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Verify: Can an organ donor who died of COVID-19 still donate?

For an organ donation to happen during the COVID-19 pandemic, strict testing guidelines must be followed, which means longer waits for those needing a transplant.

DENVER — COVID-19 has already taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, but the domino effect of the virus extends farther than some may have realized.

Not only can one person contagious with COVID-19 spread it to many others, but one person being sick with it or dying from it can have negative impacts on people they may have never even met.

Viewer Nancy wrote in asking what the protocol is during the pandemic when it comes to organ transplantation.

The Question

"If you are an organ donor, can your organs (tissue, etc) still be used for someone awaiting a donor match if you have or had COVID-19 at the time of your death?"

The Answer

No. If someone dies of COVID-19 or is currently infected with the virus, they are not eligible to donate their organs.

What we found

According to Andrea Smith with Donor Alliance, which is a nonprofit organ procurement organization that serves Colorado, there are strict guidelines in place for donors during the pandemic.

While donors that die from COVID-19 aren’t eligible to donate, those that currently have the virus or recently had it aren’t eligible either.

“As you can imagine we would never want to transmit the acute disease into a recipient, or any disease that we don't cure for,” Smith said. “So, every single donor gets a PCR test for COVID, if they test positive, they wouldn’t be eligible to donate.”

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And while these protocols are in place for a good reason to prevent a vulnerable person from being infected, it, unfortunately, means an even longer wait for those needing a transplant, and potentially putting their own lives at risk.

“Every single donor that we’re not able to convert into lifesaving transplants are potential lives lost on the other end,” Smith said. “There are more than 2,000 people in Colorado waiting for a lifesaving transplant.”

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LifeSource, an organization that helps with the organ donation and transplant process, has guidance on their website about organ transplantation and COVID-19, which says that 28 days must have passed since recovering from COVID-19 and the donor must have had two negative COVID-19 tests and no symptoms before they are eligible to donate.

Credit: LifeSource
LifeSource's COVID-19 guidelines.

Regarding testing for COVID-19 prior to a transplant, Lifesorce said: “LifeSource screens all organ, eye and tissue donors for risk factors utilizing Centers for Disease Control (CDC) criteria. LifeSource tests all potential organ donors. LifeSource is testing all donors utilizing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved testing platforms. Results of screening and testing are shared with transplant centers, tissue processors, and eye processors so they may make an informed decision regarding accepting organs, eyes & tissues for their recipients.”

So we can verify that no, If someone is a donor and has COVID-19 at the time of death, or if a recipient has an active COVID-19 infection, they are not eligible for a transplant.