Why Temperature Checks Alone Don’t Work for Assessing COVID-19

By: Dr. Sarma Velamuri, M.D., Natalie Cheng, D. Maneesh Kumar, D.O., Ph.D., FAAP

Aug 18th 2020

When you’re feeling sick and feel like you may have a fever, your first instinct is probably to check your temperature. However, how accurate are thermometers?

To start with, we’re not going to give you a lesson in human physiology about why we get a fever or even get into a debate on if fever is good or bad. We aren’t even going to discuss the inability to test populations, the reliability of testing, or the lack of effective contact tracing. Nor will we remind you that we still don’t have a vaccine, preventative antiviral medications, or consistently effective treatments once you’re sick. We would like to focus on what we can do immediately to keep our schools and businesses safe.

As the pandemic continues to affect the world, businesses are investing in peripheral thermometers and PPE to protect their employees and workplace. According to Marc Blitstein, CEO of American Diagnostic Corp., one of the nation’s largest thermometer manufacturers, “demand is up 900% for his company’s “non-contact” thermometers, which take a person’s temperature without physically touching them. Demand for ADC digital thermometers is up 300%.” It’s great that many companies are taking the pandemic seriously and investing in healthcare tools to protect their employees. However, they must know the facts about the effectiveness of thermometers and invest in all tools that are necessary to protect their staff well.

In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, they found that “most commonly used peripheral thermometers do not accurately estimate body temperature. This was most evident for temperatures that may affect patient diagnosis, management, and outcomes (that is, fever and hypothermia).” This is concerning since a fever is an important data point for diagnosing severe infections and is one of the symptoms of COVID-19.

Handheld thermometers have become ubiquitous during this pandemic. According to Business Insider, “Thermometer screenings for COVID-19 aren’t just inaccurate and unhelpful, they’re lulling people into a false sense of security during the pandemic. A person’s temperature, even when taken accurately, isn’t always an indication of early coronavirus infection and often won’t tell you that someone is ill when they’re at their most contagious stage.”

So how can you protect your workplace if a peripheral thermometer isn’t accurate? In addition to temperature checks, you should look at all the symptoms you have and monitor those. According to the CDC, COVID-19 symptoms include: fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, and so on. The full list can be found on the CDC website. Investing in a syndromic surveillance tool can help you track your symptoms in addition to anyone else that is in the workplace or visitors. Syndromic surveillance focuses on monitoring the more established risks of emerging infectious disease outbreaks. In addition, “syndromic surveillance may detect health threats faster than traditional surveillance systems, such as laboratory reports, which may permit more timely, and hence potentially more effective public health action to reduce morbidity and mortality.” (BMC Public Health) If you’re serious about protecting your workplace or school, you should consider investing in a syndromic surveillance tool along with thermometers, PPE, and other sanitation products and services.

Looking for some guidance on safely reopening businesses and schools? Contact us and our team will help you with the process.

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