Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Are contact thermometers spreading the coronavirus?

Posted in advice, Health, medical, personal security by commorancy on February 14, 2020

contact-thermometer2This seems a fairly straightforward question and seems like it should have a fairly straightforward answer. With all sorts of makeshift fever checkpoints being set up to screen for the coronavirus by so many cheapskate companies, it’s definitely a risk. Let’s explore.

Contact Thermometers

What is a contact thermometer? It is an electronic thermometer that looks something like so:


These contact thermometers must come into skin contact with the forehead or ear to perform its job. Why is this important to your health? It’s important because many makeshift fever screening zones for the Coronaviris (COVID-19 aka nCoV-19) utilize such low cost contact thermometers to check for fever, but at a severe risk of transmitting it.

Sweat and Transmission

Many people believe that sweat can’t transmit a virus. However, if you’ve got a fever, you’re likely perspiring a little. Even still, that doesn’t make using a contact thermometer an unsafe choice by default. But, it can still spread a virus for other reasons.

When people are asymptomatic (or even symptomatic), they can rub their noses or eyes, then rub or scratch other parts of their faces. This can then rub the virus on other portions of skin. This means that using such a contact thermometer could pick up a latent Coronavirus on a forehead or ear and transmit it to at least the next person that thermometer touches.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to protect yourself from such a screening point unless you turn around and leave or refuse to use their contact thermometer. While in the US, such refusals might be met with some consternation until explained, in a country like China, it might lead to much more drastic action by the authorities.

Amateur Hour

However, those in charge over the setup of these impromptu screening zones and which are forcing the use of contact thermometers (without any sanitary protection) are clearly medically untrained amateurs. A virus is a virus. It transmits like all other cold viruses, through contact. If that contact is through the surface of a thermometer or by rubbing your hand across a railing someone has just touched, you can pick up a virus. This type of spreading is called contact spreading. It’s one of the primary reasons that cold viruses spread so easily and rapidly.

You will still need to put your hands in your eyes, nose or mouth to fully infect you, but that’s not at all difficult considering how frequently we touch our eyes and noses and scratch itches. We also must eat, so touching our food with an infected hand is very common. It’s not a matter of if, but when after exposure.

Washing Hands

Hand washing is important, particularly before consuming any food or drink, after having been out and about in public. If someone touches an unsanitary thermometer to your forehead at a screening zone, visit the restroom and wash your face and hands immediately. Don’t wait. Use soap and hot water, if available. Better, don’t allow a fever screening area to touch anything to you.

Non-contact Thermometers

non-contact-thermometerThere are non-contact thermometers available on the market. Unfortunately, they are much more costly than the contact variety. Cheapskate companies may not be willing to shell out the $$$ to buy these more sanitary thermometers. There are also other sanitary versions of thermometers which utilize disposable tips. Either of these two methods of screening thermometers would be fine for use at a public screening check point. However, all skin-to-skin contact thermometers need to stop being used  at public screening checkpoints.

In fact, I might even attribute some of the spread of the coronavirus to such well-meaning, but entirely amateur fever screening points… points which have unwisely chosen contact thermometers for public screening.

If someone intends to place a thermometer against your forehead, say, “No.” If they seem dismayed by your statement, explain, “That contact thermometer is likely already infected, if not even by the coronavirus.” No one wants to get the regular cold or flu, let alone the coronavirus. Nothing should touch your skin when being checked for fever at a public screening point. If that screening point can’t determine if you have a fever without touching something to your skin, that’s a sanitary issue on their part… and not your problem.

Screening Points

Anyone in charge of setting up impromptu screening points to test for fever needs to use a device that either has disposable sanitary coverings between each check or is of the non-contact variety. Preferably, nothing should be touched to the surface of anyone’s skin, then touched to another person. Anything that performs skin to skin contact has a high probability of transmitting viruses from one person to another. This makes these fever screening checkpoints exceedingly risky ventures with a potential for legal liability should death or injury occur.

I’m guessing that these check points were not designed by someone in the medical profession, that or these operators simply don’t understand how viruses are transmitted. Either way, it comes down to amateur hour.

If you happen upon an impromptu fever screening check point, do not allow anything to touch your skin. If they can’t check your fever without touching you, simply leave and go somewhere else. There’s too much risk of infection by allowing someone at a checkpoint to touch you.


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