Even after receiving COVID-19 vaccines, store manager Tom and Erin Craig, a pharmacist, wear protective masks in their Gulfstream Pharmacy whenever customers are present. The pharmacy has been in the family since 1957. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Joyce Reingold
As seasonal Gulfstream Pharmacy customers began arriving last October, Erin Craig started noticing a trend. The demand for some traditionally top-selling seasonal items was declining steeply, the pharmacist says. And it wasn’t the sunscreen.
“Usually, we’re dispensing a lot of cough drops and antihistamines and things for colds and flu, which we haven’t at all,” Craig said in mid-April. “Antibiotics have gone way down this year. From October all the way through today, very few antibiotics have been needed for chest infections and a lot of bronchial infections.”
Craig, who co-owns the pharmacy in Briny Breezes with her husband, Tom, says face masking, hand washing and social distancing seem to have suppressed the number of customers’ seasonal colds, coughs and congestion. Those precautions were meant to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Zinc, vitamin D, vitamin C and other immune system boosters have been popular items this season. “There have been a lot of changes for sure,” Craig says.
West to the mainland, Dr. Andrew Savin emphatically confirms the Craigs’ anecdotal evidence.
“I continue to notice virtually no cases of the typical colds, sinus infections or viral bronchitis in my practice since March 2020,” says Savin, an internal medicine physician with the Bethesda Health Physician Group, which is part of Baptist Health South Florida.
“The amount of contact from person-to-person has greatly diminished the number of those cases, which in some respects has been what could be considered a medical benefit from this pandemic.”
Cases of seasonal influenza have been trending downward, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the week ending April 3, the CDC reported “lower than usual” seasonal influenza activity. But, the CDC warns on its website, pandemic conditions may be affecting the monitoring and reporting of flu cases, and this data should not diminish the importance of flu shots.
While public health officials and medical professionals assess how the pandemic is changing the health-scape, the Craigs continue to evolve their business to meet their customers’ needs. It’s what they’ve been doing at Gulfstream Pharmacy since 1957, when Bill Strucker, Erin’s father, first opened the doors. The second-generation owners have kept them open throughout the pandemic.
Prescriptions are delivered to cars if customers prefer. The pharmacy has a well-curated stock of over-the-counter medications. It has gifts and greeting cards — and warm, friendly service with trusted guidance, which according to a 2020 Hamacher Resource Group shopper survey, are two of the top reasons why consumers choose family-owned and independent pharmacies.
“We’ve been busy — pretty much the same as we’ve always been. Some customers didn’t come back because they’re from Canada or they’re elderly and didn’t have their shots yet. But on the whole, we’ve been pretty busy throughout this whole year,” Craig says.
“I think people maybe feel safer because they’re in a smaller store with only a few people rather than in the big box stores where there are a lot of people. So, I think that helps us. And then, we have some gift items that maybe someone who doesn’t want to go to a mall, or someone who is close by, would rather come in here and just get something quickly. … I think there were different reasons for people to come in.”
In April, as seasonal residents returned to their summer homes, the Craigs remained busy with the year-round trade. Gulfstream Pharmacy will be open this summer from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday.
And while it’s too soon to know what next season will bring, Savin says it’s possible this year’s trend will continue: “I would not be surprised if some of the typical cold viruses are even eradicated, or at least attenuated, for years,” he says.
Joyce Reingold writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.