Fauci Says Coronavirus Temperature Checks ‘Notoriously Inaccurate’

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday that temperature checks are unreliable for detecting coronavirus symptoms in people entering businesses and other establishments as infrared thermometers have been embraced as part of safety protocol for reopenings.


Fauci made the comments during a Facebook Live broadcast with Walter Reed Medical Center, and was referencing the popular infrared thermometers that take a person’s body temperature by aiming the device at their forehead.

“We have found at the [National Institutes of Health] that it is much, much better to just question people when they come in and save the time, because the temperatures are notoriously inaccurate many times,” Fauci said.

Hot summer weather also causes inaccurate readings, Fauci said, adding that his own readings have gone as high as 103 before entering a building’s air-conditioning.

Prior to Fauci’s comments, measures like temperature screenings—along with spraying disinfectant in public transportation, or walking through hand sanitizer showers—had been criticized as “safety theater,” meaning they are not proven to stem the spread of the virus.

According to The Atlantic, temperature checks can backfire because not everyone who has the coronavirus will have fever as a symptom, so contagious people could be cleared to enter a business or other space where they could infect more people.

Businesses preparing for transitioning from telecommuting back to the office could institute temperature check policies, which The Atlantic says could be legally thorny because they are medical tests, and require each individual’s consent.

Big number

11 million. At one point in February, that’s how many people in China were required to report their body temperatures to the government every day as it worked frantically to control the coronavirus. By the end of February, researchers were saying the practice wasn’t as effective as previously thought.

Crucial quote

“All in all, temperature screening may catch some cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus. But it could miss many others,” wrote public health expert Bruce Y. Lee for Forbes in July. “Thus, be skeptical whenever anyone tries to assure you that things are safe just because they are doing temperature and symptom screening.”

Key background

Disney’s Florida theme parks, along with larger corporations like Amazon, Tyson Foods and the Related Cos. (owner of New York City’s high-end Hudson Yards shopping and dining complex) are using temperature screens. Hospitals, schools, grocery stores and transportation hubs are following suit, along with some courthouses and other municipal buildings. According to the New York Times, the Related Cos. are using infrared cameras in their offices that detect when people have temperatures over 100 degrees. The Atlantic, however, says that these crowd-scanning cameras can be less accurate than the handheld versions pointed at people’s foreheads, and are less likely to detect mild fevers. The most accurate temperature readings? Those come from under a person’s tongue or from their rectum.

Further information

Get Ready to Have Your Temperature Taken — a Lot (OneZero)

Paging Dr. Hamblin: Everyone Wants to Check My Temperature (The Atlantic)

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