New Addition To Morning Rush For Students –– Temperature Checks

In a back-to-school season unlike any other, students planning to return to classrooms this fall will start a new routine during the morning rush in some area districts -- having their temperatures checked.

In DuPage County, Glenbard High School District 87 will rely on a high-tech system now used in hospital settings and by employers to detect body temperatures: thermal imaging cameras.

"You really need to be able to process a lot of people quickly and efficiently," Assistant Superintendent Chris McClain said.

Creating a check-in process to help identify and isolate students who might have the coronavirus is just one logistical hurdle for districts finalizing reopening plans. Screening protocols for the pandemic illness will vary from district to district. And while schools are showing growing interest in infrared cameras, the technology comes at a cost.

Broad state guidance gives administrators the option of either conducting symptom screenings and temperature checks or requiring students and families to self-report that they're free of symptoms before entering schools.

"It will be a challenge for people to come up with not just effective solutions, but practical solutions that can actually be implemented and make sense in either the workplace or in the school setting," said Mary Anderson, infection control and prevention manager at Edward Hospital in Naperville.

Temperature screening

District 87 initially considered using handheld forehead scanners to check students for fevers, one sign of a virus infection. But taking temperatures one student at a time could create long lines eating into instruction time and strain health services departments.

So the school board agreed to spend $144,564 to install nine thermal camera systems at entrances to its four schools before the new year is set to begin with students alternating between in-person instruction and online learning.

The district will reinforce physical distancing, but teens will stream into schools at a normal pace while the wall-mounted cameras take multiple temperatures readings at the same time.

"It's extremely fast," said McClain, who saw the devices in action at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton.

Support staff members will review encrypted video feeds on a monitor, with a normal temperature displayed in green at the top of the image and an elevated reading shown in red numbers. The system can assess up to 36 people per frame at a rate of 20 frames per second, according to the manufacturer, Whiteboard Coordinator, Inc.

"The images aren't retained or anything like that," McClain said. "There's no confidentiality issues with that."

If students appear to have a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, they'll get rechecked and moved to a quarantine area while schools contact their parents.

Glenbard students who board the bus each morning also will have to electronically fill out health questionnaires screening them for a wide array of virus symptoms.

In Glenbrook High School District 225, the board expects to make a decision Monday night on reopening options.

With some form of in-person instruction, the district would encourage students and employees to complete a daily online form at home to record their temperature and whether they're experiencing respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue, or loss of taste or smell.

Each school entrance would accommodate two lines of arriving students. On-site temperature checks would use tripod-mounted and handheld devices.

"Students that have completed the pre-certification process will take approximately five to eight seconds to process, while students that have not pre-certified will take approximately 15 to 20 seconds," Assistant Superintendent R.J. Gravel said.

Based on the normal flow -- students arrive within a 30- to 45-minute window -- administrators are optimistic that the process won't run into classroom time, Gravel said.

Should someone present COVID-19 symptoms at school, they will be directed to a satellite nurse's office for evaluation.

"As is the case any time a student is ill or in need of further medical attention, our school nurses will contact a student's family to ensure they receive the attention they need," Gravel said.

COVID-19 in children

Temperature checks won't catch infected students or teachers who don't have virus symptoms.

"Having a normal temperature can give you a false sense of security," said Dr. Uma Levy, a Northwestern Medicine pediatrician in Glen Ellyn. "That's why it's important to review all of the other symptoms."

In an April report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed symptom data for 291 pediatric patients, 56% of whom presented a fever.

Nationwide, children represent 8% of all COVID-19 cases in states reporting a breakdown by age, according to a review by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.

In Illinois, 14,601 people under the age of 20 have tested positive for the virus as of Thursday.

Research indicates children are less likely to develop serious illness than adults. But do they easily spread the virus?

"What worries me are primarily the adult asymptomatic carriers because they've been shown to be the super spreaders, the people who tend to spread the disease around without even knowing that they're ill," Levy said.

Small studies of household clusters suggest that children also are less likely to infect the adults in their homes than vice versa, notes a school reopening guide by Massachusetts physicians.

For instance, a study of 40 family clusters in Switzerland published in the Pediatrics journal reported that in most cases, 79%, the adult in the household had suspected or confirmed COVID-19 before the child.

"The data is fairly new and fairly scarce overall, especially for pediatrics," Levy cautioned.

She recommends educators make daily announcements reminding students they shouldn't stay in school if they feel unwell. Students also should get their flu shot before heading back to school.

Ideally, a two-point system would screen students at home and on campus, said Levy, acknowledging that taking temperatures might be challenging for busy working parents getting their children ready for school.

"It's important to remind them frequently how serious this disease is," Levy said. "And that our thresholds for keeping children home should be much lower than it used to be."

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