ACLU Not So Hot on Required Temperature Checks for COVID-19
The Garden State reopening continues on Monday, with barber shops, beauty and nail salons, massage parlors, tattoo and cosmetology shops all being allowed to welcome back customers.
Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order No. 154 stipulates these businesses will be required to conduct forehead temperature checks on everyone entering the premises — and if someone has a temperature above 100.4 degrees, he or she will be denied entry.
In recent weeks Murphy has also suggested that other types of businesses may want to include temperature checks in their protocols to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But according to Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, there are a lot of serious questions about the utility and accuracy of temperature screening for detecting the coronavirus.
He said many thermometers being used have proven to unreliable, including no-touch forehead temperature guns and thermal infrared cameras that read skin temperatures.
Stanley said “that means their usefulness in actually stopping the spread of COVID is even further reduced.”
“It means that there’s a risk that people who have not a single particle of COVID in their bodies will be falsely blocked from engaging in certain activities, perhaps very crucial activities,” he said.
Stanley also said the people who will be least able to deal with these kinds of situations and disruptions will be lower-income individuals.
What's more, he said, many people with the novel coronavirus don't exhibit symptoms, and temperature screening won't help detect them.
"A lot of people have fevers that aren’t related to COVID," Stanley said. "Some people have low-grade fevers that last for weeks or months, for example cancer patients.”
Fevers can even be caused by stress, and everyone's baseline temperature is different.
Stanley said there are also privacy concerns involved in using infrared cameras for temperature checks, because these devices can also detect pulses, heart rates and other physiological information.
“It is something that we wouldn’t want companies and government officials to feel like they can just go around doing when COVID is over,” he said. “The benefits are low and there’s a lot of potential for them to be abused in terms of privacy.”
He noted Homeland Security officials have already started testing thermal cameras as a body searching technology to stop potential terrorist activity, and the ACLU is concerned their widespread use for COVID-19 detection could open the door for these efforts to be expanded.
“They are inaccurate and there are serious Constitutional questions about whether the government can search people in that way without a warrant,” Stanley said.