People are lined up at the pharmacy counter at the pharmacy at the Superstore in Lower Sackville. In front of the counter is a shelf with medicines and other products. Above the counter is a pale blue sign that says Pharmacy.
People at the pharmacy counter at the Atlantic Superstore in Lower Sackville. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

Pharmacists across Nova Scotia are “very, very concerned” about the number of people exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or are close contacts of positive cases showing up at pharmacies seeking free rapid tests.

“We are very, very concerned. In the past four days, I’ve already seen four positive cases in our team members, and that’s just what I know about. Let me be very clear, I don’t get every notification, so there’s likely more,” Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia (PANS) CEO Allison Bodnar said in an interview Monday.

“If this keeps happening, we are going to lose vaccine clinics and there are going to be even more delays in terms of drug distribution. We do two very critical things in this province — one is make sure people have the medications they need, and the vaccines. If we don’t protect these teams, we’re going to start risking both of those.”

A smiling woman with reddish blond hair standing in front of a pharmacy counter with medication and a mortar and pestle in the background.
Allison Bodnar, CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia (PANS). Photo: PANS

Bodnar said PANS is concerned for pharmacy teams across the province, teams she described as already stretched thin. She said she hopes Nova Scotians reflect on the fact pharmacies provide about 95% of the COVID-19 vaccines and they can’t afford to lose members due to exposures or infections.

“We don’t have excess staff just sitting around waiting for somebody to be sick so they can be called in, so we need people to think about the fact that these vaccine clinics are critical to getting out of COVID,” she said.

The recent record-breaking surge in cases and the province’s announcement last week that free, rapid self-testing kits were being provided at public libraries across the province have made the kits a much sought-after commodity heading into the holiday season.

But despite the fact Nova Scotia’s pharmacies don’t carry the free self-testing kits and don’t conduct symptomatic testing, Bodnar said far too many who are symptomatic, close contacts of positive cases, or simply worried they could have been exposed are showing up at pharmacies in communities throughout Nova Scotia.

“They are coming to our pharmacies across the province looking for either free kits — which pharmacies don’t supply — or looking for testing to be done in-pharmacy,” Bodnar said.

“We don’t do any testing in-pharmacy except for asymptomatic travel testing, so people who are looking to travel. We do not do any symptomatic testing.”

In Nova Scotia, people who are symptomatic and close contacts must book a test and self-isolate while waiting to be tested and while awaiting test results.

Bodnar said they’re reminding anyone who’s symptomatic, a close contact, or at risk of having been exposed to COVID-19 to stay home.

Instead of putting pharmacy team members and customers/patients at risk, she’s urging people to send someone who isn’t at risk to pick up any required medications or items, or to make arrangements for curbside pick-up or delivery.

“We know how transmissible Omicron is, and we’ve got to do what we can to protect these health care institutions — and that’s what our pharmacies are — safe and COVID-free so that they can continue to provide the services that the public needs,” Bodnar said.

“We know everybody is trying to do their best, they want to test themselves, they want to be sure they’re COVID-free, but going to the pharmacy is not the place to figure that out.”

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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