And some health experts say that’s OK, not just because US cases are declining, but because temperature checks haven’t been the most useful screening method for this particular disease.
Why many businesses initially did temperature checks
Some reopening businesses — including some office buildings, salons, restaurants, schools, manufacturers and amusement parks — used temperature checks as a condition for admittance, following either state or local rules, or public health advice at the time.
Early in the pandemic, the CDC screened inbound international passengers from certain countries at US airports, including with temperature checks.
Where the cracks started to appear
Also problematic: Many people infected with this virus are at their most infectious before symptoms appear, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a CNN contributor, epidemiologist and former health commissioner for Detroit, said.
“When (a disease) shows symptoms sooner, temperature checks are more valuable. When you’re infectious before symptoms, they’re not as helpful,” El-Sayed said.
Accordingly, the CDC found its 2020 temperature and symptom-based screenings at airports weren’t effective.
“I don’t expect their removal to have a meaningful impact on transmission in public spaces,” Gostic said.
Why not look for feverish people anyway?
Given that a fever can be a symptom of Covid-19, wouldn’t it be reasonable to flag someone with a high temperature?
“I think if businesses want to do it, it’s fine. It’s not going to hurt,” El Sayed said. “But as a measure in the pandemic, it’s not particularly helpful.”
Gostic also leans on the latter: “Vaccination is by far the most effective way to reduce transmission and return to normalcy.”
These places probably have a high concentration of people arriving for treatment of illness including Covid-19, and of compromised patients already there who would be vulnerable.
“The value of any symptom check increases as the baseline prevalence of the disease increases,” so temperature checks at a place where sick people go are more helpful than at a business, El-Sayed said.
Besides missing infected people, what are other problems?
If temperature checks aren’t great at identifying Covid-19, then they aren’t worth the problems that they create, some in the labor law and business fields say.
— Workers must be paid for time in line, and “if they don’t pass the temperature screen, you have to pay them for ‘show up’ pay, which is at least two hours” in California.
— “Chewing on some Tylenol 20 minutes before work eliminates your fever.”
“Everybody right now is desperately hiring, especially theme parks, which need a tremendous amount of labor,” Smith, who also provides consulting to the theme park industry, said.
Temperature-checkers are people who instead “could be running rides, selling cotton candy or whatever,” he said.
Temperature checks continue at some theme parks
Legoland California is considering not requiring temperature screening upon entry for guests, said Julie Estrada, spokesperson for the park’s parent company, Merlin Entertainments.
Smith attributes the Florida-California split in part to different regulatory environments and levels of control at county or local levels. Florida’s state government has been quicker to encourage looser restrictions, and county governments have been quicker to follow, he said.
Six Flags will “continue to evaluate the (parks’ infrared thermal imaging) system based on state and CDC guidelines,” said Sandra Daniels, Six Flags’ vice president of communications.
Each company above — whether keeping or abandoning the checks — cites state/local guidelines and/or epidemiological advice they’ve received.
“With the guidelines varying from state to state, the practices (for health and safety, including temperature checks) differ from park to park,” Estrada, the Merlin Entertainment representative, said. “The evolution of (Legoland California’s) procedures has been done in consideration with local health partners and officials, as well as CDC guidelines to ensure families can continue to have the confidence to play safely across our resort.”
Smith at the University of South Carolina said he believes more theme parks will soon abandon temperature checks: “With the vaccinations and people being a little more mindful of other precautionary measures, I think if we continue to see this trajectory,” more parks will drop them.
And parks, as soon as it’s safe, will like the message it sends: “Theme parks want you to feel like, ‘Hey, we’re coming back to normal,'” he said.