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Screening for COVID-19 With Contactless Temperature Checks

As a solution to the elevated body temperature/fever detection need, thermal cameras are seeing increased interest, with many security and surveillance firms across the globe beginning to market their products as potential tools to deploy against the spread of COVID-19 and to assist with reopening and return-to-work efforts. This has created a significant amount of confusion in the marketplace.

Infrared thermal imaging detects infrared radiation from people and converts the image of temperature distribution into a video image. In practice, if the person’s temperature is below the government health authority recommendation of 37° Celsius/100.4° Fahrenheit, they will be permitted to enter the premises, whereas those who have a temperature above that figure would be notified they are not allowed on the property and advised to seek medical care. This should be used for both staff and customers.

From a customer perspective, this may require the issuance of a hand stamp, sticker, or wrist band such as those used for theme park or nightlife entry. From the perspective of a staff return-to-work strategy, similar identification practices may be used along with consideration and possible integration with time and attendance and workplace access solutions. This strategy should help avoid the spread of COVID-19 within the workplace that may take place with biometric-based timeclock or access systems.

Figure 1. Infrared thermal scanning.

Note, however, that these cameras and approaches don’t detect the virus itself. They merely measure whether or not a person has an elevated body temperature and are therefore subject to false positives.

There are a few different approaches to implementing elevated body temperature measurement:

  1. Via surveillance infrastructure
  2. Via a contactless self-standing kiosk
  3. Via a handheld touchless device

Surveillance Infrastructure:

Based on our industry-specific Surveillance Vendor Landscape research, here are some ONVIF-compliant cameras that could integrate into an overall surveillance and security ecosystem and infrastructure:

A key feature beyond just thermal is the analytics to actually read and display the specific temperature versus just cold-to-hot color coding. Depending on your implementation approach, you may also need to consider AI support on cameras or within the surveillance video management system (VMS) engine since the foot traffic and associated monitoring is likely more than a surveillance agent will be able to catch.

Contactless Self-Standing Kiosk:

This typically consists of a camera (thermal and optical), a PC/laptop (some use tablet/mobile phone) with software and a light bar. When the thermal camera detects a body temperature above the pre-set threshold, an alarm sounds and the light bar lights up in red. This occurs in real time.

Figure 2. Viper Imaging Automated Thermal Imaging System. Source: Viper Imaging.

Handheld Touchless Camera:

Typically, these devices consist of a thermal camera and tripod with a live person to identify staff or customers who exceed the acceptable temperature. Some examples of these products include:

Figure 3. Thermal imaging with temperature display.

Use Case Examples:

These devices and approaches could have many uses:

  • Government offices could identify sick staff and constituents before they enter a building.
  • Airports could screen passengers to cut down on the likelihood of national or international spread.
  • Restaurants, hotels, and retail might be able to prevent an outbreak before it occurs.

How are organizations taking advantage of elevated body temperature/fever detection solutions? Here are just a few examples:

Walmart – With 1.5 million employees in the US, Walmart is in the process of sending infrared thermometers to all locations. As employees’ temperatures are taken, they will also be asked some basic health screening questions.

Amazon – Amazon is deploying thermal cameras in its US warehouses. Units are not known, but Amazon has at least 110 warehouses in the United States and more than 185 facilities worldwide.

Starbucks – In the US, Starbucks is sending thermometers to all company-operated stores for employees who would like to self-monitor their temperature as added reassurance before they start their shift. In China, however, Starbucks came up with a “contactless experience” in which an employee waiting at the entrance takes customers’ temperature and checks them in to pick up their purchase.

Carnival Cruise Lines – The company has ordered fever screening cameras from Infrared Cameras Inc (ICI) to screen passengers and crew.

Wynn Resorts – Points of entry will be limited to allow Wynn Resorts’ security team to conduct non-invasive temperature checks using thermal cameras. Anyone displaying a temperature over 100.4°F will be taken to a private area for a secondary temporal temperature screening. Employees or guests confirmed to have a temperature over 100.4°F will not be allowed entry to the property and will be directed to appropriate medical care.

High-traffic and large people volume businesses such as concert and event venues, stadiums, and movie theaters oftentimes already screen customers for safety reasons (i.e. purse/backpack checks) and will likely be able to leverage these solutions when they are able to reopen.

Our Take

For obvious reasons, deployment of such technology in the US has its detractors, and civil liberty activists worry that the tech goes too far in its pursuit of safety. Furthermore, the Americans with Disabilities Act generally prohibits medical examinations. While measuring workers’ temperature is generally considered to be a medical exam, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said employers may measure workers’ temperature to protect against the “community spread” of the coronavirus.

In addition to the technical complexity and upfront costs of the three approaches, an efficiency level will need to be considered – most notably, an analysis between the labor costs to have staff positioned at entrances, read temperatures, and act versus using AI-supported facial detection technology, which can focus on a customer’s face and trigger an alarm when a violating temperature is identified in addition to providing movement-predictive and path-data tracking algorithms for possible contact tracing requests.

As with many aspects of the current pandemic environment, there is a lot of misinformation circulating, and there are bad actors trying to capitalize on the crisis situation.Organizations that are interested in evaluating thermal imaging solutions must proceed with caution and have very tight requirements defined.

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