• Temperature checks are a pretty inaccurate method to rely on to screen people for the coronavirus. 
  • That’s according to White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said the White House and his own agency have dropped a temperature check requirement that was previously used to screen visitors.
  • Fauci says it’s better to simply ask people screening questions to gauge their potential exposure to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

It feels like temperature checks are starting to be as ubiquitous as a “Hi, how are you” almost everywhere you go these days. A couple of weeks ago, I went in for a scheduled dentist appointment. I first had to lean in, so the receptionist could take a quick temperature reading before allowing me into the rest of the office. At schools like this one in Illinois, likewise, temperature check kiosks have been set up, and if you’re flying out of LAX in the next few weeks, be prepared for Delta Airlines to take your temperature. Hotels around the country, including properties like the Four Seasons in Vail, Colorado? Same thing. You’ve got to pass a temperature check to be allowed inside.

And yet, in spite of how normalized this is starting to be, it might surprise you to hear that White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci is not exactly a fan of relying on temperature checks as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus right now.

During a Facebook Live event associated with Walter Reed Medical Center, Fauci said temperature checks are so inaccurate that the White House has dropped them altogether, as has Fauci’s office (he’s the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases).

“We have found at the NIH, that it is much, much better to just question people when they come in and save the time, because the temperatures are notoriously inaccurate, many times,” Fauci said.

He pointed to the prevalence, for example, of so many hot days in a row this summer. “It’s the middle of the summer, we’ve had what … 15 days, 90 degrees in a row,” Fauci continued. “I went to the White House the other day. My temp was like 103 until I took it in the air-conditioned car, and then it was 97.4. When I tried to get into another facility, my temperature was 93, which means I probably should’ve been on a respirator.  So I think we’ve just got to abandon that, be prudent, ask questions, and do it that way.”

This certainly has implications for schools, which are trying to reopen in fits and starts around the country — through reports have been piling up in recent days of one school system after another opening, announcing coronavirus cases, and then clamping down to some degree (such as by shifting to an online model). Fauci’s comments suggest that places like these and others that are taking temperatures and using that as a basis for who can enter or not are doing so, whether they realize it or not, largely to make themselves feel good (to feel like they’re doing something) as opposed to taking a meaningful step to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.