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Pregnant Quebec pharmacist worries about unsafe work conditions amid COVID-19 pandemic
MONTREAL -- At 18-weeks pregnant, Sophie Châtillon says she was forced to voluntarily step away from her job as a pharmacist, terrified that she could contract COVID-19 from a customer.
“My employer was unable to reassign me to other tasks that didn't include direct patient contact,” she told CTV News. “To me, the danger was too great if I remained in my current position, having face-to-face contact with sick patients.”
She states a person who tested positive for COVID-19 has already come to the pharmacy where she works.
“The risk of contracting COVID-19 is clearly increased for us, given the close contact that we have with sick patients on a daily basis,” Châtillon said. “I’m trying my best to keep myself and my unborn child safe during these uncertain times.”
The problem, she argues, is pharmacists are not eligible for paid preventative leave because, according to Quebec's Health Ministry, they do not work in an ‘at-risk’ environment.
“I find this extremely hard to believe as I know firsthand that patients are not respecting the precautionary guidelines,” she said. “When a patient came to me today asking me to advise her on a cough syrup to treat her cough and fever, how can I be certain that she was not infected with coronavirus? … Telling me that I am not at risk of contracting the virus while working is simply a lie.”
Châtillon adds she’s also not eligible for CNESST preventative leave because it bases its criteria for paid leave on the ministry's directives.
“As soon as our doors open, our pharmacy is flooded with patients who, for the most part, present with flu symptoms, have returned from travelling without self-quarantining, or who have come into possible contact with COVID-19 and then refused to self-quarantine,” she insisted.
Châtillon states she has called public health officials numerous times to explain her worries, but keeps being told that there is no danger to her.
“These guidelines are constantly under review, but for now, these recommendations stand,” confirmed health ministry spokesperson Nicolas Vigneault.
Châtillon says the stress has taken a toll on her, both mentally and physically.
“Each day, we put our health, as well as the health of our families, at risk,” she argued, adding she also has a 14-month old at home. “To make matters worse, gloves, hand sanitizer and masks are very hard to come by these days, even for us.”
ARE PREGNANT WOMEN AT RISK?
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is too early to say if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public, nor whether they are more likely to suffer serious illness as a result.
“We do not know at this time if COVID-19 would cause problems during pregnancy or affect the health of the baby after birth,” the CDC admits.
It is also not yet known if a mother who tests positive for the virus can pass it to her baby during pregnancy or delivery.
Nevertheless, the CDC notes pregnant women do experience changes in their bodies that increase their risk of infection.
“With viruses from the same family as COVID-19 and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness,” it states. “It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves.”
The CDC adds, so far, there have been no recorded cases of women passing the virus to their unborn children. Traces of COVID-19 have also not been found in samples of amniotic fluid or breastmilk.