Community Pharmacies and the COVID-19 Crisis

Betty Chaffee/ March 17, 2020/ Coronavirus, COVID-19/ 12 comments

Yep, we're "socially distancing" ourselves to slow the spread of COVID-19. No trips to the fitness center, no worship services at churches, no school for children, teens, or young adults. Can't go out for dinner, or enjoy a community event. Many of us are even working from home. 

There are plenty of people who are still required to go out in public, though. Grocery stores, some retail stores, hospitals, doctor's offices, and emergency responders all employ people who will be out in public and exposed to illness a whole lot more than most of us. You know who else? Your community pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and receptionists. 

You can help your pharmacy stay open!

Community pharmacists have always been your closPharmacy storefrontest and most available health care professionals. And during this crisis, they will continue in that role. Community pharmacies will remain open to make sure patients get the medications and health advice they need. That's the reason most pharmacists chose their career -- they wanted to help patients. But that means that all those who work in the pharmacy risk exposure to contagious diseases every day. Pharmacy personnel can't "socially distance" themselves from their patients very easily. 

And there's little in the way of protective equipment. Facemasks (only recommended for close contact with an infected person) aren't even available. Hand sanitizers are in short supply or unavailable. So your trusted pharmacy professionals are putting themselves on the line for you every day.

Many of us will find ourselves in a pharmacy at some point during this national crisis. We may need prescription or non-prescription medications for chronic health problem or to treat an acute illness, like COVID-19. Please consider your health, the health of other customers, and the health of your hardworking pharmacy professionals. 

Here's what you can do:

  • Check ahead to make sure your prescription is ready for pickup. There's no reason to stand in line with others if when you get to the counter it's not even ready yet. Use your pharmacy's app or website if you can to limit the number of phone calls the busy staff needs to answer. But use the phone if you need to -- better to check ahead than stand in line needlessly.

  • If your pharmacy has a drive-thru, or offers delivery service, use it. Though you may have to pass a credit card or cash to the staff member, the contact will be much more limited than standing in line inside the pharmacy.

  • Please don't go into the pharmacy if you're not feeling well. If delivery and drive-thru aren't available at your pharmacy, and you're not feeling well, please ask a friend to pick up your item for you.

  • Please don't go into the pharmacy if you're at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Other people waiting at the pharmacy counter may have been exposed to the new coronavirus, so ask a friend to help out.

  • Call for a refill several days before you're going to run out of medicine. Give your pharmacy professionals time to deal with insurance issues, prescription renewals, or ordering more of the medicine if needed.

  • Ask your pharmacist if your insurance will cover a 90-day supply during this crisis. Some insurance companies are allowing exceptions so that people don't have to go out so often.

Let's make sure everyone stays as healthy as possible during this time of crisis, including your pharmacy professionals. They want to be there to serve you, but they can only do it if we all help them stay healthy. 



Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
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  1. No pun intended but I think I’d feel guilty if I was going to the drug store to pick up anything other than medicine

    1. Thanks for your comment Tony. I don’t know, though — lots of people might find themselves needing toothpaste or soap, (or toilet paper!). Whether it’s medicine or personal care products, or whatever, keeping ourselves safe and considering the safety of those serving us is SO important!


    1. You’re welcome Sandra – stay safe and healthy!

  3. Love the post, Betty! Thank you!
    Here are a few more thoughts from the front line:

    1. Continue to be respectful of others and practice social distancing when waiting in line.

    2. Please refrain from stockpiling common over-the-counter medications. We have seen a severe shortage of children’s ibuprofen and children’s acetaminophen (Tylenol).

    3. It is very possible that the staff who takes care of you at the pharmacy has been directly or indirectly affected by this situation, resulting in reduced staff available. Please be patient and know that we are doing our best to help everyone during these times.

    1. Great advice, Alan. Appreciate your perspective.

  4. MY Concern is….Are the pharmacists wearing masks and gloves too? What about our actual medication ? Are they breathed on , sneezed on , coughed on? I am immune deficient and I wear medical gloves picking up my medication, spray down the bag even with lysol then Clorox wiped down my bottle but what about the actual medication????? PLEASE MAKE IT MANDATORY For ALL PHARMACISTS TO WEAR MASKS AND GLOVES!!!!! NO ONE HAS SN ANSWER TO THIS! PLEASE take better caution and I Thankyou!

    1. Dear MJ,
      I certainly understand your concerns, and I hope you believe me when I tell you that pharmacies consider the safety and integrity of your medications the highest priority.
      Even before this COVID-19 pandemic, I would not dispense any medication if I felt that it was compromised by having somebody cough or sneezed upon. These medications also rarely get close enough to our faces for us to breathe upon, and if they were to come into close proximity of our faces, it would only be for a couple of seconds to ensure identification that our patients are receiving the proper medications. We also try to minimize time that medications are directly exposed to air; not only to minimize the risk of any contamination, but also to preserve the stability and integrity of the medications.
      We are also taking steps to very frequently clean our working environments, including using recommended cleaners to wipe down our counters, computers, keyboards, registers, waiting areas, phones, etc… We also clean our counting trays and spatulas frequently, which we’ve done for a long time to minimize risks of any residue from previously counted medications mixing with another medication being counted.
      The team members at our pharmacy are frequently using hand sanitizer to clean our hands. We are also attempting to minimize any unnecessary contact with others, and we wear gloves when we do need to come into contact with others (such as when administering vaccinations).
      At this time, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) still does not endorse pharmacy workers to wear masks when working with medications (unless working with sterile products, which most community pharmacists are not). We are closely monitoring CDC recommendations for any changes.

      Again, I do understand your relevant concerns. We are working to serve all of our patients who depend on our services, many of which are immunocompromised. I wish you well during this challenging period and well afterwards.

    2. Thanks for replying to MJ, Alan. I agree with you – clean hands and surfaces, as well as attention to the integrity of the drug product are all more reliable ways of keeping our patients safe than relying on gloves and masks (unless, of course, we’re working with sterile ingredients). Pharmacists I’ve worked over the years have typically been very detail-oriented about those things.

      MJ, does that answer your question?

  5. Yes! And I Thank you both so much!

  6. Instead of encouraging ppl to call if you are able to, please use your pharmacy’s app or online links to refill your meds and check if they are ready. Pharmacists are getting inundated with phone calls and it is making working conditions strained.

    1. Great observation, Janeen. I went back and revised the post to reflect your advice.

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