AOA Issues Updated Patient Guidance on COVID-19 and Reopening Timing

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NEW YORK—Late last Friday, April 24, the American Optometric Association (AOA) updated its members and partner colleagues that there are updated patient guidelines now, specifically related to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), for doctors of optometry which enable many to begin to plan to reopen offices initially closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The plan for reopenings need to be done, the AOA said, in accordance with state optometric boards, state governments and other sources to provide non-emergent and non-COVID-19 health care.

The AOA's letters said, "Clinical judgment and practice operations should be informed by CMS reopening guidance of April 19 and the federal government's Opening Up America Again plan released just prior on April 17. The AOA's April 24 letter said that "it has confirmed with Centers of Disease Control (CDC)'s officials that the agency's March 17 national recommendation to postpone routine eyecare is no longer in effect and that CMS' guidance on opening facilities is in force. Under this framework, state-by-state decisions will guide when and how doctors and practices can resume delivery of complete comprehensive care."

The AOA stated, "On an ongoing basis, including by remaining in close contact with their state association, doctors should stay informed as their state's governor, and other state and local authorities, update the status of public health and safety measures in effect, specifically as they related to the operations of optometry practices and the delivery of care by doctors of optometry and other physicians and health care providers.

The CDC had not changed its March 17 language about postponing routine eyecare visits on its coronavirus website as of VMAIL's presstime yesterday at 5:00 p.m. ET. However, the AOA told VMAIL, "It was the Health Care Systems team with the CDC COVID-19 Response Division that ultimately responded to our request for an update. They specifically directed us to CMS's April 19 guidance on reopening facilities to provide non-emergent and non-COVID-19 health care, which reflects the Federal government's Opening Up American Again plan, released just prior on April 17. With states both reopening and beginning to plan for reopening, the Washington, D.C. AOA team undertook this as very timely and important outreach aimed at ensuring that optometry would not be left out due to a nearly 40-day old (March 17) recommendation. "

The reopening parameters can differ, in different parts of the country, while certain state optometry boards and state government associations make their own determinations. In Georgia, for example, there is a change in rules that enable optometry offices to reopen and optometry is part of the White House's Phase 1 essential care.

Nebraska is another state that has informed optometrists that new guidelines have been issued that would enable them to reopen on a county-by-county basis. The Nebraska Optometric Association said that on Friday, Gov. Ricketts has revised the Directed Health Measures (DHMs) that have been in effect in Nebraska, some of which were set to expire beginning April 29. In Nebraska, restrictions are removed statewide on elective surgeries and procedures May 4 and resuming routine optometric care is permissible provided it is in compliance with DHM's that continue to be in force for 19 local/regional health departments through May 31, with details posted here.

The AOA is planning to host a Practice Reactivation #AskAOA Webinar to share the latest information on a 2020 restart. It will be held this Wednesday, April 29 at 9:00 p.m. EST. Registration details are posted here as is more information on the AOA's Practice Reactivation Guide here.