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Stephen L. Carter

Are Temperature Checks Just Covid-Prevention Theater?

Monitoring customers and employees for fevers is becoming common practice, but maybe it shouldn’t.

You can’t buy an iPhone if you have a fever.

You can’t buy an iPhone if you have a fever.

Photographer: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Suddenly, thermometers are everywhere. Reopening colleges are planning to follow students’ temperatures. The New York Stock Exchange won’t let a member with a fever onto the floor. At my doctor’s office the other day, my temperature was taken both at the entrance and minutes later in the examination room, before I could receive the required injection that had brought me out of shelter.

Measuring the body’s heat has become the latest solution to the how-to-open-in-a-pandemic conundrum. I understand, and even share, the determination to get things moving again. But I worry that our new enthusiasm for constant temperature-taking might turn out to be mainly security theater, an effort to make us feel better without regard to whether we're actually safer. The reasons for my uneasiness are several.