At certain supermarkets, restaurants, or other public spaces, employees are implementing temperature checks with infrared thermometers to monitor fevers. If you recently returned to your place of work, you may have to take your temperature once you arrive. The purpose of the temperature check is to help monitor people who might be carriers of COVID-19, but many health experts warn that this is not the best method.
The practice of temperature checking is commonplace. Amazon, for example, started checking employee temperatures in the beginning of April, sending anyone with a temperature of 100.4º or higher home, as per the CDC’s regulation. Unfortunately, thermometers don’t detect the people who have COVID-19 without fever. When it comes to reducing your risk of contracting the virus, health experts agree that thermometers are not as effective as face masks and social distancing. This is because of the silent spreaders (a.k.a. asymptomatic carriers).
Do Temperature Checks Keep You Safe?
A temperature check is like taking your car in for service before a road trip. You’ll feel better, but it doesn’t mean that it will be immune from breaking down during your trip. Temperature checks identify people who are seriously ill, but one study found that many seriously ill COVID-19 patients didn’t exhibit fever. Growing evidence says that most community transmission occurs because of asymptomatic spreaders, though. People feel fine and don’t experience symptoms, yet they still spread the virus. This is more dangerous in restaurants or places where you can remove your mask amongst groups of people.
According to the CDC, symptom-based screening has limited effectiveness. Clearly visible symptoms or symptoms described by patients help, but so many people do not experience symptoms. This caused the CDC to shift its strategy to prioritize other health measures to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Increased sanitation, facial covering requirements, and social distancing have been in effect at most public places. These measures help to keep the public safe, but people also have to do their part to keep others safe, including:
- Staying home if they experience symptoms
- Self-isolating if they come in contact with potential carriers
- Doing what they can to stay healthy (eating healthy, exercising, and practicing mindfulness)
If Temperature Checks Aren’t Effective, Why Do Them?
While the temperature check is not the most effective way to detect COVID-19, it does set a precedent, a public health message if you will. It reminds people that they need to be cautious when they go out in public. Temperature checks aren’t the magic solution that will get the public back to some semblance of what we used to call “normal,” but they do remind people of the severity of COVID-19.
What Can Be Done Instead?
As we’ve explained in this article, mounting research shows that temperature checks are not effective for preventing community transmission. In an ideal world, all public spaces would have rapid turnaround tests for patrons. There are antibody tests that involve a finger prick and the results come back within 15 minutes. Since we don’t live in the perfect world, we can continue temperature checks as long as they are accompanied by social distancing and mask wearing.