CDC: Here’s How Pharmacies Can Remain Safe During COVID-19 Outbreak
Pharmacists are increasingly concerned about making sure they can protect staff and customers from COVID-19 infection. Now, the CDC has issued very specific guidance on how to do that. Here is more information.
ATLANTA – The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing reassurance that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacy staff can both minimize risk of their own exposure while also reducing making the situation safer for customers.
Key to those efforts are principles of infection prevention and control and social distancing.
Public health officials say the guidance applies to all pharmacy staff, pointing out, “As a vital part of the healthcare system, pharmacies play an important role in providing medicines, therapeutics, vaccines, and critical health services to the public. Ensuring continuous function of pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic is important. “
Among the important recommendations is that pharmacies should make certain that staff members who have fever or respiratory symptoms stay home and away from the workplace until they have recovered. One way to assure that is by ensuring employees understand that sick leave policies are flexible, nonpunitive, and consistent with public health guidance.
The CDC emphasizes that, while preparing medications for dispensing is not itself a direct patient care activity, other components such as prescription intake, patient counseling, or patient education are and could expose pharmacy staff to those who have respiratory illness.
Filling and dispensing prescriptions does not require use of personal protective equipment, according to public health officials. They urge pharmacies to:
- Provide hand sanitizer on counters for use by customers and also provide sufficient and easy access to soap and water or hand sanitizer for staff.
- Encourage all prescribers to submit prescription orders via telephone or electronically. Procedures must be developed to avoid handling paper prescriptions, in accordance with appropriate state laws, regulations, or executive orders.
- Place packaged medications on the counter for customers to retrieve, after a prescription has been prepared, instead of being directly handing them to customers.
- Avoid handling insurance or benefit cards. Instead, have the customer take a picture of the card for processing or read aloud the information that is needed. Make sure that occurs in a private location so other customers cannot hear.
- Be sure not to touch objects that have been handled by customers. If transfer of items must occur, pharmacy staff should wash their hands afterwards with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol, while avoiding touching their eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
The CDC also recommends the use of “engineering controls” wherever customer and pharmacy staff interact. Part of that is maintaining social distancing of at least six feet. The agency recommends using signage/barriers and floor markers to instruct waiting customers to remain six feet back from the counter, other customer interfaces, and from other customers and pharmacy staff.
Public health officials also suggest installing a section of clear plastic – such as Plexiglas or sheeting -- at the customer contact area to shield against droplets from coughs or sneezes. Importantly, they say the barrier should be configured with a pass-through opening at the bottom of the barrier for people to speak through or share items, if feasible.
In addition, the guidance urges frequent cleaning and disinfecting, as well as discontinuation of use of magazines and other shared items in pharmacy waiting areas. Shared blood pressure monitoring areas also should be closed.
Ideally, the CDC notes, pharmacies will keep staff and customers as separated as possible by using large, outdoor signage asking customers to use the drive-through window or curbside pick-up and sending out text or automated telephone messages that specifically ask sick customers to stay home and request home delivery or send a well family member or friend to pick up their medicine.
Additional guidance is available for pharmacies that provide COVID-19 testing or direct patients services, such as blood pressure monitoring.