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PRINCETON — Earlier this month, when people started flocking to the grocery stores to stock up on food, there was also an urgent rush to pharmacies by people wanting to ensure they had enough medication on hand.
Local pharmacies like Princeton Pharmacy saw a rush like never before.
Lisa Stefani, owner and pharmacist of Princeton Pharmacy, said on March 13, as soon as the announcement came that schools would be closed, it was almost instantaneous that her phones started ringing off the hook and customers began coming into the store.
“It was really strange how it all happened so quickly,” she recalled.
The same thing happened again on March 20 when Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a stay-at-home order.
“It was already busy, but extra people were calling and coming in. It was very unusual to have it happen so fast,” she said.
Pretty soon it became evident the drug supply chain was being stretched to its limits, which Stefani said she’s never witnessed before.
A limit on certain medications was set in place quickly to prevent pharmacies from hoarding the medications, therefore ensuring all customers would get a refill at one time. Those limitations in certain cases meant people who requested a 90-day supply could get only a 30-day supply.
Stefani said she’s uncertain whether the new allocations will be long-term or short-term.
“I don’t want to put out an image of panic that people should worry that they are going to be short of drugs, because that’s not the case,” she said. “There’s some that are limited, out of stock, but not a widespread shortage problem at this time.”
One striking thing to note was the amount of customers coming in to refill inhalers. Stefani said it wasn’t just customers who need an inhaler regularly, but even those who occasionally use one.
“My feeling was that people knew (the coronavirus) was a respiratory virus, and let’s say if they might have used an inhaler occasionally, they wanted to have one on hand just in case,” she said.
On Friday, March 20, Stefani said she became more worried than ever when her supply of the Albuterol inhaler got down to only a day or two’s worth and she was uncertain what to do if she ran out and people continued to come in needing a refill.
Luckily, prayers were answered, and a surprise shipment of 24 inhalers came the next day.
“Monday was my birthday, and I thought that was my early birthday present to get those inhalers. It was like, ‘Thank goodness,’” she said with a laugh.
“We feel a sense of obligation that we’re here to serve people and to provide to them what they need. What if we can’t do that? That was kind of weighing heavily, that ‘What if we can’t provide, because the system is overloaded?’”
Stefani said it’s now up to manufacturers of inhalers to ensure they can keep up with the demand at this point.
Princeton Pharmacy did sell out of thermometers, which is now a common item on back order everywhere.
“We probably could have sold 100 thermometers last week,” Stefani said. “There’s none to be found anywhere.”
The pharmacy stocks on average about 10 at a time, and she said once those were sold, it was already hard to find more.
“Normally we can reorder and have more the next day, but all of a sudden, there was nothing to be had,” Stefani said.
As far as how operations went this week, Stefani said things seem to be calming down and going back to normal business days.
The pharmacy plans to stay open to serve customers’ needs. A decision was made last week to close the inside store as a way to protect the staff. But full service at the drive-up window continues, and staff are also offering delivery to those not comfortable leaving their house at this time.
“We’re one of the lucky stores in town, as far as being able to stay open,” Stefani said. “I feel bad for the other small businesses who had to force to close with the governor’s orders to help flatten the curve.
“We’re considered essential during this crisis, those other small businesses aren’t considered essential, but really for Princeton, they are essential, so hopefully when this ends, people will really make an effort to support the local businesses.”
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