Thermal Screening May Become Bigger Part of Autoworkers' Lives

Detroit Free Press

Autoworkers heading back to their plants this week for the first time in two months got a glimpse, whether they realized it or not, of technology that might soon be a much larger part of all our lives.

Thermal cameras were in use as a way to quickly scan for elevated temperatures.

With fever being one of the key symptoms associated with COVID-19, finding ways to quickly determine who’s a bit on the warm side would seem to be an obvious way to limit the potential for an infected person to enter a facility.

Temperature screening, in fact, is part of the plant entry process for each of the Detroit Three.

It’s not perfect. The technology won’t necessarily determine whether someone has a fever, just that their body temperature is warm or cool, something that can be affected by sunshine on a forehead, heavy exercise or too many espressos. And some people who have the virus don't show any symptoms.

It’s key not to overstate what the technology can do, said Chris Bainter, global business development director for U.S.-based FLIR Systems, one of the leading companies in this sphere and one that has seen an increasing demand for what it offers.

What these cameras — often handheld or tripod-mounted — and their accompanying computer software do best is to provide a relatively quick way to scan for people with elevated temperatures, which could be an indication of fever, or not. Bainter said his company has found that the heat seen at the tear duct through its thermal imaging technology most closely correlates to core body temperature.

"At the first facilities we implemented these screenings, it took 2 to 3 minutes to get someone through screening. As the team learned the process, we are now down to 30 to 45 seconds, so it’s proving to be remarkably efficient," Doran said.

The thermal camera technology isn’t used to determine whether someone is actually sick, just as one piece of the screening process for a disease that can be present even without symptoms. That uncertainty is a key piece of the UAW’s focus and why the union is not opposed to allowing the use of thermal cameras in screening. 

“The UAW is OK with the technology but recognizes it is not fail-proof as often someone can be positive without symptoms. That is why we are stressing to apply as many COVID-19 tests as are available at present and a full robust testing program when more tests become available,” said UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg.

Ryan Barnett, owner of Vetted Security Solutions, which installs such systems, told the Washington Post for a recent article that the technology “isn’t magic” and cautioned against marketing that paints the systems as “fever detection.”

“You don’t want to be publicly shaming somebody or drawing negative attention to somebody because their temperature might be too high,” Barnett told the paper.

But it’s hard to ignore the possibilities of such technology and the potential for expansive growth.

A social media posting from an office at Sheba Medical Center noted that the system alerted staff to a healthy-looking person with an elevated body temperature who was then found to have a fever.

So add hospitals to the list of locations where a quick temperature check would be desired, places where large groups of people are trying to enter and where time to get everyone in the door is limited. Think stadiums, concert halls, theme parks and malls, with technology that might be in use while someone is scanning a ticket or a person is walking through a metal detector.

“Interest is really from every industry you can imagine,” said Bainter, who said his company’s thermal camera systems for this purpose range from about $5,000 to about $30,000. “In the sense of COVID, there will be a new normal as far as how to ensure a healthy, safe work environment.”

Automated Temperature Screening is effortless and creates a safe trusted environment that eases the tension, fear, and anxiety people often feel after a pandemic. 

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