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Should Kroger, CVS, Walmart have to close in-store health clinics?

Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions at the end of this story.

NEWPORT, Ky. - Kroger, CVS and Walmart are inviting sick patients into retail health clinics in the same stores where healthy people buy food, water and medicine.

The companies say they screen patients and follow CDC guidelines to guard against coronavirus spreading, but some wonder if more should be done.

"I feel like there has to be a way to not have these people go in the store through the same doors that we go through," said Kroger customer Lori Slover, a former ICU nurse.

Kroger's The Little Clinic is the primary health care provider for more than a few patients, so closing it would hurt. Ditto for CVS and Walmart clinics. But Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine also wonders how to better protect the sick and shoppers.

Inside 215 Kroger stores across the country, The Little Clinics are still seeing patients by-appointment-only - unless those patients fail a coronavirus screening test online or over the phone.

Kroger told us only screened patients get in and The Little Clinics have "separate air filtration systems from the rest of the store, which safeguards against germs potentially being spread around the rest of the store."

CVS said their clinics cannot test for COVID-19 and they give anyone with symptoms directions to doctors "in a different health care setting."

Walmart did not answer requests for comment.

Slover wants what she sees at large health systems.

"I just don't understand why ... my doctor's office is closed. Like, everywhere is closing. They're doing outside testing with tents. Why can't these clinics do the same thing?"

WCPO 9 News asked DeWine and Ohio health director Dr. Amy Acton.

“I hadn't thought about that,” DeWine said. “Now that you mention it, that is true. That is occurring. That's something that we could look at."

"That is a fascinating question and I've heard concerns along that line," Acton replied.

A spokesman for St. Elizabeth Healthcare told us "since late February/early March we have not had patients at physician office waiting areas."

Mercy Health is pushing E-Visits for all non-emergencies, calling it the best option "for continuing at a time when social distancing is key."

TriHealth is doing the same, and for their sickest patients it has drive-thru screening at doctor's offices instead of appointments inside.

"I wouldn't say it's unsafe. I will say it's not recommended,” said Dr. Bryan Strader, president of TriHealth Physician Group,

“And the reason for that is we do not want patients who either have the flu or have COVID-19, worse-case scenario, to randomly show up in the offices and walk through the lobby and potentially expose workers, nurses and also other patients that would be in the waiting room."

Kroger added plexiglass shields at counters and registers, changed hours to clean more, and has a task force considering video visits and drive-thru alternatives to in-store treatment.

But with people counting on The Little Clinic for primary care, spokeswoman Erin Rolfes says the closure is not an option.

"We want to make sure that we are there for that community when they need it,” Rolfes said. “Folks come here for flu shots, they come for their sports physicals, some of the things that aren't happening right now, but we want to make sure that our community who needs help can get it."

CVS is asking its clinic patients to wait in their cars in the parking lot until they get a text or call to see their nurse. Other in-house clinics are working on similar barriers Acton calls “a work in progress.”

Find more coronavirus/COVID-19 hotlines and resources below:

Ohio

  • Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 833-4-ASK-ODH
  • See ODH’s COVID-19 resources here.

Kentucky

  • State COVID-19 hotline: 1-800-722-5725
  • See the Cabinet for Health and Family Services coronavirus resource site here.

Indiana

  • SDH Epidemiology Resource Center: (317) 233-7125 or (317) 233-1325 after hours, or e-mail [email protected]
  • See more information for coronavirus in Indiana here.

What is coronavirus, COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are "a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A novel coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The CDC reports the initial patients in China have some link to a large seafood and live animal market, indicative of animal-to-person spread. A growing number of patients, however, did not report exposure to animal markets, indicating the disease is spreading person-to-person.

What are the symptoms? How does it spread?

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath.

The CDC said symptoms could appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It is similar to the incubation period for MERS.

Spread of the virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person. Spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet). Spread occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

According to the CDC, it could be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC said.

The disease is most contagious when people are the sickest and showing the most symptoms.




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