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Chains do their part to ease coronavirus worries

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NEW YORK — National and regional pharmacy chains were doing what they could to ease the coronavirus fears of shoppers and employees as the contagion spread.

Seattle-based Bartell Drugs shipped more over-the-counter products to stores early this month after experiencing high demand due to concerns related to COVID-19. Bartell’s has two stores in the suburb of Kirkland, where a nursing home was hit hard by the coronavirus. The most sought-after items included O-T-C medications, hand sanitizers, disinfectants and antibacterial sprays. No antiviral medication is currently recommended as a treatment.

“We are shipping thousands of units to the stores,” said senior vice president of operations Ken Mahoney. “Some national suppliers have been unable to keep up with the demand. Although we cannot guarantee we will be in stock on everything, we are looking for alternatives when possible.”

“We recommend patients consider a flu shot if they have not been vaccinated against the flu,” said Bartell’s chief executive officer Kathi Lentzsch. “This will limit the number of flu cases in our area and enable health care providers to be available to those in need.”

CVS Health has engaged with public health experts and organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to spread awareness of emergency preparedness efforts. Through its frequently updated COVID-19 resource center, the company is providing the latest information on precautions consumers should take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and who should seek medical attention.

The company also has taken several steps to support Aetna members in response to the outbreak. “Supporting the health and well-being of our members and removing barriers to care are among our key areas of focus as we navigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Aetna president Karen Lynch. “That’s why we’re providing COVID-19 diagnostic testing and telemedicine visits with no out-of-pocket costs or cost sharing for Aetna members, along with a number of other programs and offerings that reinforce our commitment to delivering timely and seamless access to care.”

Through Aetna’s Healing Better program, members who are diagnosed with COVID-19 will receive a care package containing CVS O-T-Cs to help relieve symptoms. The package also includes personal and household cleaning supplies.

Through existing care management programs, Aetna will proactively reach out to members most at risk for COVID-19. Care managers will walk members through what they can do to protect themselves, where to get information on the virus and where to go to get tested.

Aetna also is extending its Medicare Advantage virtual evaluation and monitoring visit benefit to all Aetna Commercial members as a fully covered benefit. This offering will empower members with other conditions that need follow-up care to engage with providers without the concern of sitting in a physician’s office and risking potential exposure to ­COVID-19.

At Walmart, executive vice president and chief people officer Donna Morris, and Dr. Tom Van Gilder, chief medical officer, sent a memo to U.S. associates saying the company had set up an Emergency Operations Center task force, and was in close communication with the CDC as well as other health organizations. “We’ll address the needs of each store, club and support center in each of our markets, and adjust business operations and travel as needed,” they wrote late last month. “Your safety is our priority.”

They emphasized that face masks are not recommended for general use: “The best uses for face masks as identified by CDC are for those who are sick to avoid spreading to others and by health workers and caregivers who are taking care of someone in a close setting.”


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