Ask Your Pharmacist

March 25, 2020

COVID-19 Q&A with a frontline pharmacist


March is Pharmacists’ Awareness Month. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the efforts of New Brunswick’s 900 licensed pharmacists and 250 pharmacy technicians as they continue to serve our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the first point of contact many New Brunswickers have with our health care system, pharmacists are on the front-lines as they continue to do their best under stressful circumstances to ensure patients get their medications and access other necessary services to manage their overall health.

Over my nearly twenty years as a pharmacist, I have had opportunity to practice from Tofino, British Columbia to downtown Toronto, Ontario and now back to Sussex, New Brunswick.  During my intensive care residency rotation at the Ottawa General, I gowned, masked, goggled, and gloved daily, during SARS. Never have I felt more front line than I do these days as a community pharmacist during this pandemic. Hats off to my colleagues in New Brunswick and across Canada for living the values we swore when we took the Pharmacist’s Oath, “I vow to devote my professional life to the service of all humankind (…) I will consider the welfare of humanity and relief of human suffering my primary concerns”. 

These are scary and anxious times for many of us because of the unknown. Pharmacists like myself are also facing the same unknowns; we empathize, we care, and we are staying open.  Knowledge is power. Let’s answer some of your questions:

Q: Why are some pharmacies only allowing 10 patients in at a time?

A: This is our effort at social distancing. You may also see lines taped on the floor or pilons guiding what a safer distance is to stay between people. When we cough or sneeze, we spread droplets into the air from our lungs and upper airways that may be infected with virus. These droplets can spread up to two meters landing on surfaces within this distance.  If we touch an infected surface and then touch our face or if we breath in these droplets, we can become infected. For this reason, it is important for now to maintain a distance of one to two meters (six feet) from each other. Based on the size of your pharmacy, allowing 10 people in at a time, may encourage people to keep this recommended distance. 

Q: Why are we seeing pharmacies building barriers in front of dispensaries?

A: Pharmacy staff at your local pharmacy are working very hard to keep you safe. You may have read about, or be a patient at, a pharmacy that has installed physical barriers (i.e. plexiglass dividers) separating the dispensary from the public area. These pharmacies are attempting to reduce the risk of infected aerosolized droplets touching surfaces where your medication is being prepared. This may be especially important at pharmacies that specialize in compounding creams, ointments, or liquids where the chance of droplet contamination during compound preparation is higher. Pharmacies that prepare pill packs for seniors’ homes may also implement similar changes. The physical barrier is also an effort to keep pharmacy staff healthy and protected from infection.

Q:  Why are pharmacy hours shortened at my pharmacy especially at a time when we need access to healthcare?

A: The reduced hours are an effort to maintain the mental and physical health of the pharmacy staff.  We want to stay well so that we can continue to serve you. The extra time closed may also be required to do extra cleaning. Pharmacies are always kept clean, but additional measures of disinfection are now necessary above and beyond usual standards of cleanliness.

Q: What does your pharmacist need from you?

A: Respect social distancing. Avoid unnecessary trips to the pharmacy. If you have a fever or a new cough or have been in close contact with a person who has a positive test for COVID-19 or have traveled outside of Canada within the past 14 days or have had close contact with a sick person who traveled outside of Canada within the past 14 day please do not come to the pharmacy. You can call us for advice as always. You can use the COVID-19 symptom checker on the New Brunswick government’s coronavirus website. Call 8-1-1 if directed to do so.

I encourage us all to demonstrate compassion for each other and to follow the advice of health care officials. Together in our communities we will learn how to move forward and to stay healthy. 

Dr Kevin Duplisea (PharmD BSc. Pharm, BSc. ACPR) is a pharmacist at Sharp’s Corner Drugstore in Sussex, New Brunswick. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to