Surging COVID-19 cases around the U.S. are having an unexpected impact on pharmacies – they are closing and reducing hours rather than working overtime. According to a report by CNN, the Omicron variant has infected so many pharmacy workers that Walgreens and CVS have needed to cut hours and even temporarily close stores due to staffing shortages. Walgreens spokesperson Kris Lathan told reporters that these are just "isolated instances."
"While the vast majority of our stores are open and operating with normal business hours, the ongoing labor shortage combined with the surge of COVID-19 cases has resulted in isolated instances in which we've had to adjust operating hours or temporarily close a limited number of stores," Lathan said. CVS executive Mike DeAngelis gave a similar statement, saying that "a tiny fraction of stores are temporarily closed on one or both days of the weekend to help address acute staffing issues amidst both the omicron surge and the workforce shortage affecting nearly every industry and company."
Here's where the issues are happening-- from Bar Harbor to Portland, Auburn to Bangor. I got these reports from state, which outline which days the temporary closures happened. One site was closed nine times during October.— Mal Meyer 🏳️🌈🕵🏽♂️📹 (@MalWGME) December 9, 2021
MORE INFO HERE: https://t.co/FR7licU3TU pic.twitter.com/CVyhcBWWcy
The combination of increased demand and decreased workforce availability is reportedly "unlike anything seen before" by Walgreens. CNN also spoke to the chief of staff for the American Pharmacists Association Mitchel Rothholtz, who warned that these issues are not isolated to pharmacies.
"It's a problem across the whole healthcare system, not just in pharmacy, but our members are dealing with this constantly now, because of the increased demand for testing as well as Covid vaccinations, people who are wanting to get the boosters or even getting their first doses." Rothholz said.
President Biden says COVID vaccines have "overwhelmingly" prevented severe symptoms and deaths even as Omicron cases surge: "The single most important thing to determine your outcome in this pandemic is getting vaccinated" https://t.co/Nj065D03oX pic.twitter.com/jpWMZFVKLj— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 13, 2022
Of course, these temporary closures have caused great alarm about the United States' policy regarding the Omicron variant and the recent COVID-19 surge. President Joe Biden's administration has taken a lot of criticism for pushing vaccines above all else and declining to take other steps to slow the spread of the virus, and now pundits are more furious than ever as these downstream effects begin to show. It was even the focus of the Saturday Night Live midseason premiere this weekend.
Official recommendations for avoiding infection with COVID-19 include full vaccination, wearing face masks and avoiding public places. Americans may now want to check their local pharmacy's hours along with their other pandemic-related considerations. For the latest public health advice on the pandemic, visit the CDC's website.