As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions begin to lift, the risk/liability of violating health guidelines intended to prevent the further spread of the virus could threaten reopening efforts. Whether you’re a facility manager, lab manager, or a business owner, getting your employees back to work at your facility probably includes new practices and health safety standards.
You’ve likely heard a lot about thermal scanning cameras (TSCs) – we sure have! We’ve had customers reaching out left and right asking whether they should invest in these systems to help implement health screening measures as they get back to work post lockdown. Our answer? Don’t jump on it quite yet.
What are the Perceived Benefits of Thermographic Cameras for Temperature Screening?
Everyone is likely aware that one of the most commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19 is fever. Efforts to detect elevated body temperature (EBT) via manual and non‐contact infrared thermometers (NCITs) have revealed several challenges, including:
- Overcrowded lines at entry points
- Enforcement of PPE requirements
- Maintenance of social distancing
- Appropriate response procedures for positive indications
- Employee privacy
- Testing accuracy
One proposed solution to address these concerns is to integrate Thermal Scanning Cameras (TSCs) at facility/building entry points.
Thermographic cameras are engineered to measure abnormal surface temperatures on the skin (NOT body temperature) and to determine whether additional health screening and monitoring are required. These devices use infrared (IR) sensors to calculate the temperature of an object by measuring an infrared signature. To achieve the most accurate reading they require the use of a blackbody reference source (a precisely calibrated piece of equipment). A blackbody maintains a temperature baseline for the Thermal Scanning Camera so the camera more accurately detects a subject’s skin temperature. To further improve accuracy, most TSC cameras focus on the “canthus” (tear duct) because it most closely represents a person’s internal body temperature.
The widespread perception is this technology will enable you to engage in preliminary screening that is fast, accurate, easy, and safe. Security companies and camera manufacturers have heavily marketed this perception. Many businesses and facility managers have been led to believe this solution will mitigate the spread of contagious illness, but the reality is that they may not have been presented with the complete picture. New testing and evaluation data has become available, and California Commercial Security (CCS) is here to give you the facts.
Here Are the Facts
Fever as a symptom of COVID-19
As more information has become available about COVID-19, the data to date suggests that 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic. Asymptomatic individuals don’t present symptoms of the virus (i.e. Elevated Body Temperature) but are still considered contagious and largely responsible for the spread of COVID-19.
A Thermal Scanning Camera measures the outer surface, or the skin temperature of a person. A person’s internal temperature is typically around 98.6°F, while skin temperature can be cooler or warmer due to environmental conditions (hot day, cold day, rain, exercise, sunlight, etc). Although measuring the eye’s canthus provides a more accurate measurement of core body temperature, this very small “target” does require subjects to be very close, and directly facing the camera. Many basic TSCs cannot consistently achieve this, especially from a distance or within a crowded setting.
The fact is that environmental conditions have a significant effect on the relation between skin and body temperature. As mentioned above, skin temperature may either underestimate or overestimate the body temperature. If someone has entered a facility on a very hot or very cold day, a person’s skin temperature could vary by several degrees, and that variance can last for as long as a half hour before regulating. This could lead to inaccurate screening. Other causes for inaccurate readings include wearing eyeglasses, use of NSAIDs (fever reducers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen), airflow, recent physical activity, damp skin and background lighting.
The Cameras Themselves
Whether you’re considering a basic or comprehensive system, it’s crucial to recognize that TCSs have not been evaluated for use as a primary diagnostic tool or for screening multiple individuals in an uncontrolled, high-throughput environment. There hasn’t been any multi-site, large-scale independent clinical trials to assess the accuracy of these systems.
As your trusted advisor, we encourage you to carefully consider the hardware and training costs required to properly operate TSC systems; costs for accurate and reliable systems are typically $30,000 to $40,000 just to install.
Although basic TSCs are more affordable and easier to operate, we encourage you to consider whether these less-accurate systems actually address your team’s specific safety goals.
Is fever screening just a fad?
While other security companies may be trying to sell you the “next big thing”, we’re here to level with you and encourage you to take the time to consider whether these solutions will truly help mitigate the spread of illness within your business or facility. We’ve always emphasized offering you personalized services and unique solutions that are customized to the specific requirements of your commercial space. Although these products may demonstrate a commitment to health and safety, we believe the current evidence (or lack thereof) should provide cause for careful review and consideration prior to making a financial and operational investment of this magnitude.
Instead of a complex and expensive solution, you might be better off resorting to using an easily deployed hand-held medical grade thermometer solution.
We encourage you to review your local government health department’s current guidelines and recommended practices. Each City has specific suggestions and requirements.
The Bottom Line
It’s been widely circulated that thermal scanning cameras can be used to detect elevated body temperature, but independent testing suggests that this is not an effective diagnostic or screening solution. Evidence suggests most TSCs are an imprecise method for scanning individuals for EBT; they don’t measure inner-body temperature, they are costly to properly implement, and they neglect consideration of other factors that can contribute to the spread of illness between individuals.
Our team is here to provide you with our perspective on the security industry’s emerging solutions and provide the maximum value to you and your business.
Still not sure if fever detection technology is the right move? Call us today (800) 286-2555 or click here to schedule a free consultation to learn more.