As the nation reopens, are forehead thermometers an effective way to check for the coronavirus?

forehead thermometers accuracy coronavirus
Photo via Navy Medicine/Flickr (Public Domain)
  • Questions have emerged whether infrared thermometers accurately take your temperature
  • But that doesn’t mean it always shows whether you have the coronavirus 
  • The thermometers could be manipulated

During the coronavirus pandemic, the infrared thermometers being used to screen the temperatures of prisoners, people at airports, and healthcare workers estimate internal temperature. Their readings are generally considered to be correct, but comments by Dr. Anthony Fauci in mid-August call into question forehead thermometer accuracy. 

Taking the temperatures of people in healthcare facilities and largely populated areas like airports and gyms is an effective method of screening for those who have fevers. However, a study of coronavirus patients in New York showed 30% of people did not show fever as a symptom. 

So although the thermometers are an effective means of taking a temperature, coronavirus doesn’t always rear its head with a fever. Therefore, the forehead thermometers are not the most effective way of determining if someone has the coronavirus. 

As Fauci, the nation’s face of the coronavirus response, said in mid-August, “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.” That’s especially true in the summer when somebody is coming in from the outside. Fauci also said the White House has abandoned those temperature checks.

In federal prisons, inmates are reportedly standing in front of air conditioning units to cool their foreheads before being scanned to avoid registering a fever. If an inmate registers as ill, they risk being put in the Special Housing Unit. This is an important flaw to note regarding the use of forehead thermometers: Their readings can be manipulated.

How else can I tell if I have coronavirus?

Other common symptoms of the coronavirus include coughing and shortness of breath. These have become the hallmark of the virus, as well as an abrupt loss of sense of taste and smell. Muscular pain, sore throat, and chills are also characteristic to those who contract COVID-19. 

These symptoms won’t be noticeable right after exposure, either. The coronavirus has an incubation period of two to 14 days, leaving infected individuals asymptomatic in the meantime. 

Sources: NPR, Mayo Clinic, CDC, JAMA Network, The Marshall Project

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