The Clear View: Optometry in the time of COVID-19
It’s only mid-year but it feels like a decade has passed due to the pandemic known as COVID-19. We are all adapting to the ever-changing safety guidelines. The consistent messages are: wear a mask in public and social distance–guidelines that are likely to be in effect through at least the end of 2020.
What does this mean for eye care?
-There is a general consensus among health care professionals that the conjunctiva of the eye can harbor the virus but there is a low risk of coronavirus infection in the eye which is non-sight threatening.
-The Centre for Ocular Research & Education reports that if you are properly wearing and caring for your contact lenses then it is safe to use them during the pandemic.
-Your regular glasses are not a protective shield from the virus. As of July 15, 2020, the Center for Disease Control has updated its guidance on this.
-Although the incidence is less probable than the nose and mouth, the virus can enter the body through the eye from droplets suspended in the air or direct inoculation.
Redness and a watery discharge from the eye can be caused by a number of things including this virus. Any time our eyes water, our instinct is to wipe tears with our hand. NO! NO! NO! Use a tissue, paper towel, napkin, anything disposable. The virus wants to use your hands as a transport vehicle to another person. Hands are the most common vehicle used for all microbes and COVID-19 is no different. This is why we must wash our hands often. Soap surrounds the virus and the water washes it down the drain. But there is less chance of transferring it if you don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Even if you are very careful, you still must wash your hands often because the virus may be unwittingly transferred to the hands from someone else when borrowing a pen or touching a counter or opening a draw, etc.
It is the asymptomatic patient with unknown coronavirus status that we are all concerned about. Visits to the eye doctor have become a balancing act between eye health and public health. The Center for Disease Control guidelines are tailored for each office in an effort to reduce the chance of viral transfer. Only a limited number of people are allowed inside the office. A phone or video consultation with the optometrist may resolve your issue without an office visit.
If you must come into the office, you definitely will be asked questions about your exposure to COVID-19. In most cases, you call the office from your car when you are in the parking lot and stay in your car until your exam begins. No paperwork is done in the office. Try to return your paperwork by email before your exam or complete it in the car. Your temperature will be taken before entering the office.
Everyone must wear a mask inside the office because the virus, discharged while talking or breathing, can be suspended in the air for about ten minutes and travel up to six feet. The often windowless exam rooms are generally 8’x12′. Social distancing is not easy. A fan helps circulate the air as does keeping the door slightly ajar. Only the patient and doctor should be in the exam room. If assistance is needed during the exam, then only one additional person should be in the exam room. All other accompanying people must wait outside the office.
Even in a pandemic, be assured all optometrists are dedicated to helping you see and have good eye health. The length of exams and the number of patients seen may be reduced to allow time to clean between patients. Please don’t feel slighted.
In order to reduce exposure to COVID-19 when I am with patients, I talk less while doing exams then wait until the end of the exam to explain the main points from a safe distance and I write them down for the patient. I really miss the social part of the visit but again a balance must be struck between good eye care for each patient versus good public health for everyone.
For further information on COVID-19:
Centers for Disease Control: www.coronavirus.gov
National Institutes of Health: www.nih.gov/coronavirus