Advanced thermometers leave no stone unturned in fight against coronavirus

Wang Yong
Infrared thermal imagers are used at railway stations and highway checkpoints to detect anyone with a body temperature even slightly above 37.3 degrees Celsius.
Wang Yong

Since January 26, Shanghai has deployed advanced thermometers at railway stations to detect potential carriers of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus that first broke out in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province, and quickly spread nationwide.

Infrared thermal imagers installed at exits of every railway station effectively scan all travelers without physical contact, leaving traffic flows unimpeded. Imagers detect anyone with a body temperature even slightly above 37.3 degrees Celsius, who must then undergo health checks. Fevers can be tell-tale signs of the virus in its early stages, although not all carriers have them. 

Imagers are very accurate but not perfect. Unfortunately, there are many examples of doctors prescribing medications based exclusively on machine test results without considering other factors. As such, Shanghai quarantine personnel don't rely on imagers to do all the work. Although they detect almost everyone whose body temperature is even 0.1 degree above 37.3, someone with a temperature slightly over 36.5 degrees will go undetected. Only an actual person can make that assessment. 

All passengers must pass through cold outdoor platforms before approaching an exit, so their body temperatures tend to be lower than normal. Consequently, quarantine workers calibrate the alarm level to 36.5 degrees to ensure no potential virus carrier is left unchecked.

Things are a bit different at Shanghai’s highway checkpoints, where people tend to have a higher body temperature than normal because they often turn on heaters to keep warm while driving. With the help of traffic police and volunteers, quarantine workers ask all drivers to open their windows 20 meters away from checkpoints. Police then move forward 20 meters to verify drivers’ IDs. During that process, drivers’ body temperatures gradually return to normal before going through thermal tests.

As the country’s top medical experts emphasize, early detection and isolation of carriers remain the most effective weapon against the virus, since a vaccine has yet to be developed. 

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