Do Temperature Checks Do More Harm Than Good?

2 views on whether the practice is worth it
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 18, 2020 10:07 AM CDT
Do Temperature Checks Do More Harm Than Good?
West Jefferson High School seniors get their temperature checked before entering the Harvey, La., school.   (Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP)

Temperature checks have become a familiar ritual these days for people venturing out into public buildings. The problem is that they might not work very well as a COVID deterrent, writes Annabelle Timsit at Quartz. For one thing, readings are notoriously unreliable because of equipment, user error, and other factors. Plus, many carriers of the coronavirus don't have symptoms. "In the context of schools, fever screening is a particularly bad idea," Katelyn Gostic, an epidemiologist at the University of Chicago, tells NBC News. A story at the New York Times has a similar theme as it sums up the view of skeptical health experts: "Taking temperatures at entry points is nothing more than theater, they say, a gesture that is unlikely to screen out many infected individuals, and one that offers little more than the illusion of safety." Is it possible, then, that fever screenings do more harm than good? Two views on that:

  • Anti: Mass temperature checks are a bad idea because they give people a false sense of security, wrote James Hamblin at the Atlantic in August. He, too, uses the word "theater" in his critique. "The practice is sort of like spraying down the sides of buildings, showering football players in hand sanitizer, or deep cleaning an office carpet. These things might make us feel safer, but they may not keep us safe if they actually cause us to let our guard down."
  • Pro: In her piece at Quartz, Timsit writes that even knowing all of the above, the screenings make her feel "marginally safer," adding: "Especially when paired with other prevention methods, such as health questionnaires and other screening tools, temperature checks may do a little good." She likens the screenings to "panning for gold"—even if just a tiny fraction of people are held back, that's worth it. And if nothing else, the ritual itself might remind people of the seriousness of the pandemic.
(More COVID-19 stories.)

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