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Digital Pharmacist Blog

The Coronavirus Testing Problem and How Pharmacies Can Help

Last updated Jun 1, 2020 | COVID-19

As the number of COVID-19 cases rises, the need for testing has begun to outpace current capabilities. Your pharmacy has a unique opportunity to provide testing support and change the face of coronavirus patient care.

The US has 160,020 active coronavirus cases as of March 30, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. President Trump recently extended social distancing restrictions to April 30 to combat increased cases and the continued strain on the healthcare system.

Coronavirus Testing in the US

Coronavirus testing is currently limited to patients showing clear symptoms of the disease and can often take hours, even days, to see a result. Patients with mild coronavirus-like symptoms are generally asked to self-quarantine rather than come in for testing. 

According to Livescience, just 20 states were testing at a rate of 1 per 1,000 people on March 26, while six states had tested fewer than 1,000 people. Uneven rates and varying guidelines on who qualifies for testing in different states have made it difficult to pinpoint precise information on the spread of COVID-19.

The tests themselves are sent to one of less than 100 public health labs across the country. While that number is growing every day, many more conveniently-placed, smaller labs in local hospitals don’t have the necessary molecular equipment to produce results. Lack of sufficient tests and supplies such as masks and swabs are also slowing the process. 

But companies have begun to respond to the need for accelerated testing. The FDA has just approved a new COVID-19 test, created by Abbott Laboratories, that can provide results in less than 15 minutes. Abbott expects to ship out 50,000 tests per day beginning in April, which will likely increase the need for available testing sites.

How Pharmacies Can Support Covid-19 Testing

While pharmacies are currently unable to administer tests on their own, many are starting to work closely with local and national authorities to offer convenient testing for patients.

Over the past few weeks, pharmacy chains Walgreens, CVS, and RiteAid have recently stepped up to offer coronavirus testing on their property. Target has also offered space for patients to get tested from the safety of their cars.

There are still a lot of concerns about effective testing across the country, including which tests are more effective, who provides them, and who gets them. As local, state, and federal government and health authorities attempt to provide a solution, your pharmacy can help smooth out the process and get more tests to patients by offering:

  • Space. Offer any extra space you have separate from your business building (such as a parking lot) as a testing site.
  • Coordination. Work with health personnel at testing sites in your area and local doctors as you screen patients for COVID-19.
  • Collaboration. Get in touch with local authorities to see if you can create a drive-thru mobile testing site at or near your location.

Until a viable vaccine is available, testing is the most important tool we have to combat COVID-19. Pharmacies do not currently have the authority to administer coronavirus tests themselves, but that may soon change.

On March 13, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) recommended that pharmacists be given the tools to offer diagnostic and point-of-care testing to combat the coronavirus in a letter to Vice President Pence. The Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) has created a set of guidelines for state policymakers to help them ensure that pharmacies can “effectively support prevention and response efforts.” 

As you and your staff focus on supporting COVID-19 prevention, consider how you can contribute to the growing need for convenient and efficient testing.

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