Given how quickly the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has been spreading over the last two months, it’s understandable if patients have reservations about keeping their eye appointments (or any appointments, really). Now that COVID-19 has officially reached pandemic status, the CDC is recommending a certain degree of social distancing amid school closures, event cancellations and new workplace guidelines. Unfortunately, this leaves most of us at a loss as to how to handle routine office visits, including visits for eye exams. Given how quickly the stats are changing, is it safe to leave home for any reason at all? At the moment, the best we can do is educate ourselves on the virus and follow the CDC’s guidelines on how to prevent illness and avoid exposure.
Your Facebook feed is probably filled to the brim with articles about the coronavirus, but before you re-share and potentially spread misinformation, it’s important to do somefact-checking with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The first outbreak of coronavirus was detected in China two months ago and has now spread to more than 100 locations internationally. The virus, named SARS-CoV-D2, causes a respiratory disease that has been named “coronavirus disease 2019,” abbreviated as COVID-19. As I’m sure you know by now, anyone who has had close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or has recently traveled to an infected area is at an increased risk of exposure. In terms of severity, COVID-19 is kind of a mixed bag. Some cases have reported very mild (to no) symptoms, whereas others are severe enough to result in death. Older people and those with underlying health conditions and compromised immune systems are much more likely to experience severe complications with COVID-19, so preventative measures within the community are crucial to keeping these individuals safe.
COVID-19 And Eye Health
Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear 2-14 days after exposure and can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. According to the American Optometric Association, COVID-19 may also cause ocular signs and symptoms, including photophobia, irritation, conjunctival infection and watery discharge. Keep in mind, discharge is a route of exposure and therefore a potential source of contamination. There is evidence that the virus can cause conjunctivitis that’s “possibly transferred by aerosol contact with the conjunctiva.” Because conjunctivitis can be one of the first symptoms, optometrists and ophthalmologists are often some of the first health care professionals to evaluate patients suspected of infection. COVID-19 is also spread through small respiratory droplets produced by a cough or sneeze, direct contact with infected surfaces or objects, or by touching your nose, mouth, or eyes with unwashed hands.
Are Healthcare Professionals, Including Those In Optometry, Prepared?
Given the seriousness of the situation, should you still be keeping your healthcare appointments? Here’s the bottom line: medical offices are going to bemuch more vigilant regarding preventative measures than the Walmart you just hit up to purchase 250 rolls of toilet paper. Physicians and their staff, including those in the area of optometry, are exercising strict adherence to infection control protocols. More and more healthcare professionals are now using personal protective equipment (PPE) that many patients have not seen before, such as special masks, goggles, gowns, etc. Frequent sterilization of countertops, pens, door handles and any high traffic areas is now commonplace. In the event that patients forget how to handle themselves during an outbreak, there will be signs reminding them to wash their hands, refrain from touching their face, and to cover their mouths when they cough (yes, it may seem like elementary school again, but healthcare workers are not taking any chances). Many practices are now taking patients’ temperatures as standard protocol and asking patients who are experiencing flu-like symptoms to reschedule any non-urgent appointments for several weeks (or even months) out. It is not unusual for healthcare professionals to now ask about your travel history on intake forms, so if you have travelled to a highly infected area recently, a voluntary self-quarantine would be ideal. Here is the Health Policy Institute released and updated by the AOA on March 9th, 2020.
Pandemics are scary, but if we all exercise personal responsibility and do our part to prevent the spread of this illness, then we’ll all be okay. If you are healthy, please do not let the existence of COVID-19 prevent you fromscheduling an appointment with our office and receiving the medical attention that you need.