Report, Soapbox

Contending with a COVID practice closure

Narelle Hine Hinesight Optometrist

Fortunately, few optometry practices have experienced close contact with a COVID-19-positive patient – and the associated rigmarole. My Sydney city practice HineSight Optometrist, however, did have this experience in early May, which triggered a rabbit-hole journey for my business on several fronts.

Within 30 minutes of NSW Health notifying that a patient – who visited us the week before – had tested positive, I and my team were expected to vacate our work premises and immediately proceed to the nearest COVID testing centre. Strangely, this happened to be the annexe at Sydney Eye Hospital.

Pressured by hovering authorities outside, I knew my practice was about to shut pending the required testing and deep cleaning and that we were considered possibly contagious. I needed to quickly gather both my wits and whatever I needed to take home and work through the situation. Last year’s lockdowns were a useful guide. I knew I needed a redirection sign on the front door for patients and couriers, access to the computer system and client base for communicating with confused and anxious patients, and to transfer the practice phone system.

Because our COVID contact Mr T had travelled far and wide the weekend he visited us, our COVID tests were prioritised and swiftly processed. Within 24 hours, NSW Health informed we were all negative. Regardless, all staff working in the practice at the time of Mr T’s visit (my chief dispenser and I), were immediately consigned to 10 days home isolation, pending further COVID testing. Let’s just say my cat was surprised with my continuous company.

It was non-stop for at least the first four days at home as I tried to cancel patient appointments, offer reassurance, re- order collections and negotiate with very helpful suppliers. Thank you to ProVision, Johnson & Johnson, CooperVision, Alcon, Seed, Bausch + Lomb, Hoya, Essilor, Shamir, AM Eyewear, Eyes Right Optical and many others for your support with extended terms.

On the financial front, it’s vital for others to know that business interruption insurance does not cover pandemic- related events such as directives to close and isolate. I spent hours pursuing avenues of financial assistance by any government department and learned that no aid exists for enforced COVID- related business closure for 10 days or for the compulsory deep cleaning ($800 to $1,000).

It’s just our bad luck, it seems. Centrelink may offer a one-off $1,500 payment for home isolating self- employed workers. However, isolating employees may not be eligible for this pandemic relief to cover wages.

Organising deep cleaning of the practice was also a priority. Understandably, staff were concerned at possible side effects of harsh cleaning chemicals, so I needed to quickly study the methods acceptable to NSW Health and then procure the services of those intensive cleaning crews with the least potential to trigger hypersensitivities in humans.

But it was the media battle that took me most by surprise. As a small health practice, we were not equipped to redress the tsunami of disinformation and baseless speculative reporting by television and media.

Regardless of the facts, reporters sought to implicate my practice as the “logical” source for Mr T’s COVID-19 infection merely because we are located near a quarantine hotel. Regrettably, their irresponsible reporting also affected neighbouring businesses and other CBD optometry practices too.

Unfounded media speculation can cause ongoing damage to public confidence in a business, and I’d like to express my appreciation to Optometry NSW/ACT and my colleagues for their support in reprimanding more blatant media reporting. What happened to HineSight Optometrist was so random yet could easily happen to any optometry practice.

Since re-opening, we still need to reassure patients they are safe because no one in the team tested positive; the media did not bother to report that public interest fact.

We continue to observe COVID-safe hygiene regimen to reassure clients and protect everyone because we just don’t know who comes in the door. It’s obvious from the lack of new community cases associated with Mr T, that he was actually not infectious the day he visited. But to comply with the best guess of NSW Health at the time, HineSight locked down and took a hard financial hit for the city – “just in case” it now seems in hindsight.

Name: Narelle Hine
Qualifications: DipAppSc (optom), DCLP, MSc, FAAO
Business: HineSight Optometrist Position: Owner optometrist
Location: Sydney CBD
Years in profession: 30+ years

Editor’s note: This article as written before the extensive Greater Sydney lockdowns. 

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