Aug 13 2020

How Does Fever Detection Technology Work in Schools?

Temperature screening could be the new normal this coming school year.

As school districts plan for reopening, many are considering purchasing technologies that can detect elevated temperatures. While it’s not guaranteed to determine whether someone has a COVID-19 infection, temperature screening does have its benefits.

Given the ongoing debate about temperature checks and the number of solutions on the market, school leaders will need to be familiar with the technology behind it. Here are some important considerations to weigh before making a decision.

What You Need to Know About Temperature Screening

The two main technologies school districts will likely adopt for temperature screening are thermal cameras and medical-grade thermometers.

Thermal cameras by themselves cannot detect fevers because thermal imaging is an imprecise method that cannot measure inner body temperature. That said, thermal cameras are useful for prescreening. After a thermal camera determines someone’s skin temperature is unusually high, a medical-grade thermometer — either a traditional oral thermometer or no-contact infrared device — can confirm if that individual has a fever.

“We see the thermal camera as the initial screening for processing people as they enter a building. These devices don’t detect fever, they just measure that surface skin temperature,” says Peter Frank, an education product manager at Ergotron. “But they can offer a quicker way to return to school versus having to temperature-check every individual as they enter the facility.”

Photo source: FLIR

The FLIR E95 thermal imaging camera, which can auto-calibrate.

To get a reliable surface reading, most thermal cameras must calibrate against a “black body,” an accessory that is usually sold with the camera. The camera indicates the difference between the subject’s and the black body’s predetermined temperature.

Not all thermal cameras require a black body, however. FLIR Systems, for instance, offers a self-calibrating version of its temperature scanner. “Our camera is stable and accurate enough to function despite all these different environmental factors,” says Chris Bainter, vice president of business development at FLIR.

Still, school leaders should understand that thermal imaging can’t detect other symptoms or conclusively confirm COVID-19, as some infected people may be asymptomatic.

DISCOVER: Learn about school districts’ reopening plans for the fall.

Keep These Factors in Mind Before Using Thermal Cameras

While selecting thermometers is a relatively straightforward matter, there are more factors to consider when choosing thermal cameras. School leaders should ask key questions, such as: How easy is it to operate? How accurate is the output? How many people can it scan, and at what speed?

At Costar Video Systems, Vice President of Product Management Jeff Cullop points to the wide variations in distance requirements. Some cameras need the operator to be within a few feet of the subject, while Costar’s offering works from 18 feet away. That’s a major factor to consider, especially for schools that may conduct daily screenings from a safe distance at entry points.

Hikvision, likewise, offers both handheld and stationary cameras. Handheld devices can operate from 3 to 6 feet away, while stationary cameras can prescreen individuals from up to 23 feet away. “Prescreening takes less than one second, is highly accurate and there is no need for close contact,” says Doug Gray, Hikvision’s senior product marketing manager.

At the end of the day, accuracy is the key criterion. The Food and Drug Administration has established guidelines for ensuring the precision of medical temperature screening solutions. For example, body temperature measurements should not be off by more than 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit. But the guidelines are nonbinding, and not all devices meet the mark. “They may be plus or minus as much as one and a half degrees, and that won’t allow you to properly scan people,” Frank says.

Processing speed is also an important factor. “If it takes 10 seconds to scan someone in a high-volume area, that can create a bottleneck,” Frank says. “Then you have a risky situation.”

Some cameras require an individual to pause briefly, while others can screen a moving person as long as the individual faces the camera. With the latter, artificial intelligence software would single out individuals with high temperatures and alert operators.

FLIR takes this a step further: Its software is designed to identify the human eye and to measure temperature at the tear duct, which tends to give a more precise reading than the forehead.

“As long as they are in the field of view, the camera will identify that eye region, so you won’t have to worry about positioning someone in the perfect spot for the camera,” Bainter says. “When you need faster throughput, those analytics can really help you move people through the scanning while still maintaining accuracy.”

Schools will also need to think about how they will deploy their screening technologies. Handheld or cart-mounted devices designed for maximum flexibility are all good short-term options. But if temperature screening becomes the norm for schools long-term, it will be better to choose more permanent installations to reduce operator error.

And as with most surveillance technology, there are also data privacy concerns about the use of thermal cameras. Before selecting a solution, schools will need to know what data is being collected and how it’s shared, and ensure the necessary privacy and security protections are in place.

“Schools must think critically about their policies and provide as much transparency as possible to students, families, employees and other stakeholders regarding these decisions,” writes Amelia Vance, director of youth and education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, in a brief on thermal scans. “Loss of trust can have severe impacts on the way in which students, parents and employees interact with a school, as well as with each other.”

MORE ON EDTECH: These tips can help improve your cybersecurity program this school year.

PongMoji/Getty Images

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