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How Effective Are Body Temperature Detection Cameras for COVID-19?

Since the world began dealing with the effects of coronavirus on everyday life, there’s been a lot of hype from the media, manufacturers and suppliers about body temperature detection cameras for coronavirus detection. We’re all guilty, to some degree, because these systems can play a significant role in both conveying a sense of security and genuinely helping prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

However, perhaps the question that needs asking and answering is; can body temperature detection camera systems be used to detect the presence of COVID-19 in a person?

Body temperature detection technology is not specifically a test for the presence of COVID-19. However, these devices can be used to identify elevated body temperature, which is recognised as effective use of technology to detect when the body is fighting an infection, such as when coronavirus becomes COVID-19.

Currently, body temperature detection cameras are the only practical way to detect elevated body temperature without the need for close-up, individual testing. The current social distancing measures, which are likely to remain with us for some considerable time, make the remote, non-touch camera technology essential in many situations.

You’d be forgiven for thinking body temperature cameras were developed specifically for the current coronavirus pandemic, but they’ve been around for years at train stations, airports, factories and at public events, in one form or another.

Early body temperature detection systems were typically thermal cameras. In 2009, according to an article written by NBC News, thermal cameras were used to help detect if passengers had swine flu and other contagious diseases. However, we now know it’s more complicated than that.

The coronavirus pandemic established an urgent need for new technology to be developed that refined the process. Today’s body temperature detection camera systems not only accurately detect elevated body temperature, using facial recognition to identify a human face, but can do so within tight parameters, presenting the findings in real-time, on a monitor, and raising an alert if the present temperature level is breached.

HOW EFFICIENT IS THE DETECTION OF COVID 19?

Alan Thomson, regional sales director at UK-based Irisys, a manufacturer of thermal imaging devices, explained that thermal cameras were used during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002/2003. Airports in Singapore and China have been using them continuously ever since, so it’s evident that thermal detection technology has always been useful in areas where multiple people are at risk of contracting an infectious disease.

However, elevated body temperature alone is not necessarily an indication that a person is running a high temperature caused by an infection. Hence there has always been a requirement to carry out further one-on-one screening once an individual has been identified as being at risk.

In some people, the consumption of alcohol can increase overall body temperature and, according to one source, a person running to catch a flight may also present with an elevated body temperature. However, a BBC article debunks this theory, stating skin temperature can actually decrease during exercise because the body is extremely efficient at regulating its temperature as sweat appears on the surface of the skin to cool it. In such cases, the body temperature would need to be significantly higher in order to be detected.

Traditionally, body temperature is measured using contact thermometers that are placed on the forehead, in the mouth or ear, or under the armpit. Today’s handheld detection devices gained popularity during the pandemic because they could be used to test individual employees or visitors entering a building, without making physical contact with them.

However, the Government’s introduction of enforced social distancing rules, combined with the impracticality of testing high footfall areas, such as large office buildings and thoroughfares, meant the need for a remote method of simultaneously detecting body temperature in multiple people became essential.

HOW DO BODY TEMPERATURE DETECTION CAMERAS WORK?

Any object with a temperature above absolute zero will emit a detectable amount of thermal radiation as infrared. A thermal camera converts infrared radiation into grayscale values and matches those grayscale values, through an algorithm, to temperature values. These readings are overlaid onto live video and displayed on a monitor. On the display, individuals’ faces are highlighted with a green or red rectangle and their actual body temperature. If the body temperature of any person is above the present level, an alert is sounded, enabling security intervention to separate and isolate the individual for further testing.

These systems are able to process this information in real-time for up to 30 people amongst a moving crowd, such as when volumes of people enter a building or walk through an airport.

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During the period they were in lockdown, London City Airport installed body temperature detection cameras, which became fully operational when flights resumed on June 21st.

Once a passenger is identified as showing an elevated body temperature, they will be asked to allow staff to retake their temperature, using a handheld, non-contact device, and will be required to answer questions about their symptoms and general health.

If the passenger is determined as potentially experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, the airport will inform the airline and, according to Dutch airline KLM, the passenger will not be allowed to continue to the aircraft.

CORONAVIRUS IS HERE TO STAY.

It’s become clear that using thermal camera technology to detect COVID 19 becomes more complex, the more applications it’s used for.

Body temperature detection camera systems are not foolproof and will very likely never be able to provide a cast-iron guarantee of virus detection in humans. However, the technology is continuing to develop at a rapid rate and is the perfect first-line defence in detecting the possible presence of a virus in a person.

Love them or hate them, it’s likely that body temperature detection camera systems to detect COVID 19 will become commonplace in our everyday lives for some considerable time, as they continue to play a vital role in helping to maintain people’s health, particularly in areas of high public occupancy such as offices returning to work.

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