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Getting a visual on COVID-19 screening with thermal cameras

By Laurence Smith, Executive at Graphic Image Technologies

When South Africa moved to lockdown level 3 on the 1st of June 2020, roughly eight million people went back to work. Although companies had prepared by disinfecting their workplaces, providing the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), implementing physical distancing and screening measures, businesses remain concerned about their employee exposure to the Coronavirus. Since temperature is the human body’s infection indicator, there has been a surge in demand for infrared cameras in order to more accurately screen for fever symptoms. So, should organisations be investing in thermal camera technology to simply contain and limit the spread of the virus? Yes, it makes sense, from both a business and safety perspective.

Every possible precaution

While thermal sensors cannot detect the virus itself, this technology simplifies the screening process, making it easy for a screening operator to make snap decisions on whether the individual needs to be referred for medical examination. This is in order to contain and limit the spread of the virus. Handheld thermometers are currently in use in most public places and workspaces, but these aren’t always accurate and can only screen one person at a time. This then results in a queue building up and people not being processed quickly enough which defeats the purpose of physical distancing.

Software functionality in thermal cameras gives screening operators more information to work with. The software offers colour imaging according to temperature scales and programmable sound alarms that indicate when a certain temperature threshold has been exceeded. This is an especially useful additional diagnostic tool for screening high-risk groups such as travellers, students, miners, factory and office workers. More importantly, this method has been approved and endorsed by the World Health Organisation. Thermal imaging is more reliable and accurate than handheld thermometers, providing a visual map of skin temperatures in real time. Thanks to high sensitivity in thermal imaging, it’s possible to detect and display temperature differences as small as 0.07 degrees Celsius and the  total evaluation time takes less than a second which makes it ideal for screening large groups of people.

Benefits of thermal infrared temperature screening:

  • Enables screening of large volumes of people
  • Displays and detects critical temperature elevations in real-time
  • More accurate than hand-held thermometers
  • Easy to setup and use, colour imaging with sound alarms
  • Smooth integration to screen pedestrian traffic in public areas and businesses
  • Additional visual diagnostic tool to protect public health

Proven track record

Such infrared cameras are exceptionally easy to use. They can be operated by non-specialists after only a few hours of training and do not require active monitoring, as colour and sound alert functionality will make safety personnel instantly aware of individuals with an elevated body temperature. All it takes is for the test subject to look into the camera and the display will produce an infrared image of the individual’s face with clear colour delineations of different temperature areas. This enables quick and accurate identification of individuals that might be infected by the virus.

Thermal imaging has already been successfully deployed in large public spaces such as airports, travel terminals and on business premises, effectively providing a non-invasive method of screening passing crowds for elevated skin temperatures that might suggest the presence of an infection.  In the absence of a vaccine, it’s clear that the Coronavirus isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

As a result, adopting thermal imaging technology as an additional diagnostic tool makes good business sense, evidencing that there is no such thing as too many health and safety precautions where organisations are genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of their employees.

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