A pharmacy in Fort St. James is urging its customers to wear masks and listen to advice from health officials in order to keep COVID-19 transmission rates low in the rural community, following a controversial announcement that was reported to the Northern Health Authority.
Lakeside Pharmacy owner, Shadi Alhawari, posted a notice on its Facebook page on May 22 stating that people that they would be testing customer’s temperatures and limiting foot traffic inside the store. The pharmacy also asked customers to wear masks, while suggesting that those who are immunocompromised wear N95 masks – a form of medical mask used by frontline workers.
One resident asked if it was fair to ask every customer to wear masks, as some can’t. In response, the pharmacy responded saying they hadn’t taken the decision lightly.
They also added that staff at the pharmacy “might have been exposed to a positive case in the pharmacy.”
Alhawari told the Caledonia Courier on Wednesday (May 27) that he was informed by the Fort St. James clinic in May that he had come in contact with a person who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus at the end of April.
Alhawari said the person who tested positive is a resident and a patient of the pharmacy.
“Clinic staff told me that by the time the patient came in contact with me, he was non-infectious,” Alhawari said. “Girls at the pharmacy are definitely scared.”
That Facebook post has since been deleted. On Wednesday evening, the pharmacy said it would be lifting any requirements or restrictions previously announced, following complaints made to the Northern Health Authority for “spreading misconceptions.”
“We were probably wrong about advising immunocompromised patients to wear N95 masks as these are reserved to health care workers as per Northern Health message to us,” the post reads. “But we wanted to make sure that those vulnerable individuals are mostly protected.”
As a result, customers will not be temperature tested and are not required to wear a mask.
The change in requirements sparked mixed responses by those in the community.
“It is unfortunate that so many people have such little regard for the safety of the pharmacy staff. Shame on the town for such a lack of care,” Kirstin Rudolph said.
“I know it’s not everyone in town, but it was clearly enough to make life miserable for the people trying to safely serve the town, which reflects badly on everyone…”
Holly Iantkow Keyowski said she appreciated the changes.
“Some people cannot wear a mask even if they wanted to, it inhibits their breathing or affects other health issues. Like panic attacks who can be very overwhelming to those who have them.”
Individual COVID-19 cases not being announced in communities
Eryn Collins, media relations for Northern Health, said that the health agency will not be able to comment on specific communities or individuals that have, or are confirmed COVID-19 cases for privacy reasons.
However, Collins said “we can confirm that there have been lab-confirmed cases across the north – in both large and small communities. Northerners should assume that COVID-19 could already be present in their communities, and take appropriate precautions.
“Regardless of where cases are, people should be practicing the public health guidance and advice for preventing spread of the virus.”
Health officials said information would be shared with the public if there was a concern about a potential public exposure, or if there was a facility outbreak.
However, individuals are allowed to disclose their own health information, or consent to having other organizations like their employers or third parties share that information on their behalf.
Acting Mayor Dr. Paul Stent said that doctors are not allowed to confirm or deny cases in their own communities.
He said community members should assume that there are individuals in the community who are infected with the virus, “who are either asymptomatic, or have been diagnosed positive and are, we hope, socially isolating until they have recovered.”
“We know that only a small percentage of the total population of BC has been tested and that it is highly likely that many more individuals have been infected throughout the province than the official numbers reflect.”
Stent said people should continue to follow social distancing rules, wash hands, wear a mask “and look after the elderly and more vulnerable around you.”