated policies dating back to the late 20th century when HIV and AIDS transmission was less understood.

This homophobic policy isn’t only based on ignorance — the ban could cost a lot of lives right now, as a number of men in the LGBTQ+ community are willing to donate both much-needed blood as well as COVID-19 covalescent plasma.

Featured photo by Lumen Photos/Shutterstock

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