NEW YORK—ECPs corroborated the national statistics showing a sharp uptick in the incidence of COVID-19 cases in their communities across the country, noting the impact of the pandemic on their own staffing situations, as more of those associates have been personally affected, examined their end-of year sales and underscored their belief that the availability of vaccines will be key to a recovery. Their views were shared in the 18th Wave of the Coronavirus ECP Survey conducted Dec. 21-31, 2020, by Jobson Research, which has been surveying ECP and optical retailers since the crisis and shutdowns happened in mid-March.

For the end-of-year survey, 28 percent of respondents said that some of their staff had elected not to come back to work, a number that has remained relatively stable for the last several months, however this time, the reasons for staff not returning hit a peak of 57 percent who said that it was because those staff 'felt unsafe' and 44 percent who had underlying medical conditions and another 40 percent—a peak compared to the prior four surveys—who lived with someone with an underlying medical condition.

Wave 18 of the Jobson survey addressed the vaccine issue for the first time. When it comes to the vaccine, including the two that have been approved and are starting to become available—at rates varying greatly across the country—54 percent of 18th Wave respondents said they would "absolutely" get a vaccine when it becomes available, and another 19 percent saying they "think" they will. Sixteen percent said they were "unsure" while another 12 percent said they would definitely not or "don't think" they will get a vaccine.

At the same time, 61 percent of all 18th Wave respondents said they felt the availability of the vaccine was very important to a full business recovery while another 24 percent said they felt it was "somewhat important." Seventy-two percent of all respondents at the end of December said they would "encourage" their staff to be immunized, only 15 percent said they would "require" this of staff.

And, feelings seem to be mixed about optometrists being directly involved in COVID-19 immunization efforts—37 percent said they'd like to see optometrists offer COVID vaccines in their state, while a majority, or 63 percent, said they would not. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they would be willing to deliver a COVID vaccine to their patients, while 25 percent said they would be willing to deliver a COVID vaccine to those that their state determines would need it.

In terms of evaluating top line optical sales and profitability, results were relatively consistent with the prior three surveys. In the 18th Wave in the last week of December, 32 percent of respondents said they were capturing fewer patients than in the prior year however, the majority (39 percent) felt their capture rates were comparable to those of 2019 and 29 percent reported their capture rates were even better than the prior year.

Among the respondents for the last week of December (comparable to what the prior survey reported for Nov. 24-30) 73 percent say they are managing their eye exams by appointment and 27 percent enabling walk-ins, while when it came to the dispensary and eyewear purchases, 55 percent were permitting walk-ins while 45 percent were doing appointment-only

Hygiene protocols remain in place—in fact, 92 percent of those surveyed in late December said they believe that hygiene protocols will continue post-COVID. About 48 percent anticipate that "increased work from home," appointment-only (53 percent) and virtual sales calls (44 percent) will be part of the post-COVID environment.

In VM's Coronavirus Briefing section, you can catch up on all of the 2020 Jobson surveys here.

Click to view a PDF of the full survey results.