COVID-19 is a global health crisis. The disease has had disastrous effects on all sectors of the US healthcare system, particularly eye care. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused severe disruptions to the US eye care industry.
On April 28, 2020, the Vision Council sent a letter to the leaders of Congress requesting stimulus support for the eye care industry. Specifically, the Vision Council requested personal protective equipment (PPEs), COVID-19 testing, and liability protection, among other things.
Support from the government isn’t the only issue the eye care industry is facing. Here are several other ways COVID-19 has affected US eye care.
Eye care visits
To help prevent COVID-19 from spreading, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued guidelines for all healthcare facilities and private clinics. The CDC urged healthcare facilities to delay, reschedule, or postpone all non-urgent and elective admissions and procedures. This includes postponing routine eye care visits.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) has agreed to comply with the CDC’s guidelines. The AOA has already released an official statement advising all eye care professionals to postpone routine eye care visits.
For the moment, all eye care facilities in the US are closed indefinitely.
As a result of the closure of eye care clinics, the number of exams performed and new patients examined have both dropped greatly.
On March 26, 2020, CovalentCareers released a report that provided data on the impact of COVID-19 on 2,800 optometric practices across all 50 States.
According to data comparing the first quarter (Q1) of 2019 against the first quarter of 2020, the number of total exams performed is down by a significant margin. From April 8 to April 14, 2019, 179,776 eye exams were performed. Meanwhile, from April 6 to April 12, 2020, only 10,683 eye exams were performed. This constitutes a 96% drop in the total number of exams performed.
The number of new patients has also plummeted. From April 8 to April 14, 2019, there were 52,281 new patients across 2,800 optometric practices. From April 6 to April 12, 2020, though, there were only 3,399 new patients. This is a 96% drop in the number of new patients.
Eye care sales
The downward trend in both eye exams and new patients has had a ripple effect on eye care sales. Naturally, sales of contact lenses are also in a slump.
According to the report from CovalentCareers, there were 51,831 purchases of contact lenses from April 8 to April 14, 2019, but only 26,588 purchases from April 6 to April 12, 2020. This equates to a 61% decrease in purchases.
From April 8 to April 14, 2019, 158,696 boxes of contact lenses were sold. From April 6 to April 12, 2020, only 65,137 boxes were sold— a decrease of 69%.
Online eye care
The CDC’s guidelines don’t just affect eye care professionals. Obviously, it has affected patients too.
In an effort to care for patients despite the COVID-19 crisis, eye care professionals have started doing virtual visits. Optometrists and ophthalmologists across the US are seeing patients via video conferencing on smartphones and computers or even through regular telephone calls.
Eye care websites and eCommerce stores are also trying to do their part to help consumers. Since eye exams in clinics are not really an option at the moment, a number of eCommerce contact lens websites have started offering online vision tests.
What’s great about these online vision tests is that they’re safe, accurate, and reviewed by licensed eye care professionals. People who take these tests also receive a prescription renewal, if they need corrective lenses.
With online eye tests, people can renew their prescriptions and purchase contact lenses or eyeglasses from the safety of their homes. It’s convenient and eliminates risking infection.
Personal eye care
As of now, the science behind COVID-19 is still limited. Experts don’t know a lot about the virus and are still trying to figure many things out. There is neither scientific reason nor sufficient data to support the theory that wearing contact lenses increases your risk of contracting COVID-19.
That being said, contact lens wearers do touch their eyes more often when compared to people who don’t wear contacts. People need to take precautions when it comes to contact lens care and safety since one major piece of advice that the CDC gave to the public is to avoid touching the eyes, nose, and mouth—especially with unwashed hands.
If you wear contact lenses, here are some steps you should take to minimize your risk of contracting COVID-19:
- Wash your hands.
Thorough hand washing eliminates harmful germs and therefore prevents the spread of COVID-19. Whether or not you wear contact lenses, washing your hands with antibacterial soap and water for 20 seconds is one of the best things you can do to stay clean and safe.
If you wear contact lenses, you need to wash your hands with soap and water and dry them off completely any time you put in or remove your contact lenses.
- Practice proper contact lens cleaning and storage.
Clean your contact lenses by strictly following the directions provided to you by your eye care professional. Deviating from it may lead to discomfort and serious eye infections. It’s also crucial that you use only the solutions prescribed to you by your eye care professional.
When storing your contact lenses, make sure your contact lens holder is filled with fresh contact lens solution each time you store your contact lenses. Experts also recommend that you replace your contact lens holder every three months.
COVID-19 has had a sizable impact on the US eye care industry. From large-scale drops in the number of exams performed and the number of new patients to eye care professionals providing telehealth services, there is no question that eye care in the US is experiencing a massive shift.
However, this change doesn’t mean you can no longer focus on your eye health. It takes a little more effort on your part, but there are things you can do to not just take care of your eyes, but also minimize your risk of getting infected with COVID-19.
First, you need to wash your hands on a regular basis. If you wear contact lenses, wash your hands before putting in your contact lenses and before taking them out. Make sure you follow proper contact lens cleaning and storage practices as well.