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Local hospitals, pharmacies take precautions for coronavirus

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Hospital systems Novant Health, Atrium Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health along with four others on Wednesday have implemented visitor restrictions to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and the flu.

The health systems are asking all visitors who aren’t immediate family members, whether they are sick or not, to avoid visiting patients unless absolutely necessary. In a news release, Atrium Health said only immediately family members 13 and older could take part in hospital visits, unless health care professionals say otherwise. The same is true at Novant Health, where temporary visitor restrictions for those 12 and under remain in effect because of the flu.

The restrictions do not apply to those seeking medical care.

“We encourage visitors to use phone calls or video chats on personal phones or mobile devices to communicate with loved ones,” Novant Health said in a news release.

Other hospital systems implementing the visitor restrictions include Blue Ridge Health, CaroMont Health, Cone Health and Randolph Health.

The restrictions follow Gov. Roy Cooper’s state of emergency for North Carolina, declared on Tuesday and came on the same day that the state identified its eighth case of coronavirus. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization also declared COVID-19 a global pandemic due to its spread.

So far, according to North Carolina Health and Human Services, seven cases have been identified in Wake County and one in Chatham County. Five of the seven were announced Monday night. The five had traveled to a BioGen conference in Boston in February, according to state officials.

On March 3, the state health department announced it had the capability to test for COVID-19 throughout the state. The number of positive tests is expected to grow, according to state Secretary of Health Mandy Cohen. She said the state is expanding a COVID-19 task force to include representatives of hospitals, long-term care facilities and businesses.

“This is serious, but we have been preparing,” Cohen told legislators in a committee on Tuesday.

Access to testing kits remains a challenge, she said. The state health lab on Tuesday had enough supplies to test another 300 people.

The coronavirus is a family of viruses that can affect humans and animals. Symptoms mimic a common cold, including fever, cough and trouble breathing, that can lead to diseases such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) or the recent COVID-19 that was discovered in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the new virus.

Local pharmacies have taken extra precautions, too, in conjunction with COVID-19.

Hand sanitizer and face masks, though, have been difficult to keep in stock, which prompted Teresa Casmus, pharmacy manager for The Medicine Shoppe, to stock up on products like zinc, vitamin C and elderberry syrup to help patients boost their immune systems if they do develop symptoms. Casmus said the pharmacy has also upped its inventory of cough and cold products and nebulisers.

She added that it’s good to “be smart, but don’t be fearful,” which is the approach she’s taken at the pharmacy as well.

Melinda Swaim, a staff pharmacist at Moose Pharmacy in Salisbury, said she hasn’t heard concerns from customers beyond extra hygiene, prevention and the need to quarantine in some cases.

Amie Howe, pharmacy manager for Moose Pharmacy in Concord, said the business has been promoting the use of hand soap and has been providing a homemade remedy of aloe vera, essential oils and alcohol since their stock of hand sanitizer is low. The pharmacy has prepared for medicine shortages by requesting extra supplies of medications for blood pressure and diabetes.

During a declared state of emergency, state laws in North Carolina allow pharmacists to refill prescriptions for certain medications without a doctor’s authorization.

CVS Pharmacy branches across the nation are waiving charges for home delivery of medications as the CDC continues to encourage people who are at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications to stay home as often as possible. Additionally, COVID-19 diagnostic testing and telemedicine visits are available with no co-pay, and Aetna, a CVS Health company, says it now offer 90-day maintenance medication prescriptions for insured and Medicare patients, according to a news release from CVS.

Swaim said delivery drivers have been armed with additional hand sanitizers and face masks.

The Medicine Shoppe hasn’t yet experienced an uptick in requests for medicine delivery, Casmus said, but the business is prepared to handle addition delivery requests if the outbreak progresses. For example, during a flu outbreak in 2000, Casmus said pharmacy staff members came to patients’ vehicles to give them their medicines.

“We’re fortunate in this community to mobilize and take care of people as they self-isolate,” she said.

Local pharmacies are keeping up recommendations from the CDC and health care providers, especially as “the situation behind the pharmacy counter is changing as often,” Casmus said.

Swaim said the Salisbury branch of Moose Pharmacy has upped its frequency of disinfecting work stations and counters.

“Everyone should just continue to take precaution anytime you’re dealing with something like this,” Swaim said. “You just need to be careful.”

For more information about the coronavirus, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

Editor’s Note: A line in the story was updated at 3:28 p.m. on March 12 regarding medications that can be dispensed during a state of emergency. Specific schedules of medications were originally included. We apologize for any confusion this might have caused.

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