Red Cross alerts donors in Minneapolis of possible coronavirus exposure

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A brick building with American Red Cross sign on front
The American Red Cross building on Friday, Mar. 27, 2020 in St. Paul, Minn.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

The American Red Cross Minnesota said two of its Minneapolis Blood Donation Center employees became ill recently with coronavirus symptoms. As a result, the organization notified 19 donors they were possibly exposed to the virus.

In a statement, the Red Cross says both staffers passed temperature checks at the time they last worked on March 17. They subsequently developed symptoms and have not returned to work since that date. Four other Red Cross workers who had close contact with the workers on March 17 remain at home in self-quarantine for 14 days, monitoring for any symptoms.

The Red Cross said it became aware of the illnesses on Saturday, March 21.

It hasn't said whether the employees were tested for COVID-19. No blood donors have reported any symptoms following donations at the center, according to the organization.

A person donating blood
The American Red Cross has reported a large shortage of donations due to a large number of blood drive cancellations amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Chris Graves | MPR News

The Red Cross closed its Minneapolis center for cleaning following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, said Sue Thesenga, a spokesperson. The blood donation site reopened Wednesday, March 25.

She said the Red Cross strengthened procedures in early March to guard against the virus including, “Checking the temperature of staff and donors before entering a drive to make sure they are healthy; spacing beds, where possible, to follow social distancing practices between blood donors; and increased disinfecting of surfaces and equipment."

Thesenga added that staffers are also wearing and changing gloves and regularly wiping down "high-touch" areas.

She said Red Cross staffers at blood donation sites plan to begin wearing "surgical" masks the week of March 30, if they are available. There are five Red Cross blood donation sites across the state.

Memorial Blood Centers, which operates 10 donation sites in the metro area and in northern Minnesota, says it has no plans to require staffers to wear masks so that that protective equipment can be reserved for those working with sick people.

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