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Routine temperature checks, will they stop COVID-19 spread?

Waiting in line for a coffee at a local coffee shop I couldn't help but overhear, "These are not effective, stop wasting people's time!" The terrified employee could barely get a word out when another person in the line remarked, "Let him do his job, you are the one who is wasting everyone's time." One thing was clear, routine temperature checks at the entry to commercial establishments do not garner universal support. But are these temperature checks effective. In one word, maybe. The global health community is divided on this one.

Temperature checking will uncover fever in some people. If those people self-isolate and consult with a doctor, it can help prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

Temperature checking won’t catch all COVID-related fevers, however. It also can’t identify people who have the coronavirus but no fever.

Like most other infective diseases, COVID-19 has has different presentations and we are still in the process of understanding all the symptoms or lack of symptoms associated with the disease.

Given the fact that a significant number of people with COVID-19 do not develop a fever, the available mass temperature screening technologies may miss the presence of one. In addition, the frequent use of fever-lowering medications such as Paracetamol (e.g., Crocin) may also disguise a potential COVID-related fever.

Therefore, it isn't surprising that mass temperature checks could create a false sense of security. Taken on its own, experts say absence of fever isn’t a reliable screening tool for COVID-19. In fact, we now know that many people with COVID-19 don’t develop significant symptoms at all, or do so in a delayed manner, during which time they are nonetheless able to pass on the infection to others.

Broader strategy needed

For businesses, experts say checking for fever should be just one part of an overall strategy to prevent transmission of COVID-19. Another crucial step is to limit personal interaction.

It’s important that people maintain physical distance of at least 1 meter apart as much as possible. To help people do this, employers should use visible signs or markers to indicate how far 1 meter is. Requiring people to use face masks and frequent handwashing is another way to reduce spread. This could be through regular handwashing breaks, depending on the industry. Surfaces should be disinfected often.

Further, for temperature screenings to be effective among employees, paid COVID-related sick leave should be implemented. People who lack paid sick leave may be incentivized to take fever-masking medication and report to work while ill.

What individuals can do

Individuals have a role to play in reducing transmission of the coronavirus, too. You can monitor your temperature on your own and alert your doctor if you have a fever. Coughing, sneezing, or simply talking near others can increase risk. We are learning that a substantial percentage of people actively infected with and able to spread COVID-19 have no symptoms at all, which makes universal source control critical for avoiding further spread of COVID-19.

Universal source control means, first and foremost, everyone wearing a mask or face covering when out in public. It also means continued careful attention to strict handwashing, avoiding touching your face or head without first washing your hands, and whenever possible, maintaining at least 6 feet social distance. If during a mass screening you’re found to have a fever, the WHO suggests confirming it with a digital oral thermometer.

While a fever doesn’t mean you have COVID-19, it’s a possibility. For that reason, isolate yourself from others and consult with your doctor. If you do have COVID-19, it’s important not to come out of isolation too soon. Continue to stay home if you have symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever, cough, or loss of taste or smell. Frequent handwashing and sanitizing surfaces will also help reduce transmission of the coronavirus. Close contacts need to be identified and quarantined based on the latest guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to prevent widespread illness in the workplace. People should make local health officials aware of positive tests.