In efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, 46 states and Washington, D.C. had closed what are deemed to be nonessential businesses as of April 3. The designation of essential versus nonessential businesses, however, varies from state to state, and, outside of specific lists, guidelines vary. Generally, optometrists can be open for emergency but not routine services, but this leaves in question whether optician services are essential.
Laura Frezza, Acting Executive Director of the New York State Society of Opticians (NYSSO) addressed that question in NYSSO’s March newsletter. When NYSSO inquired of the State Education Department, Office of the Professions for clarification, the answer was that optician services were deemed essential “with some conditions. … “With respect to businesses or entities that operate or provide both essential and non-essential services, supplies or support, only those lines and/or business operations that are necessary to support the essential services, supplies, or support are exempt from the restriction."
Ms. Frezza went on to say, “The decision of whether opticians are or are not essential lies in the value of how you perceive yourself and how the public views our profession -- necessary, substitutable or disposable. If we drill it down, basically it is about our identity, our value communicated by optometry and ophthalmology, but more importantly by ourselves. If we stand up as a profession and continue to demonstrate we are a vital and a necessary component in the Eyecare Delivery System how could we not be essential?”
To get a feel for how optician services are perceived during the current health crisis, I queried 29 state optician associations. I received 13 responses, the lack of responses most likely due to closed offices and cancelled association meetings. Here are the results:
• Essential – Arizona, Delaware (as part of an optometric practice), Florida, Illinois, South Carolina
• Nonessential – California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi (open for emergencies only), Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington
• States that had not closed nonessential businesses - Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota
That most respondents noted optician services as nonessential is disheartening, not only for the businesses closed and people out of work, but for the perception that what we do is not essential for the health and wellbeing of the public. While business decisions must be balanced with consideration for the health and safety of practitioners, we must look at how those outside our industry view our services. State and national optician associations are spending time and resources to get the message out that optician services are invaluable. Please support them. They work for you. My response to people who resisted getting glasses or a new prescription was frequently, “You only need to see.” The message that opticians provide essential services should need only to be that simple.
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