Are Fever Checks a Good Gatekeeper for Covid? – The New York Times

Health

Fever checks are becoming de rigueur in many workplaces and restaurants, even though federal health officials say they are of limited value.

Temperature checks are like getting the oil checked before a long car trip, said one expert: “It makes you feel better,” but “it’s not going to make your trip any safer.”Credit…William DeShazer for The New York Times

In recent weeks, a new cadre of gatekeepers armed with thermometer guns has appeared at the entrances of hospitals, office buildings and manufacturing plants to screen out feverish individuals who may carry the coronavirus.

Employees at some companies must report their temperature on apps to get clearance to come in. And when indoor dining resumes at restaurants in New York City later this month, temperature checks will be done at the door.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the practice of checking for fever has become more and more commonplace, causing a surge in sales of infrared contact-free thermometers and body temperature scanners even as the scientific evidence indicating they are of little value has solidified.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York last week called for checking patrons’ temperatures as one of several ground rules for resuming indoor dining in restaurants, along with strict limits on the number of tables and a mask mandate for diners when they are not seated. Restaurants also will be required to obtain contact information from one guest at each table.

There is ample reason for concern. Coronavirus outbreaks — like one in East Lansing, Mich., this summer that infected 187 people — have been traced to superspreading gatherings at bars and restaurants. And a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one difference between people who contracted the virus and those who did not is that infected individuals were twice as likely to have eaten at a restaurant in the two weeks preceding their illness. The study, however, did not distinguish between outdoor dining and indoor seating, which most experts consider more hazardous.

But while health officials have endorsed masks and social distancing as effective measures for curbing the spread of the coronavirus, some experts scoff at fever checks. 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.

Mr. Cuomo has allowed businesses to demand that patrons undergo temperature checks, and to deny admission to those who refuse or have a fever, and he is requiring restaurants in New York City that resume indoor dining to check customers’ temperatures. The C.D.C. defines a fever as a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher; some reports have questioned the accuracy of thermometer guns, however.