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How effective are temperature checks at stopping the spread of COVID-19? We asked medical professionals

Doctors say while temperature checks are a worthwhile measure and recognize that businesses are doing more than just that, they shouldn't be the only tool used.

AUSTIN, Texas — As Texas businesses continue to reopen, many business owners say they will be following safety guidelines listed in Gov. Greg Abbott's guidance, including taking the temperature of all employees as part of health screenings. Some are even taking the temperature of customers through no-contact thermometers. 

A viewer sent in a question to KVUE asking, "Everyone is checking temperatures, but no one is saying just how safe it is. Couldn't someone check good for temperatures and still be positive for the virus?"

KVUE reached out to several medical professionals in Central Texas to get their take on the effectiveness of temperature checks.

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Credit: Luis de Leon

"You can eliminate somebody who has an active infection from coming in," said Dr. Charles Lerner, a hospital epidemiologist in San Antonio who is also on the Texas Medical Association's COVID-19 Task Force. "It does not necessarily mean that the person has COVID-19 – they could have influenza, they could have urinary tract infection. But it's one way of eliminating some of the people who are contagious for COVID-19."

Overall, Dr. Lerner said that temperature checks are useful, but shouldn't be the only measure businesses use or else they'll get a false sense of security. He did recognize that many businesses are taking extra safety precautions inside. 

"You need to ask about respiratory symptoms, and it's best if you have social distancing and masking because masking protects against you getting infected," Dr. Lerner said.


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Emergency medicine physician Dr. Natasha Kathuria said checking someone's temperature is just one tool in a larger toolbox of methods to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"What's really important for the public to know is that even though it's not a safe, perfect test, it's a very important test," Dr. Kathuria said. “It’s very important as a screening tool, and it’s very important for employers to know this is just one tool in a large toolbox that the CDC is encouraging employers to use."

Dr. Kathuria added that not everyone will come up with a fever if they have COVID-19. 

"On one hand, we have patients who have no symptoms, who've never had symptoms," Dr. Kathuria said. "On the other hand, we have patients who are critically ill and admitted to the hospital who may never have mounted a fever."

Cindy Zolnierek, a registered nurse and the CEO of the Texas Nurses Association, said temperature checks are no guarantee that someone isn't infected, but certainly worthwhile and that businesses should keep up their enforcement of safety guidelines. 

"You just can't depend on that to guarantee that folks that don't have a temperature are not contagious," Zolnierek said. "So, you need to understand what it offers you and not overvalue the information it gives you."

WATCH: The importance of testing as Texas continues to reopen


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