Walgreens pharmacy workers face a careless public with little defense

Miami-Dade pharmacy workers are the unsung front-liners of the coronavirus pandemic. Every day they deal with customers who put themselves and others at risk.

Although the Florida Department of Health has confirmed more than 14,000 cases of COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed political leaders and executives to draft a strategy to reopen various public and commercial businesses, promising to take preventive measures.

Some workers in Walgreens stores say many Miami-Dade residents do not practice safe shopping in the first place.

L. L., a 26-year-old Miami-Dade Walgreens customer service associate who asked to be identified with her initials because she is not authorized to speak about her job, has been working for the company for six months.

“It’s so hectic here and people are more stressed than usual,” said L.L.

Regular pharmacy customers are asking pharmacists to issue them their supply of medicine for 90 days instead of the typical 30 days.

“Sometimes insurance doesn’t cover them for that long,” said L.L. “I think it’s sad, especially for senior residents who don’t want to come —or shouldn’t be coming— every month.”

Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 have come to the pharmacy counter to ask for their prescriptions.

“We have had to yell at them and ask them to leave and come through the drive-thru,” said L.L. “It’s kind of scary to think that here in the pharmacy, we can know when a patient has tested positive, but then they can go to the front side of the store and not display symptoms and the cashiers would never know. A patient’s condition is confidential, yet we have to ask them to leave, in front of others, if they show up in person.”

Walgreens employees are allowed to sell customers essential items like over-the-counter medicine and cleaning supplies through the drive-thru if patients ask.

“But some people demand we give them non-essential items like chocolates through the drive-thru,” said L.L.  “We tell them that is not possible. I have had someone tell me, ‘Okay, then I’ll go inside’ like a threat, and there is nothing I can do about it other than try to convince them otherwise.”

L.L. is covering for a pharmacy technician who is sick. Like many pharmacy technicians and workers, L.L. has seen an influx of customers coming to the pharmacy counter.

“It might be a little negative to say so, but I think many, many people do downplay this pandemic a lot,” said L.L. “They wear plastic gloves and plastic face covers that belong in a hospital but still come to the store to buy really, really unnecessary stuff like makeup, and they bring family members like it’s a field trip.”

Walgreens customers are buying groceries at their locations more than ever, according to 36-year-old E. O., a customer service associate at a Miami-Dade County Walgreens who usually works at the front register.

“They prefer to come here rather than to wait in line at Publix or Walmart,” said E. O. “A lot of people are getting cigarettes in bulk too, especially older customers who used to come every day to buy one pack. They’re more concerned with not having what they need if Miami implements stronger lockdown rules.”

E. O. says customers get frustrated when the associates tell them the store is not getting toilet paper, face masks and hand sanitizer in weekly shipments, “like if it was our fault.”

According to E.O., there is no difference in the number of customers coming to the store compared to how it was before.

“And they don’t come alone. They bring their wife, their husband, their children,” said E.O.

Management at E.O.’s Walgreens store gives them a mask every two days and gloves only when performing bathroom or floor-cleaning procedures.

“I definitely do not feel safe,” said E.O. “But, what can we do? We wash our hands whenever we can, usually every hour, but sometimes it’s really busy and we don’t have time to get off the register.”

In a different Walgreens location, 27-year-old T. A., a pharmacy technician employed for more than six years, said she feels mostly safe because her store is taking precautions such as disinfecting the counters every 30 minutes, wearing personal protective equipment and staying at least six feet away from each other.

“We’ve had a couple of people coming with symptoms into the store and asking for consultations,” said T.A. “That’s extremely selfish and stupid for them to do. We had to halt everything and sanitize everywhere.”

Workers at every Walgreens are required to ask patients to leave the store if they are presenting symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to T.A., some patients do not know the pharmacy’s policy.

“When we get prescriptions electronically, we call them so they can come through the drive-thru,” said T.A. “Entering the store without a heads-up is so irresponsible but it happens.”

Equally irresponsible is to attempt to go inside a store without face protection, said T.A. Many places have passed laws requiring face covering, which the Centers for Disease Control recommend.

“People do come with masks on because of the law,” said T. A. “But they take it off inside sometimes, and I’ve seen people pulling them down to talk to me, defeating the whole purpose of wearing them.”

L. L. wants everyone to take the preventative measures seriously.

“Some people don’t realize that just by showing up, just by being here, they are putting themselves and others at risk,” said L.L. “Come if you need food, medicine and home supplies. Don’t come because you’re bored.”

Caplin News Contributor

Monica L. Correa is a journalism student with a strong passion for social issues, international law and politics. Correa has a background in Spanish literature and hopes to become a voice for her community.