Our area will experience a historical Phenom on Monday and eye-care safety is paramount. According to NASA.gov, the last total solar eclipse to grace the contiguous United States was Feb. 26 1979, when the path crossed the northwestern part of the country from Washington to Quebec. This year one would have to drive 140 miles north to Charleston to experience the full effect. Yet, the effects of the eclipse back then were as far reaching as Georgia. This year, the Phenom returns.
For about one minute and 38-seconds the sun will go totally dark during the day. So, area schools have closed or are releasing students early as an "inclement weather day" Aug. 21. In anticipation of the solar eclipse, which leaves many optometrist worried about children viewing the eclipse without the proper eye protection, USA Medical Department Activity-Fort Stewart, Lt. Col. Jason Cates, Chief of the Optometry Clinic at Winn Army Community Hospital expressed his enthusiasm, yet precaution for viewing the event.
"Yes we are excited about the eclipse," Cates said. "It is a pretty rare opportunity to experience something like that and we are going to get about 90 percent [of it] in our area."
But, proper viewing of the eclipse is a cautionary tale. Direct exposure to the sun light can cause a condition called Solar Retinopathy. Cates said to properly view the eclipse; one should never look directly at the sun, but ensure they are wearing international Safety Standard ISO 12312-2:2015 glasses.
"So the important part in this area, we are not going to have a total eclipse, it's going to be a partial eclipse," Cates said. "So, really there is really not going to be a safe time to look at without the glasses."
Wearing multiple pairs of sunglasses is not sufficient protection from the harmful direct rays of the sun. Cates expressed the importance of meeting safety standards.
"The thing is with retina burns. There is no pain and you really wouldn't know anything was happening until maybe 4-6 hours later before there might be a problem," he said. "You can end up with permanent vision loss. Some people end up with a permanent spot missing in their vision … but it will cause permanent damage to the back of the eye causing a blind spot."
Due to their curiosity, children are a number one concern for many optometrists. The fear is children may look around instead of through the glasses.
"I would monitor the kids," Cates said. "It's important to know that here at Fort Stewart, we will not be completely covered. It's going to be about 90 percent, so it is not safe. So [parents] need to make sure [children] keep the glasses on or keep them indoors if you are not sure."
To see the eclipse safely: Do not look directly at the sun; Cover your eyes with the solar eclipse viewers; turn/glance at the sun; look away and then remove your solar filter, but Do Not Remove The Solar Filter While Looking At The Sun!
NASA said after the August 2017 total solar eclipse, the next annular solar eclipse that can be seen in the continental United States will be on October 14, 2023 which will be visible from Northern California to Florida.
For more information about the solar eclipse, please visit https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters.