Fauci Says This COVID Safety Measure Isn't "All It's Cracked Up to Be"

Temperature checks are hardly a full-proof way of sniffing out infections.

As businesses and other public places continue to reopen all over the country, various safety measures are being put in place to keep staff and visitors healthy. One prevalent safety feature is temperature checking. If you go to the airport, the library, and even some restaurants, you may be met with a touchless thermometer to detect whether or not you have a fever. They're meant to help determine the likelihood of an individual being infected, however, temperature checks may not actually protect against coronavirus, says Anthony Fauci, MD. Though you might feel safer knowing that workers and customers are having their temperature taken, the whole process may be futile when it comes to curbing the spread.

In a recent interview with MarketWatch, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said, "I'm not sure taking temperatures is all it's cracked up to be, because there are a lot of false negatives and false positives." In other words, a high temperature may indicate that someone has COVID even though they're not really infected, and vice versa.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms generally appear between two and 14 days after exposure to the virus. So anywhere within that window, contagious people may not have developed a fever yet. And when their symptoms do show up, a fever may not be a part of the package. A study published in late April by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that two-thirds of seriously ill COVID-19 patients monitored didn't have a fever.  And then there are asymptomatic people—who make up about 40 percent of COVID-19 cases. They won't show any signs of the virus, including a fever. Relying on temperature checks alone would result in missing all of these contagious people who could be actively spreading the virus.

Man getting his temperature checked before entering building during coronavirus outbreak

Another issue is that COVID-19 is not the only illness that manifests in a fever. It's a symptom that can be brought on by many conditions, including heat exhaustion and even certain medications, per the Mayo Clinic. Employers could be sending home workers who don't have COVID and aren't otherwise dangerous to others.

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There also isn't a nationally enforced healthy temperature range when it comes to coronavirus safety teting. While the CDC considers any temperature higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit to be a fever, the threshold for fever checks falls somewhere in a range, depending on who's doing the testing. Per The Washington Post, the cutoff in Delaware is 99.5 degrees; in Texas, it's 100.

This doesn't mean we should throw away temperature checking altogether. Infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, told Health, "Fever screening can be one part of a wider system," because "prevention of infection with the new coronavirus is a multi-faceted task."

Fauci, meanwhile, suggests that COVID screenings should involve questions about symptoms and contact with infected individuals, not just a temperature check. "The time spent asking a couple of simple questions is probably more effective than just taking temperatures," he said in the MarketWatch interview.

To learn how the outdoor temperature affects the virus, check out This Exact Temperature Increase Slashes COVID Deaths, Study Finds.

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