Donated blood is collected at Bloodworks Northwest on March 17 in Seattle, Washington. Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Gay men, bisexual men and their female partners can now donate blood after a three-month waiting period, instead of the previously required 12-month span, the Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday.

What's happening: The Red Cross says the novel coronavirus pandemic has caused "a severe blood shortage," as more states issue stay-at-home orders and cities enter lockdowns to fight the spread of COVID-19.

  • Roughly 2,700 Red Cross blood drives had been canceled across the U.S. as of March 17, resulting in 86,000 fewer donations.

Details: The new policy is effective immediately, per the agency's guidance, and is "expected to remain in place after the COVID-19 pandemic ends," the FDA said.

  • To explain the change, the FDA said Canada and the U.K. did not report safety concerns after installing three-month wait periods for blood donations from gay men.
  • The FDA also said the adjustment is scientifically supported, since "nucleic acid testing for HIV, HBV, and HCV" works "well within a three-month period following initial infection."

Of note: People who have traveled to malaria-endemic countries can now donate blood after a three-month waiting period under the new policy, as well as those with recent tattoos and piercings.

Go deeper: U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll tops 5,000

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