Hawaii has arguably done its best to beat COVID-19. Citizens were put under stay-at-home orders as early as March 25. Although the islands are now slowly reopening with a phasing plan, the state still has a strict quarantine policy for those who enter. That includes some unusual ways of enforcement.
Although the state is looking at the legality of testing for COVID-19 in lieu of quarantine, it’s also embracing a really high budget alternative, especially for when quarantines upon entry are no longer necessary. But frankly, it seems like an inappropriate use of money to me.
Right now, members of the Hawaii National Guard use forehead thermometers to check the temperatures of arriving passengers. But in mid-May, Hawaii legislators approved $36 million for a public health screening system at state airports. It would include a thermal screen system that would check the temperature of incoming passengers.
“The equipment would make it so it’s not just one on one,” said Tim Sakahara, spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Transportation. “You can test the temperature on crowds of people as they came through the airport.”
There are a few problems, though:
- Once a person has been exposed to COVID-19 and are positive for the virus, it can take up to two weeks for his/her own symptoms to begin. During at least some that time before showing symptoms (it’s called when you’re “presymptomatic.” That means “before symptoms”), they are contagious. So they could have the virus but no symptoms whatsoever yet, including no fever, and still be able to spread it (That’s why the current push is for people to wear face coverings when they’re outside and/or near other people they don’t live with. Without a face covering, if you have the virus (but don’t know it because you’re presymptomatic), and sneeze, cough, etc. within close range of someone else, they could inhale droplets you’ve just expelled, and catch your #coronacooties).
- Some people who have COVID-19 never show symptoms at all (that’s called being “asymptomatic.” That means “without symptoms”), or just very mild symptoms. So they may not have a fever at all, ever. Or they may have a low grade fever that’s under the all-important 100.4 fever. But they’re still contagious.
All told, the CDC currently estimates that 40% of coronavirus transmission occurs before people feel sick (read: among other symptoms, they won’t have a fever).
And then there’s one more issue:
- Some people may have a fever over 100.4 and not have coronavirus. After all, think about it – how many people per day fly with a cold? LOTS.
So they’re going to spend $36M on a high tech thermal screening screen that, yes, may catch roughly 60% of people who have COVID-19. But it will also catch people who have colds. And it will not catch those who are presymptomatic or asymptomatic because they won’t have fevers.
But let’s look at the bright side; it may catch those with COVID-19 who are showing symptoms…soooo, now what? Will there be a way to instantly differentiate those with COVID-19 vs. those with a cold? If not, what are they going to do with these feverish people? Hawaii is forcing quarantine now, but will that still be the case then (the first of several systems wouldn’t be installed for at least 9 to 12 months)? If not, is the state of Hawaii going to send them back to the mainland? Who’s going to pay for that? Wouldn’t it make more sense to screen them before they got on the plane to Hawaii?
I’m not saying that I know the answer. I just think that spending $36M on something that’s only going to catch people who are symptomatic is a whole lot of money for something that won’t fully protect Hawaii from incoming cases.
Feature Photo: Ron Cogswell/flickr
#stayhealthy #staysafe #washyourhands
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary