As cities and states across the nation begin the slow process of opening up their economies again following weeks-long shelter-at-home orders designed to “flatten the curve” and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, businesses are looking to procure technology that will help keep their employees and customers safe. One of the most widely used solutions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has been temperature screening devices to ensure that persons entering a facility are not running fevers, one of the tell-tale signs that someone is infected with coronavirus or other kinds of illnesses.
Security technology vendors have met this market demand by offering thermal cameras and a variety of other solutions that can be integrated with existing security systems to screen individuals at the door. However, some have questioned the accuracy of these solutions and even if they are necessary given that many people who have been infected by the virus are asymptomatic and would not exhibit many of the typical signs of an infection, including fever.
The topic of using camera technology for fever detection was among the myriad sessions presented this week during the SIA GovSummit, which was held virtually for the first time in its history. According to Zane Arp, Director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Biomedical Physics, there are currently two questions being asked with regards to the use of thermography – be it a non-contact thermometer or thermal camera – and its effectiveness in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases: One, should it be used as a primary screening device and secondly, can it accurately measure the temperature of people to determine whether or not someone is running a fever?
“On the effectiveness front, it is fairly clear that this probably should not be a primary tool in the fight against COVID. That’s not to say it can’t be utilized as a part of a tool box in detecting people with COVID or triaging people at a hospital that are known to have the disease but if it is utilized as a primary triage method or evaluation method it would be fairly poor,” Arp explains. “Right now, the current reports are that anywhere from 50% to 80% of people with COVID, who are communicable, are highly unlikely to have a fever when they first present (symptoms). That means it could cause a false sense of assurance or safety associated with a fact that tools like this are being utilized to evaluate people for fever as a primary means.”
Arp says that when done right, thermal imaging and other solutions can measure temperatures accurately. “These devices can be used to measure temperature quite accurately. Does that say it should be used for COVID… that’s a different game altogether but we are trying to make sure the proper context is used,” he adds.
For example, when it comes to non-contact infrared thermometry, someone who has been standing outside in the sun may come into a facility and register as having a fever when that is not the case. The same also holds true for cold environments when someone is found to have a lower temperature. “This gives us a high degree of false negative and high degree of false positive potential with these technologies,” Arp says.
According to Arp, tests have shown that thermal imaging solutions can also be used with a high degree of accuracy, but they are also plagued with some of the same issues.
Jason Ouellette, head of Technology Business Development for Johnson Controls, echoed Arp’s sentiments on the need for proper usage of thermographic solutions, adding however, that it could prove to be a valuable tool, not for diagnosing someone but rather for prevention through additional screening. Among the places that thermal imaging solutions will play a vital role moving forward, according to Ouellette, include commercial buildings, transportation hubs, industrial and manufacturing facilities, and sports and entertainment venues.
“The reality is that today, with the pandemic, everyone’s consideration of the ‘new norm’ and how we potentially return back to a work environment that can be a safer place, fever screening certainly is, pardon the pun, a very hot topic,” Ouellette says. “Everybody is trying to figure out how to meet state and local guidelines for providing screening and, in other cases, it is just a matter of being able to ensure that employees feel safer as they come back to a working environment.”
Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at [email protected].