Fever checks are a flawed way to flag Covid-19 cases. Experts say smell tests might help
by Sharon Begley/STATnews
Workplaces do it. Newly reopened public libraries do it. LAX does it. Some restaurants, bars, and retail stores started doing it when governors let them serve customers again: Use temperature checks — almost always with “non-contact infrared thermometers” — to identify people who might have, and therefore spread, the infectious disease.
Unfortunately, temperature checks could well join the long list of fumbled responses to the pandemic, from the testing debacle to federal officials’ about-face on masks.
Because many contagious people have no symptoms, using temperature checks to catch them is like trying to catch tennis balls in a soccer net: way too many can get through. On Tuesday, the head of the Transportation Security Administration told reporters, “I know in talking to our medical professionals and talking to the Centers for Disease Control … that temperature checks are not a guarantee that passengers who don’t have an elevated temperature also don’t have Covid-19.” The reverse is also true: Feverish travelers might not have Covid-19.
In this case, however, a growing body of science suggests a simple fix: make smell tests another part of routine screenings.