Nidhin Mohan, owner and supervising pharmacist at New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park, says community pharmacies will be an asset in the effort to increase COVID-19 testing once the tests become avaialble.  Credit: Newsday / Jessica Kelley

Independent pharmacists on Long Island said they welcome the opportunity — and the challenge — of bringing COVID-19 testing to their communities.

As part of a larger effort to boost testing around the state and gauge the spread of the pandemic, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order Saturday that allows about 5,000 pharmacies around the state to conduct COVID-19 tests.

“Pharmacists, by and large, see their patients four to five times more a year than a doctor,” said Tom D’Angelo, who owns Franklin Square Pharmacy. “Patients are used to coming to the pharmacy for help.”

It’s still unclear, however, when testing will start, which tests will be used and who will pay for them. State officials are in talks with pharmacists over how to implement testing, and to handle funding issues.

D’Angelo, who is president-elect of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, said the group has been lobbying legislators for years seeking the ability to administer certain tests.

“It took a pandemic for finally somebody to recognize we are an integral part of the health care system,” he said.

Cuomo has said diagnostic testing, which determines if an individual is infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, and antibody testing, which can show if a person has recovered from the disease, are key to any plan that outlines how and when the state can loosen restrictions and restart the economy.

Cuomo on Tuesday said there needs to be a regimen that prioritizes people who should be tested first — people with COVID-19 symptoms or who have come in contact with a symptomatic person, as well as front-line and essential workers.

“They are putting themselves in harm's way and we want to make sure that they have the testing so we have an early alert system,” Cuomo said during his daily news briefing.

COVID-19 testing has been available at urgent care centers and hospitals, as well as large, state-run sites such as Jones Beach.

There is a need as well as an appetite from the public for having testing at local pharmacies, said Nidhin Mohan, who owns the West Islip Pharmacy and New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park.

“I’m getting 40 to 50 calls a day from people who want to know when it’s going to start,” Mohan said. “People want to get back into the workforce and want to know if they are safe enough to get back.”

D’Angelo and Mohan said they are making plans to set up testing outdoors, using parking lots or drive-thrus.

“All the pharmacies are going to need protective equipment and set up in an area that’s safe,” D’Angelo said. “Almost everyone is talking about doing this outdoors. Having someone come inside the store who might be positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms would be reckless.”

The executive order expires May 25, but D’Angelo said he is hopeful it will be extended.

On Monday, executives from several large chain pharmacies, including CVS Health and Walgreens, gathered at the White House with President Donald Trump to announce they would expand testing across the country.

CVS plans to offer self-swab tests to individuals who meet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's criteria at 1,000 locations by the end of May. The company already has been operating rapid-test sites in Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan and Rhode Island.

Walgreens also announced it is expanding testing locations across the country.

“If this works out, it’s great for the community and great for the health of the community,” said Howard Jacobson, who owns three pharmacies in Nassau County. “Look at immunizations. How many more have been given since pharmacists were allowed to do so?”

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