The total number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is approaching 1.9 million, with the total death toll exceeding 108,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The virus is not only killing people, it’s also putting those who need organ transplants in a more difficult situation.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, many transplant centers have reduced, postponed and canceled surgeries to contain the spread. Most hospitals have also halted donations.
Megan Podschlne, Project Manager at the University of Michigan Transplant Center has seen a significant drop in its transplant rates during the pandemic, from an average of 20 transplants in January to 3 in April.
A recent study published in the Lancet shows that donor transplants from people who have died – the most common kind – have dropped by 50% in the U.S. during the period between the end of February to early April.
Almost 80% of organ donations come from people who die from car accidents, strokes and heart attacks, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the transplant system in the U.S..
Since the pandemic, the stay-at-home orders imposed by states have limited people’s outdoor activities. From March 8 to April 11, the number of organ donors who died in traffic accidents decreased by 23% nationwide compared with the same period in 2019.
Fewer people are going to hospitals for fear of contracting the coronavirus.
Kaiser Permanente medical centers in Northern California have seen a 50% decline in the weekly hospital admissions for heart attacks since March. If people die from a stroke or heart attack at home instead of a hospital, their organs will not be viable for transplant due to lost blood flow.
The closure of department of motor vehicle offices across the country during the pandemic have also disrupted organ donor registrations.
“There has always been a national shortage of the organs we need compared to the organs we have available… We currently have 112,000 people on the organ wait list. We don’t have nearly enough people on the registry in order to supply that group,” Podschlne said.
She added that 95% of Americans are in favor of being a donor but only 58% are registered.
Each donor has the ability to save eight lives through organ donation and improve the lives of 75 more through tissue and eye donation.
The pandemic also caused shortages of blood, as 19,000 blood drives were cancelled across the country during the height of the outbreak. That equates to 540,000 units of blood.
The immediate need has been addressed, but hospitals are now seeing another urgent concern, as more states reopen and allow hospitals to resume non-essential procedures.