The latest surge in COVID cases has severely impacted retailers across the nation. Apple closed 20 of its stores across the U.S. in December because of staffing shortages, while Walmart temporarily shuttered nearly 60 of its locations to make time for extra sanitation following alleged outbreaks in January. Other retailers, like Macy’s, are reducing their store hours to mitigate challenges brought on by the variant’s spread. And now, major pharmacy chains are having to make changes because of the rapid Omicron surge. Read on to find out what both Walgreens and CVS are doing now in response to COVID.
Two of the biggest U.S. drugstore chains are having to temporarily shutter some of their pharmacies in response to Omicron, The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 14. According to the news outlet, various Walgreens and CVS locations have had their pharmacies closed over the weekend in recent weeks.
A small fraction of CVS’ 10,000 U.S. stores are closing on one or both weekend days “to help address acute staffing issues amidst both the Omicron surge and the workforce shortage affecting nearly every industry and company,” a company spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal.
And a Walgreens spokeswoman told the news outlet that while a vast majority of its 9,000 U.S. stores are still open during their regular hours, some locations are being affected. “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,” the Walgreens spokeswoman said.
According to The Wall Street Journal, weekend pharmacy closures for both Walgreens and CVS fluctuate weekly and can occur without much notice. Both companies said they were unable to report exactly how many weekend closures they were experiencing, but said they are possible at any location across the U.S. when they don’t have enough pharmacists and technicians to remain open.
Customers in a number of locations, including Washington, D.C., New Gloucester, Maine, and New Paltz, New York, told the news outlet that they had unexpectedly been met with closed drive-thrus and pharmacy counters at these two chains in recent weeks.
“I can’t believe it. Every Walgreens on the peninsula has their pharmacy closed this weekend,” one Twitter user from Maine tweeted on Jan. 8. Another user on Jan. 9 asked, “Are CVS pharmacies open in your town? Ours is closed for the weekend. No pharmacist on duty, so no RX available. We have to wait until Monday.”
Pharmacy closures aren’t new. In early December, Walgreens faced backlash from a number of customers over canceled vaccine appointments. The Washington Post reported on multiple complaints from customers who said they had arrived for scheduled vaccine appointments only to find out the pharmacy was closed without notice, while others said they were only notified just a few hours ahead of their appointment.
Now, Walgreens has told The Wall Street Journal that it is trying to alert customers about closures as soon as possible with signage, automated phone calls, and adjustments in refills. The company also said it is working to restrict pharmacy closures to days with the lowest demand.
Walgreens and CVS are not the only two pharmacy chains feeling the heat from staff shortages due to Omicron’s spread. In December, Rite Aid said it would start closing stores an hour early and only allow people to walk in for vaccine shots one hour each day because of staffing issues, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“It’s a problem across the whole healthcare system, not just in pharmacy,” Mitchel Rothholz, chief of staff at the American Pharmacists Association, told CNN about pharmacies closing because of staffing issues. “Our members are dealing with this constantly now.”