Protecting the Eyes of Health Workers is Key to Protecting Lives


Annette Hoskin, Global Standardization Manager, EssilorOver the past weeks, global discussions have addressed the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The topic of masks is top of mind. Most of us can clearly envision how protecting the face of a nurse or doctor can make a difference when it comes to their likelihood of being exposed to the virus.

Yet, the very same can be said for protecting the eyes.

We asked Annette Hoskin, Global Standardization Manager at Essilor, about the relationship between COVID-19 and the eyes, the most effective ways to protect healthcare workers from transmission through their eyes, and how to best protect those on the front line (and ourselves) when shortages of equipment are a global reality.

We understand that experts recommend globally we avoid touching our faces during this time in order to avoid the transmission of COVID-19. Is there a connection between the virus and our eyes?

AH. According to the leading authorities on the virus, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 is transmitted between people by close contact or droplets. This means that the virus can reach the eyes after touching an infected surface then touching your face, a habit many of us engage in multiple times per day without even knowing it. The eyes can therefore act as an entry point for the virus into the body.

What’s the recommendation from organizations like the WHO when it comes to eye protection?

AH. Eye protection is a key recommendation from the WHO. The PPE required, for example, during hospital care of COVID-19 patients includes gowns, gloves, medical masks and eye protection (goggles or face shields). In the instances where eye protection is to be re-used it’s important that appropriate cleaning and disinfection methods are adopted. And if the protection is damaged it should be discarded.

Is there a specific standard for eye protection in this instance?

AH. While there’s currently no standard for eye protection to protect against biological hazards, such as COVID-19, goggles or face shields are proposed as appropriate protection for the eyes, particularly in situations that generate aerosols e.g. manual ventilation or bronchoscopy. However, as the primary method of infection is by droplet rather than airborne transmission, closely-fitted, wraparound safety glasses that cover the sides of the eyes and that comply with the lateral coverage requirements for eye protectors could be used in environments where there is no aerosol generation.

Are prescription eyeglasses adequate?

AH. Prescription eyeglasses offer very limited coverage, especially from the side; therefore, they are not adequate as protection from viral transmission. The best case scenario is to use a face shield or goggles over the top of the eyeglasses, taking care to ensure that the fit and coverage are not compromised by the combination of the two.

Where can we get more information on eye protection in the context of COVID-19?

AH. The CDC is a good resource because the information they offer on eye protection is relevant to real-world situations. In other words, they outline how to maximize available eye protection in both conventional settings and in settings where capacity issues are very real and relevant, as they are in many settings around the world at this time.

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