How Are Pharmacies Protecting Staff from COVID-19?

March 31, 2020

Concerns about adequate protection from COVID-19 have led to several efforts from chain pharmacies to keep pharmacy staff and employees safe.

A 25-year-old pharmacy technician who reportedly had no underlying health conditions died from new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) last week, drawing even more concerns from pharmacists and technicians who don’t believe they are protected enough from the disease.

Retail pharmacists and technicians have already voiced their concerns in the media and in a Facebook support group about a lack of protection for themselves. One Walgreens pharmacy technician said she was told that there are no masks or gloves available for pharmacists, and no plexiglass has been installed.

“I’m freaked out now. Gloves only for cleaning and the masks we got are for pharmacists doing immunizations. What am I supposed to do?”, the technician asked in the Pharmacy Staff for COVID-19 Support group on Facebook.

However, Walmart, CVS, and other major retailers pledged to keep phar-macy staff and other employees safe with new plexiglass installation and other efforts.

In addition to other safety efforts, Walmart is installing sneeze guards in its pharmacy and register lanes, and floor decals at both the entrances and checkouts, to help customers maintain proper social distancing. It has also recently announced it will begin taking the temperatures of all asso-ciates, as well as asking basic health screening questions.1

“Any associate with a temperature of 100.0 degrees will be paid for re-porting to work and asked to return home and seek medical treatment if necessary,” Walmart said in a press release.1 “The associate will not be able to return to work until they are fever-free for at least 3 days.”

Kroger, Albertsons, and Publix have announced similar plexiglass sneeze guard and social distancing programs.

Publix will start installing plexiglass partitions on March 28 at all of its 1200 stores, spokesperson Maria Brous told The Lakeland Ledger. The parti-tions will be at registers, customer service desks, and pharmacies, she said.2

Albertsons is installing designated waiting points through floor markers positioned throughout the store, “especially at check stands and stations where people most often congregate, like the service deli, bakeries, and pharmacy areas,” the retailer said in a press release.3

In an article published in The New York Post, Walgreens and CVS phar-macists in New York said the retailers had been providing few protections for pharmacy staff.4

“Thousands of people are coming into the store and touching the pin-pads and there is nothing to clean them with,” said an anonymous phar-macist.4 “I don’t understand why doctors and nurses are having their tem-peratures taken before they go to a hospital, but there are no precautions for us who have to deal with sick people all day long.”

The store has no sanitizer for employees, she alleged, and the store has not been deep-cleaned.4

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, I can honestly say that we have received ZERO guidance from the higher-ups and NOTHING has been done to help protect employees or our patients,” said an anonymous Walgreens pharmacist in the Facebook support group, The New York Post reported.4

CVS Health is prioritizing masks “for store and pharmacy employees in markets that have the highest incidences of COVID-19 diagnoses and continuing “to work with suppliers to source additional masks in the face of never-before-seen disruptions to the medical supply chain,” a spokes-person told The New York Post.4

"The health and wellbeing of our colleagues has always come first. We've been working around the clock to increase availability of supplies and up-date protocols to ensure our stores are safe for colleagues and custom-ers alike,” CVS Health President and CEO Larry Merlo added in a press release.5

Some pharmacists are hanging up plastic shower curtains to separate themselves from customers, while they wait for plexiglass to be installed, an individual reported in the Pharmacy Support for COVID-19 Facebook group.

What are you doing to protect your pharmacy staff? Send an email to jbarrett@mjhlifesciences.com to let us know.

References:

1. Additional steps we’re taking for the health and safety of our associ-ates [news release]. Walmart’s website. https://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/2020/03/31/additional-steps-were-taking-for-the-health-and-safety-of-our-associates. Ac-cessed March 31, 2020.
2.  Greenockle K. Coronavirus in Florida: Publix to add partitions at all stores. The Lakeland Ledger. https://www.theledger.com/news/20200325/coronavirus-in-florida-publix-to-add-partitions-at-all-stores.
3. Albertsons Companies Implements Social Distancing Protocol across All Stores [news release]. Albertsons’ website. https://www.albertsonscompanies.com/newsroom/albertsons-companies-implements-social-distancing-protocol.html.
4. Vincent I. Coronavirus in NY: Pharmacists blast Walgreens, CVS for lack of protections. New York Post. https://nypost.com/2020/03/21/coronavirus-in-ny-pharmacists-blast-walgreens-cvs-for-lack-of-protections/.
5. CVS Health to provide bonuses, add benefits and hire 50,000 in re-sponse to pandemic [news release]. https://cvshealth.com/newsroom/press-releases/cvs-health-provide-bonuses-add-benefits-and-hire-50000-response-pandemic.