COLUMBUS, Ohio - Terry Mellons sat in one of the stackable chairs that someone had pulled from inside a conference room and strategically spread apart in various spots on the concrete entryway leading into Capital University's student union in Bexley, Ohio.
Thankfully, the day's pouring rain had subsided and the sun beat down as he waited until a phlebotomist with the American Red Cross called him to the door. Only if Maya Pearce's thermometer didn't register a fever when she took his temperature could Mellons enter to donate a pint of blood at this recently scheduled drive.
This is not the usual way of things for the Red Cross, but these are not usual times. Things have changed so drastically, so rapidly in society, that donating blood was something the 67-year-old retired factory worker felt compelled to do for the first time.
"I've written a few checks to charities but everyone feels kind of helpless right now," he said. "This is a special time and I figured I needed to pitch in some way."
In the month since the coronavirus pandemic hit, at least 456 blood drives have been canceled in the 27 counties served by the American Red Cross in central Ohio. That represents almost 13,000 units of blood that didn't get collected to support 40 hospitals in the region, said spokesman Rodney Wilson.
To prevent shortages, the Red Cross has changed its ways of operating to include scheduling regular donations at corporate offices and recruiting new locations for drives. It also has implemented precautions to keep both its employees and donors safe.
To allow for physical distancing and to keep only a few people gathered at a time, appointments are required, a departure from the usual walk-in option at donation sites.
In addition to the temperature check at the door, donors get a squirt of hand sanitizer before being led in (or back to the actual donation area, in cases where the wait is not outside) to get started.
Last week, Annette Titus sat just inside the door to register Mellons. Purple gloves covered her hands, a mask shielded half her face. The mask previously was not typical equipment before the coronavirus outbreak.
"I hear it's your first time," she greeted Mellons.
"Yes," he said, looking sheepish. "I don't know why I never did this before."
"That's OK," she told him, her voice hinting at the friendly smile hidden by her mask. "You're doing it now and we appreciate you."
As Mellons walked on to the next station, Titus pulled two sanitizer wipes from a nearby jug and wiped down everything Mellons had touched. Then, she went outside and wiped off the chair where he had been sitting.
Now that employees have been provided masks, Titus said she has no worries doing her job in these uncertain times.
"We've done everything possible to stay safe," she said. "It's just a new way of life."
Though donors are not required to wear face masks, Mellons was one of the minority who were not at the blood drive.
He and his wife both have masks because someone who lives in their neighborhood made two for every condominium there and attached them to the mailbox.
Mellons said he never thought about bringing it to donate or he would have. He said he's been careful about limiting outings, but decided donating blood was necessary.
"This seemed simple to do," he said as he left, a newly sanitized bottle of water to rehydrate in hand. "I'm glad I did it."
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