Ebony Rhem, Walgreens pharmacy manager in New York City shares what's different about working during COVID-19, why she's proud to be a pharmacist during this pandemic, and advice for patients and customers.
I live in Long Island, N.Y., so I’ve always driven to my Walgreens in the Bronx. Usually I’m in traffic for up to two hours each way, but now I get to work in 45 minutes since everybody’s off the road. You never see the roads empty in New York City. But now, it’s like a ghost town.
And rightly so. At the time of publication, the state’s COVID-19 case count is doubling every three days as more people are being tested.
On March 22, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statewide mandate urging people to stay home, going out only for necessities like groceries, medical attention or medication. And that’s where I come in. I’ve never felt more proud to be a pharmacist.
How work is different because of the virus
Our store is normally a 24-hour location, but because of COVID-19, store hours have been limited to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. At some Walgreens and Duane Reade stores in New York City, including ours, the company is limiting how many people can be in the store at one time due to space constraints and social distancing guidance. We’re cleaning everything nonstop. We’re washing our hands nonstop. We have blue tape on the floor helping customers and patients know where to stand at safe, 6-foot intervals near the checkout. Everybody is trying to keep their distance from each other.
How I feel about being at work
Of course I'm proud, because this is the profession that I chose. I started as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens eight years ago, and have loved what I do ever since. I came into this field to help people, and am glad I’m able to do that, but these are unusual times. I’ve had customers ask me where aloe is in the store because they want to make their own hand sanitizer, which worries me. So I try to balance the health of the people I can help while being mindful that many people’s emotions, concerns and feelings are heightened right now.
There are many ways to access your meds
If you feel sick or test positive for COVID-19, it’s best to stay quarantined and have anybody that can help you, help you. Walgreens has several ways of safely getting you your medication. You can have a family member or friend come pick up your prescription, or call your pharmacist to arrange having it delivered with no delivery fee. If you have to go out, please wear a mask and gloves, and use the drive-thru to limit your exposure to other people as much as possible.
Choosing laughter as the best medicine
Even before COVID-19, our team always got through the day with laughter. Our store sees 300 to 400 patients a day, so sharing jokes, memes and laughs with each other throughout the day makes us feel better. Lately we’ve also been focused on continuing to check in with each other. How are you doing today? Feeling all right? We’re trying to keep our regular sense of family.
Team members stepping up for each other
We’ve had a few call-outs due to child care issues, and my team has been helping to cover shifts and even come in early. I see them stepping up in unexpected ways, and I really appreciate it. They're giving the best they can. And that's all I can ask from them at this time.
My advice for patients (and for anyone)
Follow proper hygiene. Wash your hands. Please do your part to prevent spreading the disease – but don’t spread panic, either. Remain calm. Try picking up a hobby to keep your mind busy. Cut back on the news. Don't fully tune out the world, but try to focus on the things you can actually control. Be the best you can be right now for yourself and your family. You’re quarantined with them, so use this time to make as many great memories as you possibly can. Once this is all over and we go back to normal life, how many times will we ever have again to be home this many weeks with our family?