A blood donor. (Photo by Anton Kurniawan/Flickr)

Blood centers nationwide are urging healthy people to continue to donate blood despite concerns about the novel coronavirus.

Vitalant, the nation’s second-largest community blood service provider, said in a statement that it supports initiatives by public health officials to limit the spread of the virus, which is also known as COVID-19.

But it said blood centers have always required people to be in good health to donate blood, and the blood collection process follows policies established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure the health and safety of donors and patients.

Dr. Ralph Vassallo, Vitalant’s chief medical and scientific officer, said, “Hospitals will be extremely challenged if COVID-19 infections increase. The last thing we want them worrying about is having enough blood for trauma victims and cancer patients.”

Vassallo said, “That’s why it’s imperative that healthy individuals donate blood at drives and blood donation sites now.”

Representing all blood banks, the AABB, formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks, recently urged healthy people to make and keep donation appointments and ensure blood drives continue.

Blood bank officials said all blood types and components are needed, with a significant need for platelets and type O blood donations.

They said the supply of platelets needs to be constantly replenished because platelets have a short shelf life of only five days.

Vitalant said that in addition to barring non-healthy people from donating, it is alerting people not to donate if they have visited mainland China, South Korea, Iran and Italy within 28 days, have had a COVID-19 infection or been exposed to someone suspected of having a COVID-19 infection.

The nonprofit said that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is currently low.

Vassallo said, “Furthermore, due to the nature of the virus, it is highly unlikely that it can be transmitted through blood transfusions.”

The blood service center said that in addition to the vigorous FDA-mandated testing of all blood components donated, its staff follow rigorous safety and disinfection protocols at its blood drives and donation centers. It also said giving blood has no impact on a donor’s immune system.

“Sick hospital patients rely on blood donors — there is no other source for blood. We need healthy individuals to donate blood, while following guidance from the CDC and other agencies,” Vassallo said.

Vitalant, formerly known as the Blood Centers of the Pacific, is based in the Phoenix area but has two blood donation centers in San Francisco.