Pharmacist on COVID-19 Front Lines

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

August 12, 2020

Dr. Sumanta Paul took over Morro Bay Drug & Gifts a year ago, and finds himself on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Taking over an established business is almost never easy for the new owner, especially one as intimate with its customers as a pharmacy.

But Dr. Sumanta Paul took the leap of faith last year when he purchased Morro Bay Drug & Gift from Dr. John Headding (now Morro Bay’s mayor) and escaped the Central Valley for the Central Coast.

Dr. Paul got his education at Long Island University in New York and at the University of Colorado in Denver, he explained last week, sitting for an interview before opening the pharmacy for the day.

He’s been a pharmacist for about 12 years, working in Bakersfield for 5 years and in Sacramento before that. He bought the Morro Bay store about a year ago.

“I was tired of the heat,” he says, giving a familiar refrain for those who’ve moved to the Coast from the Central Valley. It’s the first pharmacy he’s owned and like many other new business owners he’s had some difficulties.

“Every transfer [of ownership] has ups and downs,” he says. “We’ve had some issues but things smoothed out.” And then the Coronavirus Pandemic hit.

“We are frontline workers,” he says. And while other businesses have cut hours or closed, he’s kept the store’s regular hours. “I kept the same hours to help the community. With COVID, at the beginning when it hit, people got scared. We were very, very busy then it did slow a little bit, like any other business.”

He’s followed CDC guidelines, measuring out social distancing by putting down blue tape on the floor. Signs on the front door ask people to wear masks and not to come inside if they are sick. They’ve offered additional services to customers, too.

“If they are sick,” he says, “we ask that they don’t come in. We offer curbside delivery or home delivery free of cost, so people will stay home.”

He monitors the County Health Department’s COVID website (see: to keep up on everything. “Since the 4th of July,” he says, “they said a second wave was coming, and it’s here as predicted.”

With COVID (the disease caused by Coronavirus), it’s a difficult situation, as the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve a treatment.

“There are no recommended therapies for COVID,” Dr. Paul says. “Whatever we see, it’s off label.”

That means while drugs like Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir have been in the news of late, with some doctors touting their benefits and others condemning their use as unproven and dangerous, it leaves pharmacists in the middle.

“There are no FDA approved therapies, no specific medications for COVID,” says Dr. Paul. He notes that despite positive studies with Remdesivir in Japan, “We’re not supposed to disperse any drug if it’s not approved.”

He adds that when the news about Hydroxychloroquine and its effectiveness on the virus in the early stages of infection came out, it caused a run on the more than 60-year old drug. “When it hit the news,” he explains, “all of a sudden people started storing it up, and it was not available.”

The drug store does a lot more than just dispense medication, as Dr. Paul explains they do a lot of vaccinating, too. “We give a lot of flu shots, pneumonia and all kinds of vaccines, tetanus booster shots. I will have the COVID-19 vaccine immediately after it’s available. Whatever needs to be done to serve the community, that’s what I do as a healthcare professional.”

As a pharmacist, he’s got a pretty good bead on his customers. So is Morro Bay a healthy town?

“Morro Bay is a very healthy town,” he says, in comparison to other places he’s practiced. Though there are a lot of older patients here, he’s impressed by the resiliency of many of them.

He talks about a 94-year-old woman patient who takes care of herself. He offered her their automatic refill service thinking it would make sure she didn’t miss prescription refills, but she declined the offer. And yet, every month, he says, she calls in her refills on time.

What’s the best thing about being a pharmacist? “I am the most easily available healthcare professional. People can ask any kind of healthcare question.”

And what’s the worst thing? “Sometimes we get really busy, and it’s hectic. Everybody wants your attention at the same time.” Right now, he’s the only pharmacist at the store.

Though it’s small square footage-wise, it’s a pretty complete pharmacy. Dr. Paul explains that they do compounding of drugs, and are the only “pet-friendly” pharmacy in the area. “People come in with their pets,” he says, “and we can treat their pets.”

Morro Bay Drug & Gift is located at the corner of Morro Bay Boulevard and Shasta Avenue, and is open Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and closed on Sundays.

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