Here's What Pharmacists Can Do to Protect Staff During Coronavirus Outbreak

What can pharmacists do to assure the safety of their staff and patients during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The state pharmacy association in Washington, which had the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the United States, offers some advice, and Ohio public health officials provide a checklist. Here is more information.

OLYMPIA, WA – In an effort to maintain the health of pharmacy staff during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Washington State Pharmacy Association issued guidance on some effective strategies.

Washington has had more time than most states to develop such plans, having announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States in January.

“Pharmacies are essential to the health of Washington State residents, as timely and accurate medication delivery is foundational to the treatment of acute and chronic diseases,” the WSPA said in a statement. “Therefore, it is essential that we maintain the health of pharmacy staff so that pharmacies can maintain their operations.”

Among the suggestions is that pharmacies should implement strategies to prevent person to person transmission of infection. Those include:

Frequent, effective handwashing, use of hand sanitizer and wiping frequently touched surfaces with an EPA approved biocide should be common practices, according to the guidance, and staff is advised to maintain a distance greater than three feet from patients, and greater than six feet for patients actively coughing.

The WSPA also advises that pharmacists explain to customers the importance of sick patients staying home, sending a friend to the pharmacy instead, or using the drive through when possible. It adds that, currently, “SARS-CoV-2 virus has a relatively low estimated transmission rate of 0.5% in the general public.”

The pharmacy group notes that, if a patient sick with COVID19 visits a pharmacy and talks with pharmacy staff, the exposure risk are classified by the CDC is generally low risk. With low risk exposures the CDC recommends that health care providers self-monitor for illness.

That means that the healthcare provider should monitor themselves for fever by taking their temperature twice a day and remain alert for respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, sore throat. If they develop symptoms, they should self-quarantine at home.

The guidance also urges that all pharmacies develop a contingency plan to stay open with high absenteeism due to illness. Unless at risk for severe illness, they do not need to be tested for COVID19 or seek care, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Ohio, the Department of Health Director Amy Acton, M.D., MPH, strongly recommended that all pharmacies immediately take the following actions:

  • Use calming and reassuring language when patients ask for information.
  • Have a fact sheet available to answer questions from patients on prescription refills, emergency supplies, payer coverage of medications, and other Rx-related information.
  • Encourage people to buy cold medicines now, so they will not have to go out if they develop COVID-19.
  • Establish a process for older adults, pregnant women, and individuals with chronic health conditions to pick up medications without waiting in line.
  • Report unusual patient complaints, surges in symptoms of fever, cough, or respiratory distress, or surges in sales volumes of cold and flu medications, over-the-counter pain killers, or hand sanitizer.
  • Implement infection control procedures, especially for clinic waiting areas:
    • Make sure staff maintain a distance of three feet from asymptomatic patients and at least six feet from those actively coughing.
    • Regularly clean and disinfect counters, waiting areas, and other spaces where public interaction occurs with an EPA-approved disinfectant. Clean at least every hour or after every 10 patients, whichever is more frequent.
    • Place alcohol-based hand sanitizer next to the checkout window so people can sanitize their hands after using common items, like the pen used to sign for prescriptions.
  • Monitor all staff for sickness regularly. Take temperatures once per shift and send them home if they have symptoms of a respiratory infection.
  • Update sick leave policies to place employees on sick leave if a family member is sick and to develop a post-illness return-to-work procedure.
  • Provide recommended actions for unprotected exposures (e.g., not using recommended personal protective equipment, an unrecognized infectious patient contact).
  • Know your active standing orders, collaborative practice agreements, and memorandums of understanding. Know the most up to date timelines on when you may be receiving certain capabilities or products (vaccines, therapeutics, testing).

The group has created a COVID-19 Checklist for Pharmacies available here.

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