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As America reopens, fever-screening technology touted as promising tool

By Rebecca Kesten | Fox News

Many businesses hoping to safely reopen are looking for ways to keep employees and customers safe from the spread of COVID-19.

Although not everyone infected with the coronavirus will have a fever, 83 to 99 percent of people with the disease experience an elevated temperature, according to the CDC.

Amazon is using thermal cameras to screen warehouse workers for fevers.

Fox News spoke with Andrew Southern, CEO of Invisible Health Technologies, about advising clients on technology solutions for their businesses. “People are looking for answers and guidance,” Southern said. His firm consults with real estate developers, hotels, as well as transportation, education, and manufacturing companies.

Southern specializes in mass fever detection systems, or MFDS, which allow for large groups to be screened at once, without creating a bottleneck of foot traffic.

“The way that these cameras are working, they are reading the infrared wavelegnths coming off from people’s skin,” Southern explained. “They estimate core body temperature, and with that estimation, they are screening people and anyone who is above a certain level of core body temperature, then flagged for a second, hand-held temperature check.”

According to Southern, these devices allow each customer or venue to set the threshold at which they want to be alerted. “100.4 [degrees Fahrenheit] seems to be sort of an industry standard that people are going by,” he said, which is consistent with the CDC’s guidance as to what temperature constitutes a fever.

Southern believes that accuracy and convenience are the two most crucial factors in fever detection. “One of the most important parts is not stopping people,” Southern said. “That inconvenience is the last thing we need right now. So, when I advise my customers about this new technology to keep their buildings safe, I advise the use of the MFDS.”

“It’s not going to rile people up and scare them. The idea is that the stream of people continue without stopping,” he explained.

The technology is not without limitations. Southern said that users passing through the devices will need to have their body temperatures acclimated to the indoors. “If you come in off the street from a hot or cold day, you need 60, 90 seconds for your skin to adapt before you take a reading,” which is part of the equation when Invisible Health Technologies consults with a client.

Working with a real estate developer client in midtown Manhattan, for example, Southern consults floorplans to understand the entrances and options, and explains that the fever detection system needs to be set further in, away from the doorway, to allow for an accurate reading. “We’re going to have to re-engineer lobbies and entrances,” Southern explained, to maintain social distancing and new check in procedures, especially in high occupancy buildings in New York City.

Once installed, Southern said the office building’s staff will be trained on using the system, but it will be up to the venue to put policies in place for employees or guests with elevated temperatures.

There are a variety of health screening systems available to business owners, but Southern said that most of his discussions are about the Omnisense Sentry MK4 Mass Fever Screening Thermal Imaging System, which has a development history dating back to the SARS pandemic.

Southern said the Omnisense Sentry, costing about $30,000, makes use of two screens with the exact same field of view: one side displaying the thermal heatmap, and the other an HD camera feed, so that when a person with an elevated temperature is detected, a “boundary box” appears on both screens. This allows the technician to identify which person needs an individual, secondary temperature check.

Many clients are concerned with privacy. Southern said that the fever-screening system is not set to record, though it is capable of doing so, if needed.

“Most screening takes place all in real time, it’s attended in real time, and it [the Omnisense Sentry] will beep at you, as the person is down the corridor,” he said, so there is time for the buildings’ staff to pull aside only those those who might clock in as having an elevated temperature. “Anything that’s blue or green is within the threshold, anything that is red is above the threshold that the user sets.”

“I do think that now, more than ever, Americans understand that their health in public effects everyone’s health in public,” Southern said. “I also do think that if everyone knew there was a process, that everyone was scanned for elevated temperature, they might feel a bit more comfortable to go out and shop for entertainment purposes or travel purposes.”

“Thermal cameras will become pretty commonplace in certain places — transportation, education, healthcare, manufacturing, entertainment, distribution,” Southern said. “Big industries fundamentally have to adapt to the new situation, the immediate needs of COVID reopening, or potential for a really bad flu season in the fall,” he continued.

“It’s one tool of a limited arsenal that we can use in this situation. I don’t want this to be seen as the answer, the silver bullet,” Southern explained. “But, it’s been deployed to other places, and we’re going to need to know more about people’s health in public spaces.”

The CEO of Singapore-based Omnisense, Leonard Lim, told Fox News that demand has never been higher.

“Since the introduction of Omnisense Systems Sentry MK4 into the U.S. market during COVID-19 period, we have expanded our production output by almost 10 times our pre-COVID level,” Lim said. “To meet the demand spike, we have to temporarily stop manufacturing our other products, convert all production lines and divert all related resources to producing the Sentry MK4.”

Lim shares Southern’s view that when it comes to post-COVID safety and economic recovery, fever sensing technology is one important piece of the puzzle.

“Although it does not specifically diagnose persons carrying COVID-19 or other viruses, it can flag out higher risk individuals by identifying those exhibiting elevated body temperature, allowing operators to process them,” said Lim. “If properly implemented, this will provide a safer environment for everyday activities without resorting to drastic measures that will severely affect livelihoods, society, and economy.”

The Sentry MK4 screening system is already in place at Singapore’s Changi Airport, and Lim believes the technology will become an essential part of the airport screening process, much like metal detectors, body scans and X-ray machines.

“In a post-COVID America, many will realize such screening measures are necessary to protect our way of life and to avoid future economic damage,” Lim said. “The question is not ‘if’ the next epidemic/pandemic will come, but ‘when’. If measures are implemented correctly and with enough density, the impact of such events can effectively be managed,” he continued.

A program is underway at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, to determine if dogs could be trained to identify patients with COVID-19, specifically those who are asymptomatic. If successful, fever screening in tandem with virus-sniffing dogs, could make for a useful combination.

Omnisense is encouraged by the response from U.S. customers, and Lim told Fox News in an email that they are “committing to the market and investing in a new facility [in Florida] to not only provide full local maintenance and repair capability, but our Sentry MFSS will also be proudly ‘Made in the USA’ before the end of 2020.”

Fever-sensing technology has extended above the ground, as well. Police in Westport, Conn., planned to test a “pandemic drone” in partnership with drone company Draganfly, but that effort was quickly abandoned as a result of the public outcry over privacy concerns.

Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell spoke with Fox News about how drone technology can be used for fever detection, public health and safety, and the now-paused Westport Flatten the Curve Pilot Project.

The Pilot Project would have allowed Westport Police officers with FAA drone certification to fly Draganfly drones, outfitted with the ability to collect public health data in phases, but it never got beyond pilot training. At first, Chell said, the drones were going to be used to measure social distancing. Eventually in the last phase, the Draganfly drone would be capable of detecting body temperature, coughing, mask wearing, heart rate and respiratory rate.

“We never got into any of the health measurement data, that would all be phase 3,” Chell explained. “We miscalculated the reaction that people would have. It doesn’t identify people, it doesn’t use facial recognition,” he said. “When that became a concern, they [the Westport Police] swiftly said ‘we’re here to protect our public, and if there’s great concern over that, then this isn’t something that we’re going to go forward with.’”

Chell believes the Westport Police Department “did a great job and made the right call.” Draganfly also prides themselves on public safety, he said.

He said that the Draganfly “pandemic drone” could be particularly useful in situations where members of the public have consented to drones monitoring their health data. “I think in controlled situations, where you’ve got a concert happening for example, it will become more commonplace,” said Chell, “but it will take time.”

Large groups could also be screened for elevated temperature individually, passing through an “unobtrusive” device “comprised of an array of thermal medical grade sensors,” said Internet of Things CEO Michael Lende of his new fever-detecting product, ThermalPass.

“This innovation was inspired out of necessity,” Lende told Fox News. ThermalPass, which already has regulatory approval by Health Canada, was developed as COVID-19 started to impact North America.

Lende said his company conducted several focus groups to determine the needs of various business owners across industries that would benefit from temperature screenings in order to successfully and safely open back up. These feedback sessions led ThermalPass to focus on concerns like privacy and user comfort when developing its product.

“They don’t want to be intimidated, they don’t want it to be a big clunky thing,” Lende explained. “Our designers and engineers created something that is thin, wide and tall, and you don’t slow down, you keep your normal walking speed.” He said the ThermalPass accommodates a steady stream of people, including individuals in wheelchairs or parents with a stroller.

Lende also said that the ThermalPass takes 20 readings per second and is unique because no cameras are used. The device records time of day, number of users and tracks temperature readings, but nothing more, which Lende said appeals to clients concerned about privacy.

The battery-powered archway weighs around 70 pounds and can cost between $5,000-$8000, depending on the model.

According to Lende, users will not only find the screening experience convenient, they will be comforted to know that everyone else surrounding them had also been screened for a fever.

“In-field” testing of the ThermalPass is expected to begin in the U.S. and Canada in early June. Lende said Commersive Solutions, his retail partner in getting the product to customers, has received calls from hospitals, malls, outdoor concert venues, retail stores, grocery chains and governments.

“I know people can not have a fever and still carry something,” Lende admitted, “but we’re one mitigating factor.”

“As a family guy, and as a dad, a husband, a business person, as a serial entrepreneur, it’s breaking my heart and killing me how society, how people have been impacted personally and business-wise by this coronavirus,” Lende said.

Fever screening, he believes, will instill confidence in those who are wary of getting back to large gatherings or travel, armed with the knowledge that although there are asymptomatic carriers, every person in that gathering is, at the least, fever-free.

“People so desperately want to get back to normal,” said Lende. “And, if you give them tools to do so, I believe our product will be one of those great tools, to help people have the confidence to book their business trip or family vacation, visiting friends.”