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FDA Relaxes Donor Rules For Gay Men Due To Blood Shortages Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is dramatically relaxing its restrictions for blood donations, as blood supplies across the U.S. have been declining while coronavirus cases are soaring.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, gay and bisexual men would have to abstain from sexual activity for a year to donate blood. The FDA has since shortened that period to 3 months.

Joe Hollendoner is CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

"I'm a gay man who's in a monogamous married relationship and I haven't been able to donate blood since I was 18 years old," said Hollendoner via Skype. "I think that is just something that limits not only the way I can give back to my community, but also stigmatizes me."

Hollendoner says the new guidelines are a step in the right direction, but they don't go far enough.

"There's no reason why gay and bisexual men are singled out as not being allowed to donate blood, because of their sexual activity," he said. "So we should be treated like everyone else and not have these archaic, barbaric limitations placed on whether or not we can donate blood."

The restrictions on gay blood donations date back more than three decades to the height of the AIDS crisis, when the federal government instituted a lifetime ban on blood donations by any man who had ever had sex with another man.

The rule was replaced 5 years ago with a one-year restriction.

The change is happening at a time when the pandemic is threatening the nation's blood supply.

"Thousands and thousands of blood drives across the United States have been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak," said Dr. Sarah Barnhard, Medical Director of Transfusion Services at UC Davis. "Because of that there's a critical national blood supply shortage."

Some 500 blood drives have been canceled in California.

The Red Cross says that is a loss of more than 17,000 donations.

"I've been quarantined at home, social distancing, for the last 13 days. But it was important to me to be here today so that I can contribute. Hopefully the community can use my blood," said donor Elise Bryant.

To ensure the virus doesn't spread, the Red Cross and other blood service companies say they're making sure adequate safety measures are in place, including temperature checks.

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