Omicron-caused staffing shortages force CVS, Walgreens to close some stores for weekend

Coronavirus

(The Hill) – Two major U.S. drugstore chains, CVS and Walgreens, are closing some of their stores for the weekend because of staff shortages caused by so many workers becoming ill with the omicron variant of COVID-19, Reuters reports.

CVS has said that these weekend closures are only impacting a small number of its stores and that they are a temporary measure due to problems caused by the omicron variant in conjunction with the country’s staffing shortages. 

“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,” Mike DeAngelis, executive director of CVS Corporate Communications, told CNN

Walgreens also stated that the closures are impacting only 1 percent of the company’s 9,000 stores.

“It’s an extremely limited, case-by-case basis and not specific to any region or area, as we make every effort to staff and keep pharmacy open for our patients in the community,” said a Walgreens spokesperson to Reuters, adding that the company is working to ensure that additional staff were being provided to struggling stores to assist them. 

The chief of staff at the American Pharmacists Association, Mitchel Rothholz, told CNN that the staffing pressures have been hitting pharmacies particularly hard due to their relationship with the health care industry. 

Rothholz told CNN last month, “It’s a problem across the whole health care 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.” 

“Pharmacists have been doing testing, they’ve been administrating vaccines, monoclonal antibody infusion, there’s been a lot our system has relied on pharmacies to do,” Michael Hogue said. 

Those are just some of the additional duties assigned to pharmacists during the pandemic. Michael Hogue, former president of the American Pharmacists Association, says the extra workload has led to burnout.

“When you add omicron on top of that situation, that definitely creates a problem,” Hogue said. 

In a statement to KRON4, a Walgreens spokesperson says in part:

“This is extremely limited and on a store-by-store basis and not specific to any region or area, as we make every effort to staff and keep pharmacy open for our patients in the community,”

A CVS spokesperson says the store closures on one or both days of the weekend are temporary and in response to the fast-spreading omicron coronavirus variant as well as a nationwide staffing shortage.

“With this particular new variant, we are experiencing staffing shortages again,” Dr. Maria Lopez said. 

Dr. Maria Lopez owns and runs the Mission Wellness Pharmacy in San Francisco. She is not surprised to hear of the big chains having to scale back.

“My 20 years of being a pharmacist I’ve never seen so many people stressed out,” Dr. Lopez said. “We’re tired. We’re working on the frontlines of the pandemic, pharmacists are providing a lot of vaccines in this country as well as the oral therapies that are newly out so it’s a lot of work for us.”

Walgreens and CVS did not say which stores in the Bay Area will be closed but pharmacists say with less staff, you may notice longer wait times at your local pharmacy.

“You may want to give your pharmacy a call and ask for your refills a little earlier than you normally would just so they have time to prepare them,” Hogue said. 

“Just remember that we’re working on the frontlines and doing the best we can,” Dr. Lopez said.

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