Since May 8, ophthalmologist practices have been allowed to resume regular eye care as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s reopening plan, but many waited until about the last week to do so.
Indeed, the eyes are a major gateway for the virus and optometrists go above and beyond to prepare their offices and staff for safety.
Dr. Kim Castleberry, CEO of Plano Eye Associates and board member of the Texas Optometric Association, said many eye doctors were only staying open for emergencies during the crisis, such as eye infections, accidents cerebrovascular disease and vision loss. They’ve managed to keep a large number of these cases out of emergency rooms to ease the pressure on local hospitals.
He said they are constantly trained in infection control and how to treat contagious infections in the eyes, so it really wasn’t too much of a stretch to help them prepare for the 2019 novel coronavirus.
“We were already using masks and gloves for in-office surgeries and many of our medical exams. So when COVID arrived, all we really had to do was put PPE on everyone – patients and doctors,” Castleberry said.
Castleberry gave us a glimpse of what many offices, including his, are doing right now.
Since ophthalmologists are only inches from a patient’s face, social distancing is impossible, so they wear full head-to-toe PPE equipment, including masks, shields, gowns and lab coats.
Staff also sanitize everything and leave signs to indicate what has and hasn’t been cleaned yet.
Patients check in electronically in the parking lot and they even have to put on PPE as soon as they enter.
“When they actually arrive at the office, they’re greeted with a PPE stand so they put on gloves and masks,” Castleberry said. “Even before that, we had installed hospital-grade air cleaners in our air conditioning vents and replaced our countertops with medical-grade laminate to provide a nice, clean, germ-free surface.”
When patients leave, they will be greeted by glass partitions that have been installed in the main offices. On the side of the laboratory and the examination room, the microscopes and ocular machines also have partitions to ensure the safety of workers and patients.
“Fear is probably the worst thing we have that keeps people out of our offices, not understanding that in our practice, I think our practice is one of the safest places,” Castleberry said.
According to the American Optometric Association, the virus is not only spread through person-to-person contact, but it can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects that contain the virus by touching the surface and then touching your mouth, your nose or eyes.
“In fact, one of my doctors in my practice actually contracted COVID-19 from a patient very early on, before we really knew what was going on, who had come from China,” Castleberry said.
This employee has recovered and no one else has contracted the virus, which he says speaks to the level of hygiene and safety practices practiced by ophthalmologists, even in a normal way.
When it comes to what you need to do at home to protect your own eyes, you might want to start with your eyeglasses or sunglasses. You might want to add them to the list of things you sanitize.
“People fiddle with their glasses all the time and people know to wash their hands, but they don’t know to wash their glasses,” Castleberry said. “Because even though germs don’t spread very easily through surfaces, they certainly can. Especially if it’s up close and personal like your glasses.
*Locations on the map are approximate, central city locations and are not intended to indicate where infected people live.