Coronavirus, or COVID-19, at this point is widespread enough many are already arguing it has reached the WHO definition of pandemic. Like it or not, it could very well be on your doorstep soon, if it's not already.
So far I haven't really seen articles on how community pharmacies can prepare for the virus, so here we are!
The Quick Guide to COVID 19
Here are some nuggets from the CDC website to get you up to speed on the coronavirus:
How is it transmitted?
Primarily through respiratory droplets and being in close contact with infected people (within 6 feet). It is also possible it is spread through surface contamination, but that's not thought to be the predominant way it is spreading.
What are the symptoms?
Unfortunately, the same as a lot of illnesses. The most common symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Of note, the incubation period is a max of 14 days. At this time, the CDC is notifying the public that anyone symptom-free 14 days after travel to an affected area can be presumed to not have been infected with COVID-19 from that area.
Face mask recommendations
The face mask hysteria is getting to the point it is causing shortages in many parts of the world. Heck one of my friends from Japan even showed me photos of people making a run for toilet paper (and, by the way, this is in a country where toilets usually have bidets), leading to auctions where they're going for $7 a roll.
Just to be clear, the CDC is only recommending to wear face masks in those: 1) With active infection or
2) Taking care of someone with COVID-19
You also have to use it correctly. It does no good to collect all that nastiness on the front of the mask, for example, then grab the front to take it off. Here is the WHO post on using a mask correctly, with photos. I recommend that be part of your staff training (see below)
Preparing Your Pharmacy
First things first: this guide from the National Health Service in the UK is very well done. Print it out and use it along with the below information.
Train your staff
They need to be trained on everything in this article! Here's a list for you, along with the relevant links, of the primary things in this article you need to train on:
How and when to use a face mask
Taking off gloves properly
Your sick policies and procedures (see below)
Proper hand hygiene
Get your cleaning supplies to wipe down counters, doors, and areas with frequent patient contact
Honestly, this is something to think about even without Coronavirus going around. We are in the business of helping people who are sick, so it makes sense to have cleaning agents we know are effective in killing infectious agents, including novel infectious agents.
Take a look here for a list of products to use with COVID-19.
By the way, be sure staff are wearing gloves to while doing it, to protect them from the cleaner and from what they're cleaning. I don't know about you, but considering chemo gloves (non-sterile of course) go for only around $10/box, I would just have them wear those. There's no sense in cheaping out and learning the hard way your gloves weren't actually protecting anyone. The CDC only says to use "disposable gloves," so unfortunately doesn't give much guidance.
Get policies and procedures in place for staff who are sick
It's really sad to see that the US could see much quicker spread of the virus due to weak labor laws and lack of worker protection and pay for sick days. Millions of workers in this country would be risking their jobs, their homes, and livelihood if they stayed home.
If the government really wants to help, they could release emergency funds to reimburse employers for COVID-19 related sick days. And without tons of red tape either. I did a quick search online and it looks like the Brookings Institute agrees with me.
Whoops that would make too much sense for the government - I'm sorry that just came out!
So what can the small business owner do? You might be able to offset the costs of staff staying home partially by working with your accountant to have the expenses added up and written off your taxes.
As far as P and P, just be careful and ensure you are following the law in what you do. This post is excellent and really lays out the rules for you. This post also has some good information on HR-related issues with COVID-19.
They biggest key - now is the time to figure out how to handle staffing!
Get your hand sanitizers and soap, and use them
Lack of hand hygiene, unfortunately, is a top killer in the US. This is another one on the list that should be practiced regularly even after the Coronavirus outbreak is over. For your quick reference, here is the CDC's page on hand hygiene.
Offer home delivery/mail service
Here's another way you can offset costs of the virus and help the community. Why not pitch home delivery and/or mail order to your patients so they don't have to go out? In the process you might get new customers, and more importantly play a role in protecting the public's health, as pharmacists have a long history of doing.
Be sure to check your state laws - there might be rules in place, especially on mail order, you'll need to follow.
By getting educated now about the virus and getting your pharmacy prepared, you'll be in a much better position to protect yourself, your staff, and your patients, and as community pharmacies always do, play a crucial role in protecting the public health.