Temperature checks, required in many public places, have little value, U.S. health officials say.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the practice of checking for fever in public spaces has become increasingly common, causing a surge in sales of infrared contact-free thermometers and body temperature scanners even as scientific evidence indicating that they are of little value has solidified.
Gatekeepers with thermometer guns have appeared at the entrances of U.S. hospitals, office buildings and manufacturing plants to screen out people with fevers who may carry the virus. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York last week called for checking patrons’ temperatures as one of several ground rules for resuming indoor dining in restaurants.
But while health officials have endorsed masks and social distancing as effective measures for curbing the spread of the virus, some experts scoff at fever checks. They say that taking temperatures at entry points is a gesture that is unlikely to screen out many infected people and offers little more than an illusion of safety.
The C.D.C. defines a fever as a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. But some reports have questioned the accuracy of thermometer guns, and while temperature checks may identify people who are seriously ill, those people are unlikely to be socializing much or going out for meals. A growing body of evidence also suggests that many of those who are driving transmission are silent carriers — people who have been infected but feel fine and don’t have a fever or other symptoms.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which in May told employers to consider checking workers daily for symptoms like fever, but appeared to reverse itself in July — said it would stop requiring airport health screenings beginning Sept. 14 for international passengers from countries like Brazil, China and Iran because the checks do not identify silent carriers.
Temperature checks are akin to “getting the oil checked before you go on a long car trip,” said Dr. David Thomas, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It makes you feel better, but it’s not going to keep you from wrecking the car or prevent the tires from falling off.”
“It’s something you can do, and it makes you feel like you’re doing something,” he said. “But it won’t catch most people who are spreading Covid.”
The coronavirus was spreading around the world, and officials at the United States Agency for International Development were anxious to rush humanitarian aid to nations in need. But first they had to settle a debate over branding on the packages.
Political appointees from the White House and the State Department wanted the aid agency’s logo affixed to all of the packages to show the world how much the United States was sending abroad, even as it grappled with its own outbreak.
Career employees at U.S.A.I.D. argued that the logo and other American symbols could endanger people who delivered or received the aid in countries that are hostile to the United States and where branding exceptions are usually granted.
At the end of the debate this spring, relief workers were allowed to distribute aid without the branding in a handful of countries in the Middle East and North Africa. But the discussion delayed assistance for several weeks to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities and served as a cautionary example of political intervention roiling an agency that prides itself as leading the humanitarian response to global disasters, conflict and other emergencies.
As President Trump campaigns for re-election and the virus has claimed more than 193,000 lives in the United States, the aid agency has been micromanaged by the White House and the State Department.
“As far back as I go, working on these programs, U.S.A.I.D. has really been an extraordinary, respected leader in global health and humanitarian responses,” said Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “To distort that mission is an insult, and it’s really outrageous to me.”
Changes in measures to stop the coronavirus’s spread — and calls for further revisions, particularly the easing of restrictions — surfaced this weekend in the wake of ebbing and growing outbreaks around the world.
In Melbourne, Australia, protesters clashed with the police on Sunday on the second day of demonstrations against lockdown restrictions.
In a tense standoff at Queen Victoria Market, protesters chanting “Freedom!” were greatly outnumbered by police officers, with dozens of people arrested or fined. Fourteen people had been arrested at smaller protests on Saturday.
The state of Victoria, the center of Australia’s virus outbreak, has been under strict lockdowns since early August, though restrictions will be slightly eased on Monday with the nightly curfew in Melbourne starting an hour later, at 9 p.m. On Sunday, the state reported 41 new cases and seven deaths, continuing a general downward trend.
In South Korea, officials said on Sunday that social distancing measures would be eased in metropolitan Seoul for the next two weeks, even though daily new cases remain in the triple digits. The easing includes lifting a ban on on-site dining after 9 p.m. and reopening gyms and internet cafes.
Officials said stronger measures would return on Sept. 28, ahead of the Chuseok fall harvest holiday, during which many people travel. On Sunday, the country reported 121 new infections, bringing the total to 22,176.
Other developments around the world:
India reported 94,372 new cases on Sunday, the fourth consecutive day that new cases exceeded 90,000 in the country, according to a Times database. India has the world’s second-highest number of cases after the United States.
A reporter found a virus story through her toddler.
The Times’s Sarah Kliff writes about how her latest article idea came from an unlikely source: her 2-year-old son.
A day care classmate of his had tested positive for the coronavirus, and a few days later, her son vomited. Between the known exposure to the virus and a possible symptom, she thought it made sense to find out whether he had been infected. The information, she notes, might help the family’s child-care provider and local health officials better understand how the disease spreads among young children, something that little is still known about:
It seemed like an easy task, given that I live in Washington, D.C., where health providers and the city have opened dozens of testing locations in recent months.
Except it wasn’t. I quickly stumbled upon another weakness in America’s testing infrastructure that I hadn’t seen news outlets reporting on: Most drive-through testing sites will not test young children.
My first thought was to go to the Walgreens drugstore near my house, until I learned it sees only adults. I began looking into the District of Columbia’s free testing sites. Again, no luck: The city’s walk-up sites are limited to adults, and its drive-through sites see only children 5 and older.
There was an urgent care center a half-hour drive from my house that would test my son, but I was hoping to go to a drive-through site so I could minimize our risk of becoming infected at a doctor’s office (and likewise reduce the chances of my son passing it to a health provider if he did have the virus). But everywhere I turned, I kept encountering age restrictions that excluded my child.
Finally, I had a stroke of luck. After I vented about the problem to a few other parents, one of them directed me to an urgent care center that offers drive-through testing for children of all ages. The hourslong search made me wonder: Were other parents going through the same thing? And why did these age limits exist in the first place?
My colleague Margot Sanger-Katz and I began researching testing sites in other cities, and found that D.C. was not unique: Dallas sets a cutoff at 5 years old. San Francisco won’t test children younger than 13. In Florida, where schools recently reopened, only a quarter of the 60 state-supported testing sites will see children of all ages.
As the worst wildfire season in decades scorches the western United States amid a still raging pandemic, families and educators who were already starting the strangest and most challenging school year of their lifetimes have been traumatized all over again. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes, with some mourning the loss of their entire communities.
Now, the remote learning preparations that schools made for the coronavirus are providing a strange modicum of stability for teachers and students, letting many stay connected and take comfort in an unexpected form of virtual community.
“The pandemic has actually helped,” said Patsy Oxford, the principal of Berry Creek Elementary, the only school in Berry Creek, a Northern California town of about 1,200 people hit by what one official described as a “massive wall of fire.” It killed nine residents, including a 16-year-old boy, and destroyed the school and almost every home and business.
The fires prompted some West Coast schools to delay or cancel classes, and educators across parts of California, Washington and Oregon have spent recent days tracking down students to check on their safety.
Some schools have continued teaching remotely or are preparing to do so this week, even as families find themselves huddling in hotels, shelters and relatives’ homes.
Reporting was contributed by Damien Cave, Tess Felder, Lara Jakes, Sarah Kliff, Dan Levin, Dan Powell, Roni Caryn Rabin, Kate Taylor and Pranshu Verma.