NORFOLK, Va. - It may be 2021, but we're still in a pandemic and blood supplies are still low.
That's the message from Michelle Ellis Young, Executive Director of the Coastal Virginia chapter of the American Red Cross, this National Blood Donor Month.
The first National Blood Donor Month was in 1970; established in January when winter conditions and increased illness typically lead to fewer blood donations.
Ellis Young says the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the need for both blood donations and, in particular, convalescent plasma donations. Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood and can carry COVID-19 antibodies to help fight the virus.
Anyone who has had the virus is asked to donate plasma, which is a more time-consuming process and requires a screening beforehand. Gov. Ralph Northam donated his plasma last month to help promote the effort.
Ellis Young tells News 3 others who haven't had COVID-19 or are unsure can sign up for blood donation and their donation will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies.
"We test every bit of blood that comes through for those antibodies," she said.
The Red Cross has worked to keep blood donation safe in light of the pandemic and Ellis Young says on the whole, large blood drives have been a success...until you look closer.
"Unfortunately, those events taper off a little bit when we start to target demographically, especially in the black and African American community," she said.
Ellis Young tells News 3 that uncertainty over COVID-19, the vaccine roll out and a general distrust from communities of color dating back decades all play a role in the lower numbers.
"There are lots of misconceptions about blood donation, particularly now in a COVID environment, and we're just addressing those things head on in order to ensure our community, and particularly our communities of color, that giving blood is a safe way to help," she said.
Ellis Young says, as far as she's been able to find out, she is the Coastal Virginia chapter's first black Executive Director.
She's hoping her status and the visibility that comes with it can help to begin to heal trust issues within the black community. She's also working on ways to improve outreach in 2021.
"You're going to have fun with something that's coming up that's going to kick off in February. I can't wait to share it with you," Ellis Young told News 3 reporter Anthony Sabella.
To celebrate National Blood Donor Month, the American Red Cross is partnering with the NFL to help promote donations -- entering donors for a chance to win a trip to the 2022 Super Bowl.
For more information about blood donation and where you can donate, click HERE.