Thermal imaging cameras are the latest devices businesses hope will help reopen the economy while keeping people safe from the threat of COVID-19. The cameras are used to scan temperature from a safe distance, and if a fever — a common coronavirus symptom — is detected, the company could require further screening or deny the person entry altogether.
“What we’re seeing is there will be a new normal that will involve thermal screening as a frontline tool,” Chris Bainter, director of global business development at FLIR Systems, told CBS News’ Jericka Duncan. FLIR has been producing thermal imaging cameras since the SARS epidemic in 2003, when it gained widespread use in Asia.
Since the outbreak, companies like Flexible Systems, Thermal Guardian, CrowdRx and many more have begun manufacturing the cameras for use in airports, healthcare centers and even apartment buildings in New York, where the pandemic has hit particularly hard.
A store in Georgia, City Farmer’s Market, has already set up thermal imaging cameras to scan customers as they enter the store.
If a customer’s temperature is above 100.4 degrees, they are given a flyer that asks them to leave to protect others, and offers that the store does their shopping for them.
“The key is that application is not about an absolute temperature measurement. It’s more about detecting those individuals with elevated body temperature higher than the last 10 people that had been screened,” Bainter explained.
Bainter, who predicted the camera could play “a critical role” in reopening the economy, dismissed any privacy concerns or worries that this specific technology could be a gateway to “surveillance culture.”
“If you’ve seen a thermal image… you can’t really detect exactly who that individual is,” he said. “We aren’t really focused on collecting data of any sort, it’s more about as a screening tool.”
However, he cautioned the screening tool “doesn’t detect coronavirus,” and called for further precautions to be taken before businesses could be deemed safe.
“Thermal solutions for elevated body temperature are only one part of what needs to be a comprehensive environment health and safety program for these businesses,” Bainter said.
© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.