The proximity of pharmacy staff to the community has positioned them to play an essential role during the ongoing pandemic. Pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and front-end employees have continued to provide access to necessary medications and information. Licensed pharmacists are also now authorized to test for COVID-19, increasing public access to testing and easing the load on hospitals.
During this time, it is necessary for pharmacy staff to take extra precautions to protect themselves and coworkers. With many at risk of exposure in the workplace, various healthcare organizations have issued recommendations for pharmacies to limit transmission of the virus. Many of the guidelines offered are consistent; here are some of the most common recommendations for pharmacies to protect staff.
Limit foot traffic
One major suggestion to protect pharmacy staff and patients is limiting foot traffic within the pharmacy. Instead, pharmacies are encouraged to offer delivery services as well as drive-through and curbside pickup options for patients. On its website, American Pharmacies suggests that its members only allow carefully screened staff to enter. Its guidelines for closed-door operations also recommend that pharmacies encourage patients to call ahead to request over-the-counter items before coming to the pharmacy. Read more American Pharmacies guidelines.
Maintain social distancing
In the event a pharmacy does stay open to the public, maintaining social distancing guidelines within the business is important. The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) recommends putting physical barriers between staff and patients, especially when there is a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Pharmacies should also consider limiting the number of patrons to 10 at a time and establish 6-foot standing distances at checkout counters. Read more from APhA.
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Follow delivery guidelines
Pharmacies offering delivery service should also outline specific guidelines to protect staff. The International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) notes that anyone making home deliveries should avoid direct contact with patients and their possessions. Instead, pharmacy staff should leave medications outside the door or another designated area then wait to ensure that the patient collects the delivery. Read more from FIP.
Expand sick leave policies
Given the high rate of infection, pharmacy staff who are sick or show symptoms for COVID-19 should be advised to stay home. In its guidelines for pharmacies, the CDC encourages pharmacies to “ensure that sick leave policies are flexible, nonpunitive, and consistent with public health guidance.” The agency also outlines steps for employees who feel sick and employers to plan and respond to exposure. Read more from the CDC.
Wear PPE and disinfect surfaces
When interacting with patients and other staff, the Pharmacist Moms Group advises wearing masks and gloves and disinfecting all surfaces frequently, including door handles, credit card machines, and countertops. Patients should be encouraged to complete keypad transactions themselves; any keypads used should also be disinfected. The group also offers a few guidelines for the end of the work day such as washing hands, using hand sanitizers in vehicles, and disinfecting clothing at home to minimize family exposure. Read more from Pharmacist Moms Group.
Create sanitized work stations
Pharmacies that have closed their doors to the public have an opportunity to repurpose front-end spaces. According to covidbestpractices.com, a website put together by CPESN and NCPA, these spaces can be used as additional workstations to help maintain social distancing. The organizations also recommend creating “sanitization stations” for employees to use before work to wash hands, wipe down products brought from home and sterilize any items entering the pharmacy workflow. Read more from CPESN and NCPA.
In addition to the guidelines above, many organizations also recommend rotating staff when possible to avoid burnout and finding ways to boost morale. Keeping pharmacy employees safe and healthy is a top priority, particularly as the pandemic continues.