As the world navigates a new "norm" in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are being forced to change up their routines — including at work.

For University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy alumni Cindi Williams and Joel Thornbury, the changes leave them feeling empowered as professional pharmacists.

"The direct patient contact that I had always known as a community pharmacist essentially disappeared overnight," Thornbury said. "At the same time, each of my pharmacists was reminded of their empowerment to make decisions to protect not only their staff, but themselves and patients."

Thornbury operates a collection of pharmacies in Eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia. He has seen an "exponential leap" in activity surrounding discussion of how to best apply pharmacists' abilities to the many developing practice sites needed in public health and emergency preparedness.

Williams runs Complete Care Pharmacy in Hazard — where it's a family affair. Her daughter, Taylor, has been helping out at the pharmacy in between her classes. Taylor is currently a student in UK's College of Pharmacy Class of 2023.

When you visit the now drive-thru only facility at Complete Care Pharmacy, you'll see masked pharmacists and plenty of hand sanitizer, some of which was made in-house, as Williams said they had trouble accessing any for a period of time. The pharmacists wash their hands frequently and are careful to disinfect countertops, counting trays, ink pens and the cash register multiple times each day.

"We have to maintain a balance of safety and accessibility, including providing maintenance medications and offering advice to our patients in order to help them know when they need to seek care," Williams said. "In many cases, pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals for folks."

Thornbury believes the future of pharmacy is forever changed.

"We now have authorizations from federal and state agencies to order and administer tests outside of a protocol to help our communities get a grasp on the magnitude of this disease," he said. "We will continue to stand on the frontlines, prepared to provide appropriate treatments."

Thornbury encourages Kentuckians to continue washing their hands and practice healthy living, while remaining patient and vigilant.

"Remember, this virus is still a viable threat to our health," he said. "We must remain patient as researchers continue to develop not only treatments, but vaccines, in hopes of providing comfort and protection down the road."

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