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In the weeks following the first known cases of COVID-19 infection in the U.S., the federal government, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has been severely criticized for its slow and insufficient response to developing and deploying test kits.
On March 17, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) President and CEO Steven C. Anderson, sent a letter to the U.S. Congressional leadership. His message demanded provider status for pharmacists to empower them to deliver patient testing and services related to COVID-19.
“As Congress and the Administration consider new policies and initiatives to combat the threat of COVID-19, I am writing to urge you to take steps immediately to further optimize the critical role pharmacy plays in helping to respond to this national emergency,” Anderson wrote.
Anderson’s call to action appears motivated in part by the Trump Administration’s decision on March 13 to declare a national emergency. This move freed up $50 billion in funding and triggered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help set up more testing sites.
Trump also announced a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities. His administration recruited a number of health companies to produce more tests at a faster pace, and, because of broad geographic access, the nation’s largest pharmacy chains as test centers. At this time, CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart, and Target are on board to conduct testing by non-pharmacy personnel in dedicated spaces outside select locations.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said his company, which operates 4,600 stores in the U.S., will dedicate and add more of its parking lots for testing as the availability of the kits grows. Historically, Walmart's lots have served as staging areas during emergencies, most notably after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Testing for COVID-19 will be a test-run for the chain’s recent experiments with healthcare clinics. The first Walmart Health Clinic opened in Georgia last year, offering primary care, lab work, imaging, dental, and counseling services at lower prices than many doctor's clinics.
SOURCE: SmartSense by Digi — COVID-19 Rapid Response Playbook
In a press release, CVS Health noted: “Given our physical presence in communities across the country and ability to reach millions of consumers with innovative, local solutions, we’re in a unique position to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.” The chain’s strategy is to work with the Trump administration and other partners to “help facilitate COVID-19 testing with a common goal of increasing frequency and efficiency.”
Although still working out the details for implementation, executives promise that regular customers will not be impacted. Testing will take place in secure areas of parking lots at select stores – not inside – and individuals being tested will not have to leave their cars.
CVS has benefited in recent years from changes to state laws allowing pharmacists to administer primary care services, including vaccinations and consultations that were once the domain of physicians. Its new format, called HealthHUB, reserves 20% of its store space is allocated to health services.
As an existing SmartSense customer, CVS has expanded their current temperature monitoring solution to include COVID-19 testing sites.
Walgreens has also pledged its commitment to aid the Trump administration in providing access to COVID-19 testing. The chain will dedicate temporary space at select locations, such as parking lots, where non-Walgreens health personnel will administer the tests. Locations and timing will be announced at a later date in collaboration with the CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
In a press release, Walgreens president Richard Ashworth wrote: “These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures... . Collaboration with health officials, the government, and across our industry and other sectors is critical at this time. Walgreens has a long history of being there when our customers and communities need us most. We’re continuing to work around the clock to support the health, safety and well-being of our customers, patients and team members.”
Rite Aid announced its stores are also are preparing to offer testing for COVID-19 and additional clinical services from its 6,400 pharmacists. Rite Aid has more than 2,400 stores in 18 states including Washington, California, New York and Pennsylvania where the virus has spiked. The drugstore chain’s pharmacists will be moving beyond “their traditional role into an expanded role” and will be encouraging a “holistic approach to health.” Meanwhile, executives promise to keep customers and employees safe with daily store cleanings and maintaining an efficient generic drug supply.
In response to the participation of pharmacies on the front lines of the COVID-19 emergency, NACDS said that Americans trust pharmacies and pharmacists for information about medications, and about other issues of health and wellness:
“The public appreciates the accessibility of pharmacies and pharmacists, and knows pharmacies and pharmacists have been there for them before... . They also have appreciated in recent years the ability of pharmacies and pharmacists to help provide hard-to-find medications such as those used to treat the symptoms of the flu.”
Said Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association:
“Leading retailers are doing everything they can to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. This includes stepping up during this global health crisis to assist with drive-through COVID-19 testing sites on their store properties... . This is an unprecedented situation that demands an all hands-on deck approach, and community retailers are eager to do their part.”
Expressing the urgency of the pandemic’s growth, Target CEO Brian Cornell pronounced:
"Normally you could view us as competitors, but today we are focused on a common competitor.”
SmartSense is the leading Pharmacy Safety Monitoring Solution and is working with the nation’s largest retail pharmacies to provide remote, real-time oversight for their COVID-19 test centers. View the entire SmartSense by Digi: COVID-19 Rapid Response Playbook.
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