Some businesses have begun using temperature checks for customers and staff. In particular, I’ve seen it in retail establishments and places like gyms and theme parks. Are temperature checks an effective tool for controlling the spread of the coronavirus?
Dr. Prescott Prescribes
The short answer is no, they’re not effective.
We first saw temperature checks in China, where health authorities implemented widespread use of this approach to identify potentially infected people. You can see the appeal, as touchless temperature-scanning technology has a nice, high-tech feel. Standing in line, getting checked, then entering a facility provides a certain orderly reassurance, like going through security in the airport.
At that time, it also made a lot of sense, as we believed that individuals carrying the virus almost always ran fevers.
Since then, though, we’ve learned that large numbers of people with the SARS-CoV-2 virus don’t run fevers. In one study, fewer than half of infected hospital patients presented with fevers. Studies have also found that a significant number of people test positive without showing any symptoms. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said that figure is 25 to 45 percent, but it’s tough to pinpoint an exact number.
So, we now understand that many infected will have normal temperatures. That means a temperature scan will not alert us to those folks.
What’s more, I worry that these devices provide a false sense of reassurance. If we’ve made it through the scan, we assume we’re okay. Ditto for all the other people around us.
In those situations, we’ll tend to let down our guard a bit. Maybe we won’t be as diligent with mask-wearing or maintaining six-foot social-distancing. We might not wash our hands as often or be as careful about not touching our eyes, nose and mouth.
Will temperature scans catch some cases? Assuming they’re accurate (a big if), they should. But they’ll also miss many.
If you combine that with the false sense of protection they create, I’d give them the thumbs down. Businesses would do better to focus on measures like mask-wearing, social-distancing, and cleaning and disinfection.