Atlanta, GA—The national CDC recently updated guidance for pharmacists and pharmacy staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A key change from just a few weeks ago was the requirement that everyone entering the pharmacy should wear a face covering, regardless of symptoms. The exceptions are that cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance, according to the advice.

“When available, facemasks are generally preferred over cloth face coverings for healthcare professionals (HCP) for source control. If there are shortages of facemasks, facemasks should be prioritized for HCP who need them for PPE,” the CDC notes. “Cloth face coverings should NOT be worn instead of a respirator or facemask if more than source control is required.”

In addition to emphasizing that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians should always wear a facemask while they are in the pharmacy for source control, public health officials also recommend postponing or rescheduling some routine clinical preventive services, such as adult immunizations, which require face-to face-encounters.

“Pharmacy staff can ensure that patients seeking vaccinations are sent reminders to return to the pharmacy at a later date,” according to the directive. In addition, it says pharmacists who are providing patients with chronic-disease management services, medication-management services, and other services that do not require face-to-face encounters should make every effort to use telephone, telehealth, or telepharmacy strategies.

The guidance applies to all pharmacy staff and points 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.”

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.

The guidelines urge pharmacies to 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.

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