Below are some practical guidelines for protecting yourself and your staff to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and the flu in your pharmacy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 spreads primarily from person to person through respiratory droplets. Wearing a mask or another form of face covering creates a barrier to prevent the spread of these droplets that can travel through the air when someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks.
You should wear a mask even if you’re not feeling sick, and require almost everyone stepping foot in your pharmacy to do the same. Of course, there are some exceptions, including children under the age of 2 and anyone who has trouble breathing. Medical or surgical facemasks are typically preferred over cloth face coverings for healthcare professionals, though customers can wear cloth face coverings.
Check out the CDC’s considerations for wearing masks to learn more.
One of the most basic steps you can take to protect you and your staff is to emphasize good hygiene and infection control practices. Even without a pandemic, this is important. An easy way to do this is to provide employees and customers with hand sanitizing stations or places to wash their hands.
Frequent handwashing is one of the most effective ways to safeguard against germs and the spread of COVID-19 and the flu. Train your staff on best hand washing practices (with soap and water for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol) and consider educating customers and other visitors to your pharmacy with brochures or posters outlining practical hand washing tips. The CDC recommends specific guidelines on when and how to wash your hands that you can use for reference.
The CDC encourages using nonsterile disposable patient examination gloves in healthcare settings, and the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) has developed specific standards for patient examination gloves.
You can provide gloves in your workplace and train staff to change them if they become torn or heavily contaminated during the workday. Make sure to remove or discard gloves before leaving work areas, followed by an immediate handwash.
The CDC recommends staying home if you have a fever, cough or other symptoms that might indicate you’ve been exposed to coronavirus or the flu in order to minimize spread. Creating and implementing flexible leave policies and alternate work schedules can encourage employees to feel comfortable asking for time off when they start to feel sick without fear of any reprisals.
During flu season and the pandemic, you might experience an increase in sick employees who need to stay home to recuperate or take care of sick family members or children. Flexible worksites (telework) and work hours (staggered shifts) may help minimize risk and maximize social distancing.
Consider cross-training your staff to perform essential functions where possible so that your pharmacy can mitigate the effects of being understaffed and operate as smoothly as possible during the flu season and the pandemic.
Shared work spaces require employees to be near each other and customers, often within 6-feet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t implement engineering controls to prevent exposure to coronavirus and the flu at your pharmacy.
CDC, OSHA and the World Health Organization (WHO) all recommend the use of plexiglass or clear plastic barriers that you can configure with a pass-through opening at the bottom to provide pharmacy items, payment, and insurance cards in pharmacies between the worker and customers at pickup counters.
Barriers like strip curtains and plastic face shields are other measures that can be effective to help keep people separated and safe.
One method to add “elbow room” and help promote social distancing in your pharmacy is to make aisles one-way. This encourages single-file movement at a 6-foot distance in line with CDC recommendations, helping customers maintain physical distance between others when possible.
You can put up signage in your store to inform customers about this policy, or use physical markers like taped arrows on the ground or stickers to further reinforce and remind visitors to social distance.
Supermarkets and other retail stores have attempted to remodel their store layouts since the onset of the pandemic as part of their safety practices, with mixed success. But ramping up social distancing efforts is an important way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so it’s certainly worth the effort in your pharmacy.
Implementing routine cleaning procedures with soap and water, as well as using Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)-approved disinfectants, can decrease the presence of COVID-19 and bacteria on surfaces and reduce the risk of exposure.
If disinfectants are in short supply, you can use alternative disinfectants (for example, 1/3 cup of 5.25%–8.25% bleach added to 1 gallon of water, or 70% alcohol solutions) as temporary solutions.
You can reference the CDC’s guidelines on cleaning and disinfection for more detailed instructions.
Working in a public-facing business during a pandemic and the flu season can be intimidating, but there are steps you can take to help protect yourself, your staff, and your customers.