Business owners have been crucial decision-makers during the pandemic, screening for COVID-19 in the workplace and determining what practices and procedures help keep employees and customers safe. From hospitals to restaurants, there are several ways to approach COVID screening, temperature checks just one of them. But are COVID temperature checks on their own enough to keep everyone safe?
Are Temperature Checks Effective?
Temperature checks for COVID reveal one sign that employees may be positive, but relying solely on the thermometer’s results could mean you miss up to half of cases. A fever, at least 100.4 degrees or feeling warm to touch, is only one symptom associated with the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends some businesses consider monitoring for a lower temperature threshold, especially for healthcare settings. But over 30% of COVID cases don’t involve a fever at all, and fevers aren’t always easy to detect.
Temperature Checks Don’t Catch Asymptomatic COVID Cases
Some people contract COVID-19 and don’t experience or display any symptoms, or their symptoms are so mild they simply don’t notice they’re sick. The temperature screening method fails to catch these asymptomatic cases, which can still spread the virus to other employees or customers. Plus, some employees could take fever-reducing drugs prior to a temperature check or may have a fever for other reasons, like the flu or other illnesses. Bottom line: a fever is an inconsistent marker for COVID.
Thermometers Aren’t Always Accurate
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Biden, has said COVID temperature screenings are “notoriously inaccurate.” The thermometer could give a false reading depending on the type of device and who administers the temperature check. Even the weather can affect results.
While infrared thermometers are convenient and common right now because they don’t have to make contact with the person’s skin, they are not as accurate as internal thermometers. And while asking employees to self-administer a temperature check before they come to work is more cost-effective than hiring personnel to administer checks for every employee, self-administering is also less reliable.
Temperature Checks for COVID Are Inefficient
It’s important to protect employees who are conducting the temperature screenings, which can be costly and time-consuming. For example, the CDC recommends screeners stand behind barriers to protect their face or wear personal protective equipment (PPE), wash their hands for 20 seconds, put on a clean pair of gloves for each employee and disinfect thermometers between each use.
Some experts also point out that screening staff must be paid and the programs monitored, which are costs that could be better spent on more effective measures. In an article for Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, a journal published by the Cambridge University Press, Dr. David Slade and Dr. Michael Sinha agree, calling on-site temperature screening a high-cost, low-yield tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Why It’s Important to Couple Temperature Checks With COVID Testing
The CDC and various state Departments of Health recommend screening employees with daily questionnaires, temperature checks and COVID testing — along with using PPE, frequent cleaning and social distancing — to prevent the spread of the virus. This means if employees have a fever, you should test them for COVID to confirm it’s a positive case.
Beyond a fever, COVID symptoms can include, but are not limited to, coughing, chills, difficulty breathing, fatigue, aches, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, stuffy or runny nose, diarrhea, vomiting or nausea. Any new or unexpected symptoms from this list would warrant a COVID test, not just a fever. Guidelines also recommend testing all employees if there’s an outbreak, or a certain number of cases relative to the size of your workforce over a short period of time, such as ten days. To better understand whether all employees should be tested, consult with your state or local department of health.
Bottom Line: Temperature Checks Aren’t Enough
Employers are required to document how they’re preventing the spread of the virus at work, which should comply with CDC guidelines. Any time employees come to work, the best way to keep everyone safe is to screen for COVID and conduct accurate COVID testing.
BRIO is an end-to-end, diagnostic testing solution built for employers that need fast, reliable results. Contact us to get started.
Katrina Ballard writes about health, technology and education. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from American University.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – General Business Frequently Asked Questions
Minnesota Department of Health - COVID-19 Employee Screening and Testing Recommendations for Industry (PDF)
US National Library of Medicine - Return to work during coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Temperature screening is no panacea