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Giving blood does not result in getting a free test for coronavirus

March 11, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: If you don’t have health insurance and can’t afford to take a $3,200 test for the virus, donate blood because screeners must test donors for the virus.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Blood banks said they do not test for the novel coronavirus as part of the donation process, and they caution that people should not go to donation centers if they fear they have been exposed to it.

THE FACTS: A tweet that blood banks would test people for coronavirus received more than 250,000 likes this week before it was deleted Wednesday and the person who posted it apologized. Still, the false information continued to circulate on Facebook.

“We do a whole range of testing on blood donations as required by the FDA, but screening or testing for coronavirus is not happening,” said Kate Fry, chief executive officer of America’s Blood Centers, a North American network of nonprofit blood centers. The network oversees more than 600 blood collection sites.

Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the American Red Cross, told the AP that screeners do not test for the coronavirus as part of the process.

“The last thing we would want is for people who are not healthy coming just to try to get tested,” she said.

The Red Cross has instituted safety protocols and asks those who have traveled in coronavirus outbreak areas, including China and Italy, to wait 28 days before giving blood.

Young added there is no data or evidence that coronavirus or respiratory viruses can be transmitted through blood transfusions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronavirus tests consist of at least two swabs: one from the throat and another from the nose. Those swabs are then taken to a limited number of government, academic and private labs that can perform the test.

Major insurers met with President Donald Trump on Tuesday at the White House where they pledged to cover coronavirus tests at no cost. While testing for the virus may be free, other tests, scans or hospitalizations could lead to costs for patients.

Social media users began circulating false claims citing the $3,200 cost for testing after the Miami Herald reported that a Florida man went to a hospital for testing after developing flu-like symptoms following a trip to China. According to the Herald, he opted to be tested for the flu first in hopes of avoiding more expensive tests, but still ended up with a bill of $3,270. The amount was later reduced to $1,400 with insurance.

Amid concerns about the novel coronavirus, experts report a drop in those heading to blood banks and cancellations of blood drives at schools, universities and workplaces. The Red Cross reports that more than 125 blood drives across the U.S. have been canceled due to coronavirus related concerns.

The trend worries groups like the AABB, formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks, which are concerned about blood shortages. Eduardo Nunes, AABB vice president of quality systems, standards and accreditation, said it is a challenging time for blood supply.

“We had an incident this past weekend where we were getting reports of a significant shortage in Seattle and the community quickly mobilized to send blood to Seattle,” he said.

The World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus a pandemic Wednesday. More than 115,000 cases of the virus have been reported globally with about 4,300 deaths.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536